Kinect Fails to Connect

Microsoft unveiled their Kinect (previously known as Project Natal) device on Sunday, a full day before the official launch of E3. No doubt this was done in an effort to set the stage for the announcement of their 2010-11 games that will use the technology.

Kinect — and Sony’s Move — are obviously golden ring grabs at the motion controlling frenzy Nintendo kick-started almost 5 years ago. Yes, it took Microsoft and Sony 5 years to finally swallow their pride (and disparaging comments) and admit that motion controllers did have a place in the gaming circuit.

I own all 3 major consoles, and play each equally (recently racking up time on Mass Effect, Ratchet and Clank, Fallout3, and Uncharted — can you tell I’m a father? My current games are at least 2 years old!); however, I spend a lot of time with the Wii and DS, mostly because I have a 6 year old who loves to play video games, and those are the consoles that constantly churn out quality, family-friendly (not kiddie!) games that we can all play — and, yes, a fair amount of shovelware that I have to dissuade my son from asking for (i.e. anything Scooby Doo, Spongebob, Ben10, and Nintendog clones).

Read more for my thoughts on Microsoft’s ability to foster the same feeling of trust and consistency in a new Blue Ocean market

So, what draws me into the Nintendo Wii isn’t the revolution of the motion controller, but the consistent quality Nintendo puts out in games. What draws my son in is the motion controlling, but not because he thinks it’s some kind of magic. He’s magnetized to the Wii (and DS) because of their low barrier of entry in controlling. It started simple with Boom Blox. Merely flick the controller to knock down the boxes. No buttons needed (a rare B hold and release; much like fishing), no combos to memorize, no character to control over death-defying, creaking bridges. It was perfect for him.

Then, as his gaming skills progressed, so did the games. He finally turned the remote sideways, and explored character control with buttons (I know, a revelation!). He played New Super Mario Bros. Wii with finesse and speed, and I was very impressed. And, as he quickly out-grew the 2 button + D-pad game, he moved on to Super Mario Galaxy, where analog character control, double jumps, dual-analog manipulation were required. He’s currently struggling a little, but quickly getting the hang of it.

I mention his progression through game controllers to serve a point. Had I started him with the standard “classic controller” of 8 buttons, 2 analog sticks, and a D-Pad, he would have been on information overload. He would have been so saturated by the concept, that his barrier of entry would have put him off games until he got older.

Part of me wants to say, “Well, I never had a Wii Remote to help ease me into gaming. Why, when I was kid…,” but, then I remember that when I did start playing there were only 2 buttons and D-Pad. I did have a lower barrier of entry into gaming than kids do these days. Controllers grew up along with me. As I got older and wiser, they got more sophisticated; but, they did leave younger kids behind.

Now, is that to say a 6 year old can’t play the 360 because of the controller? No. Clearly that’s not the case when I do my weekly spy of what games kids are buying at Target and GameStop (not creepy, just like to stay aware of where this culture is going at all times). But, much like in education, just because a few select can achieve in any environment, does not mean it is the best environment for all to succeed. Just because some kids can master the DualShock3 does not mean it’s appropriate for all kids to grind their teeth on while learning how to control a game.

Which, brings me back to the Kinect. The Kinect aims to remove any need or use of a controller. Surely if the Wii Remote helped lower that controller barrier, the Kinect must completely obliterate it, right? Sure; however, what happens when the kids look to expand their gaming pallette? The only other option waiting for them is the bohemoth that is the 360’s Wireless Controller. There are no baby steps. There is no way for them to dip their toes into the digital waters. They’re thrown straight into the deep end, and left to fend for themselves.

In Microsoft’s attempt to execute the end game of motion controlling, going as far as anyone can go (and really, this is the end. Where do you go after controller-less, full motion analog?), they actually ended up fracturing their audience. Those who want motion controls already own a Wii, are perfectly happy with it, and know the quality that is turned out.

What does Microsoft offer? Wii Sports clones (which they mocked mercilessly years ago), pet simulators (which Sony and Nintendo have already perfected), and a very cool — yet, rumored to be fake — Star Wars lightsaber game (again, already done). Once you are tired of those, it’s straight to Red Dead Redemption and BioShock for you! I don’t mean to use those as an example of mature content being inappropriate for kids, but to use them as control schemes being inappropriate for kids.

