What is Project Natal? Is it a fancy motion controller? Is it an easy way to talk to your TV? Is it a new way to use the 360 or Live? No, to Microsoft, it's much more. It's the goal.
Talking to Marc Whitten, Microsoft's Xbox Live General Manager, he's happy to show you last.fm, Sky, Facebook or Twitter, the latest services to be announced for Xbox Live. But these are just updates, part of Live's slow evolution to...something bigger. And you can see that in Whitten's body language when he hears "Natal." He goes from somewhat stiff and professionally cordial to shifting restlessly in his seat with sparkling eyes, like a kid who just wants to get back to his favourite toy.
As it happens, Natal is precisely what Microsoft's Xbox 360 Live team is and has been working toward since at least the development of NXE (though surely earlier, especially from a pure hardware perspective). And according to Whitten, it's the last step of Live.
You can have an amazing Live experience without Natal and you can have an amazing Natal experience without Live. But the magic, the endgame, the place that we're going in this social world in the living room is [Natal and Live]tied together. We spend a ton of time on how we're going to reimagine the future with this idea of controllerless gaming and Live together.
To be fair, "endgame" was my word originally, but Whitten, a man ever so careful with his diction, couldn't help but to use it. He sees entertainment and communication converging on Live, and he sees Natal as the way to assemble it all in your living room.
Indeed, if Natal works as well as advertised it's hard to see the technology, the idea, as anything less. You know, at least until we get the holodeck.