Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why Kinect is Not About Games

In true Infinite Lag spirit, I'm going to try my best to not comment much on all the current goings-on at this year's E3. But yesterday's Microsoft press conference, which mostly focused on their upcoming Kinect 3D camera/motion controller/Minority Report-style-interface-device, really drove home what this contraption is all about.

Let me start with what it's not about:
  • The Wii
  • The PlayStation Move
  • Games
Look. Microsoft knows they can't catch up to the Wii in hardware sales, although it would be nice if they could yank away some of that market share. The PlayStation Move is probably irrelevant to them, since it's just a Wiimote for a system with a much smaller install base. And although there is some promise there, we have a long way to go before software for Kinect goes beyond gimmicky mini-games.

Bottom line, as a gaming peripheral, Kinect is not a system-seller. And I think MSFT knows this.

What Kinect is about:
  • Apple
Here's why. MSFT has made a huge push in the last few years to emulate Apple in selling themselves as a "lifestyle brand." They want to be the destination for media consumption, period. You've got iTunes? We've got Zune, Last.fm, and Netflix. New iPhone? Meet Windows 7 phone. Want to video chat with friends, connect to social media, stream content from your PC or play music from your Xbox? Done. Plus, we've got ESPN now! MSFT wants to be the one-stop destination for your entertainment and computing needs. Sounds vaguely familiar, eh?

Kinect - and the sexy new redesigned Xbox 360 console - are attempts to out-Apple Apple. Look at this sleek, stylish, innovative device that can do so many things! Look at how it "kinects" you to media and other people and to the device itself! Oh, and you can play games, too!

And what of those games? Mrs. JPG's comment, when I showed her Kinectimals yesterday, summed it up: "This looks like the kind of thing you buy if you have young kids. Kinda dumb otherwise."

I don't blame MSFT (and associated developers) for releasing blatant Wii Sports and Wii Fit knockoffs for Kinect; they pretty much had to. Those of us who obsess over videogames and assume attitudes of smug condescension about the "casual market" tend to forget that population, however nebulous, has millions more members and infinitely more buying power than we.

Still, so far, Kinect is not impressive as a gaming device. Although it could work well, and there could potentially be some interesting games down the line - both possibilities remain to be seen - it is more noteworthy as an interface device. Kids will be easily sold on the games; MSFT is obviously betting that parents will jump on board if they already own an Xbox. The voice/profile recognition, social media, video chat, etc. are incentives for the rest of us, who are already oversaturated with party games.

The Kinect is not about games, though. It's about brand loyalty. It's about branding, period.

The question is: will it work?

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