While we may be nervous about Microsoft's Project Natal branding strategy -- remember, that's just a codename -- the suits in Redmond share no such concern. That's because the Natal project is following Nintendo's lead in more ways than just easy-to-play, motion-based technology. It's also following Nintendo's branding strategy.
On May 11, 2004 Nintendo president Satoru Iwata announced the "Nintendo Revolution" to the E3 audience and, while he didn't show off the motion-based controller (we wouldn't see that for another sixteen months, at TGS 2005), he did promise "an unprecedented gameplay experience." The Revolution would offer "something no other machine has delivered before." The following May, over two years after first announcing the "Revolution," Nintendo revealed the product's final name just before E3: Wii.
When we asked Microsoft's Robbie Bach, "When can we stop calling it Natal?" at a recent Open House event, the exec wasn't shy about comparing the company's strategy to Nintendo's. "When Nintendo came out with the name 'Wii,' people sort of said 'Oh gosh, that's kind of a goofy, weird name.' I haven't heard a comment about it being a goofy name since the week after they announced the name," Bach said. "And suddenly, people just called it the 'Wii' and moved on." And, specifically, they've moved on to buying them en masse.
At this year's E3, just after Microsoft unveiled Natal, we heard a similar message from Albert Penello, director of global marketing for Xbox. "The gaming community that's paying attention at E3, they follow this stuff so closely I'm not worried about confusing them," Penello told Joystiq. "The guys who are actually going to buy this -- the mass consumer, if you will, that doesn't pay attention to this -- they have a three to six month attention span. So I'm not worried at all."
With Nintendo's successful (albeit enormously unorthodox) rebranding serving as a guide, Bach said, "I think whatever we decide to call Natal will become the name quickly." With a rumored fall launch (just like the Wii), and a "three to six month attention span" to take into account, one might expect to hear the real name for Project Natal somewhere around E3 this year. Or perhaps a little bit earlier, just like the Wii.