Microsoft has made a final grab at a golden ring that has already passed 5 times. And, every time it passed, they mocked it, and laughed at the absurdity of it. Yet, like a little child who casts away a toy in disinterest, they instantly want it back once it proves to be a hit in the sandbox.

Closing Note: I really hope I don’t have to write a companion piece to this when Sony holds their press conference. Something tells me Sony gets this craze much more than Microsoft, and will put it to good use. But, I could be wrong — I mean, just look at the Six-Axis.

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5 Responses

  1. I understand your point, but new technology is always made better buy the mistakes they start out with. True Microsoft may have started late, but this is their attempt to jump in. I think the goal was to take the baby step toward a new way if interfacing with technology. I don’t think it’s valid to say that they missed the boat, because later on they could turn out to be the innovators. Also even though you may see the issues with jumping from no controller to a complicated one, maybe the newest generations won’t see it that way, it will just be a apart of their lives. Plenty of people have made the leap from no computers, to doing all their work on computers. I think you are looking at the right nows and not what this could lead to.

  2. […] Kinect! I’ve made my feelings about Kinect known already.  But, I think the 3DS finally solidifies that.  With Kinect, you use a camera to […]

  3. This post reminds me futuristic sayings about computers at home done my IBM CEO sometime in 70ies. It sounded something like — “who would need a computer at home?”…

    It is strange that you don’t see that Kinect is a groundbreaking tech. May be you are too blinded by being a fan of Wii or Sony, may be you are just not good at seeing into the future… The only thing that MS replicates with Kinect is the UI from Minority Report movies. Comparing Wii and Sony creations to Kinect/Natal is like saying that the invention of a car was not a step forward and that cars are just like steam locomotives, but smaller…

    In 5 years you will not recognize the gaming world because of what Microsoft does with Kinect/Natal. You’ll remember existing games and generes as old and boring. Dance game and fitness game that was jsut demoed proves the point. When Star Wars is out (and it is not a fake by the way) you see it yourself. Then we’ll talk about ‘golden rings’ and so on… and how Nintendo and Sony will not be able to copy the technology in a very long time, because for the first time MS is rolloing something that is so IP intensive that it will be really really hard to copy by anyone…

  4. If Microsoft is so sure of the success of Kinect, why did they not announce support for any of their current IPs? Say what you will, at least Sony and Nintendo are willing to put their established IPs at risk with their new tech.

    If the Kinect fails, Microsoft can simply move along as if nothing happened with no tarnished franchises. That, to me, is very telling about how much they truly believe in the technology. I’m not denouncing the technology, or that there’s no place in gaming for this type of interface; I’m simply hypothesizing that Microsoft is not the right company to execute it. They don’t have a history of fostering the blue ocean gaming community.

    I don’t play the “fanboy” game; I’m too old, and too busy to faithfully toe the company line on Internet forums. If technology is good and useful, then I’ll bite. Yes, the Kinect does a great job of replicating the Minority Report technology; but, that doesn’t necessarily make a good game.

    Will it change the way we access and interact with media? Probably. Will it change the way we game? Probably not. Why not? Well, aside from what I listed above, if camera recognition was going to revolutionize game control, why didn’t it happen with the EyeToy on the PS2? Or, the Eye on PS3? Or, even Microsoft’s very own Live Vision Camera?

    Yes, the Kinect is more powerful, but the past cameras weren’t horrible. They were actually pretty good; and, for the past 10 years, consumers have voted with their wallets, and resoundingly dismissed camera-controlled gaming. Only a company who can put their full weight behind the technology will be successful. Microsoft has split attention on the 360, and the Kinect won’t get even 50% of their focus. You may not be a fan of Nintendo, but at least they put 100% of their weight behind the technology they believe in. Your hardware is only as good as the software you put out for it.

    One last thing: In regards to the Star Wars demo, one of two things happened. Either they faked their movements on stage, trying to time them with a pre-rendered game; or, the Kinect is so good it can actually PREDICT your movements!

    If the latter is proven to be true, then I fully retract everything I’ve said about the Kinect. 🙂

  5. […] like I’ve always loved the Kinect.  That, however, would be a damn dirty lie.  Truth is, I really didn’t think the Kinect would go anywhere.  Boy howdy was I wrong.  I love it.  And, there’s one game that makes the Kinect the best […]

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