Monday, 10 February 2014

Is Microsoft’s Kinect Dead?

Originally written August 2011


If you’re a gamer that prides him/herself on being hip to the latest gaming news, or an Xbot like me, you have probably heard of Microsoft’s latest addition to its arsenal in the console wars, the Kinect. If you don’t know what in the world that misspelled, broken English word is, I will indulge you noobs with a quick explanation, considering the fact that the device is primarily targeted and marketed towards you.

The Microsoft Kinect for Xbox 360 is, in the most basic sense, a very advanced webcam peripheral for the Xbox 360 video gaming console, enabling users to play ‘motion-enabled games’ for their console. For those who don’t know, motion-enabled games rely on motion to control the game. Its creation is an obvious response to the Nintendo Wii, which popularize the concept of motion gaming and, since its launch, have been making a boatload of money for Nintendo. It is not, however, a copy-and-paste job (I’m looking at you, Sony).  Microsoft decided that they needed to be fresh in this approach and decided to forgo the concept of controllers entirely (The Wii still uses a controller as its primary input device) and instead turns your entire body into the controller, using the Kinect to capture the motion.

Now, there are some who say that the whole concept of motion gaming is a gimmick, a quick cash grab for the industry. That the Kinect will probably end up in the trash heap of failed peripherals just like the EyeToy, the Sega CD, the PS2 modem, the PowerGlove, and really I could go on and on. It is true that after-market add-ons for video game consoles almost never do well. Usually because most consumers don’t know how they work or what they are. There’s also the lack of marketing of these products; they never get as much attention as the console itself, relegating the peripheral as an afterthought. Not to mention the fact that third party game developers seldom publish games for them as they have a small market of people who actually bought the darn thing, cutting in on the potential profits. Plus, there’s a learning curve on developing on the platform, money spent on training that could be spent elsewhere and you can see why they wouldn’t want to take that risk.

You can see now why some people are saying the Kinect is a failed product even before it has a chance to prove itself. The sheer amount of factors working together to topple it makes it seem that the naysayers are right. However, I believe that they are wrong, that the Kinect may just be able to fight it out in the market, as they fail to mention the one thing that might save it, the rise of the ‘casual gamers’. These are gamers that don’t have gaming as their primary hobby, these are the people that like to play Angry Birds instead of the new Starcraft and most importantly, these are people that are driving the sales of the Wii. It is this market the Kinect caters to and Microsoft, learning from the past, has aggressively marketed to this audience and entices them by encouraging developers to develop new games for the platform. They even dedicated their entire E3 keynote this year just to promote it. You know they are serious when they use their time at the biggest gamming expo to cater to casual games. Not only that, they have been actively encouraging the developer community to create new games for the platform, even going so far to add unnecessary Kinect support on big triple A titles like Mass Effect and Battlefield 3. All this is surely costing the Redmond behemoth a pretty penny.

Judging on the amount of support Microsoft is putting in and the rise of casual gaming, the Kinect may be that very rare peripheral that comes out once in a blue moon; ones that survive in the market. Or I could be wrong and the whole thing will be dead by next year. That’s the thing about predictions and assumption, they may be completely wrong. Still, I think the Kinect will make it, despites history’s hatred towards peripherals.  Just play it yourself and I feel that you will agree, that motion gaming is here to stay and the Kinect will lead use to that future. Now if you excuse me, I’m going to go play GTA IV and kill hookers with my physical controller.

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