Kinecting with the Public

In about three months, Kinect, Microsoft’s expensive combatant in the motion controller showdown, will finally make its way to store shelves. Ever since it was announced at E3 a couple years ago, the enthusiast community has been buzzing about how the device could change the games we play and potentially bring in a new audience. The problem is, however, that as we’re now approaching November 4th, that new audience has yet to take notice.

Call me crazy, but I think this more effectively sells me on the Wii than it does on the Kinect.

Speaking anecdotally, I haven’t talked to any non-gaming friends who were aware of Kinect or any of its software. They took notice when the Wii launched, and they’re usually on board for a Rock Band party, but I know for a fact that none of these fine folks could tell you what a Kinectimal is. Sadly, polling numbers suggest that this isn’t isolated to the Justin circle, either. But I’m not bringing this up as purely gloom and doom. As Kaz and I both stated on the podcast, we both intend to purchase Kinect at launch and want nothing but the best for the device.* Rather, there needs to a be a shift in the perception going forward that this is more than just a Wii Sports/Fit clone in a pricier sell. How does Microsoft make that happen? Read on.

*Keep in mind that I’m writing under the generous perception that Kinect’s technology works as advertised and that all of the key games live up to expectations. If everything isn’t up to par, then even the most drastic steps won’t save Kinect.

  1. Move the Spotlight – Right now, Microsoft seems determined to push its first party stuff just as much as it does Dance Central and Child of Eden. This is a mistake. Never mind the fact that Kinect Adventures could outclass Wii Play (potentially), there are always going to be inherent similarities that make the newcomer look like more of the same. With Dance Central, the advantages to Harmonix’s full-body dance routine are easy to digest, and while most pundits suggest that Child of Eden is one for the “hardcore,” the game’s celestial beauty holds wider appeal than that. Basically, push the new instead of what looks like the old.
  2. No Red Lights – I don’t think it’s an understatement when I say that the Red Ring of Death fiasco was Microsoft’s worst PR blunder since entering the gaming market. People still joke about it, but its also the source of bitter feelings and lost customers. Don’t let this happen twice. Double-check that hardware, and make sure it works as advertised. (This included being able to play from the couch when warranted!)
  3. Demos EVERYWHERE – If people only learned about the Wii through television commercials and print ads, it would not have become the phenomenon that it is today. Word of mouth and hands-on waggling were what got new gamers to pony up for Wii Sports. As of now, there are supposedly a few Kinects hiding in Macy’s, but if Microsoft really wants this to take off, it needs to send hardware to every Best Buy, GameStop, Walmart and Target nationwide. Kids and parents need to be dancing in the store aisles, pronto.
  4. Advertise EVERYWHERE – At the same time, Microsoft can’t be stingy with the advertisement budget. Sporting events are a good start, but what about daytime TV? Movie theaters? Streaming video sites? Bringing in a new audience means putting yourself out there.
  5. Open Up to Indies -So far, downloadable titles have been left out of the grand plan, and I couldn’t begin to fathom why. If developers want to release side projects that take advantage of motion control, why should their ambitions be curbed? For many, games like Limbo and Shank end up higher on the priority list than big budget titles, so perhaps Microsoft should open up the controller for the little guy. Hell, bring in the Indie Games program, too. You might accidentally lure in some hardcore players while you’re at it!
  6. Promises for the Future – This point is perhaps the most crucial. When friends ask me whether they should go with Move or Kinect, I typically tell them that I think Move is the safer bet. Not because I think the games will necessarily be better – I’m interested in exactly two games for Kinect and zero for the Move, personally – but because Sony’s promised quite a bit for the future. Some of its biggest Move games are slated for next year, while many games that have already been released are also being retrofitted with motion support. With Kinect, do we have any idea what’s coming out after launch? As far as I know, we have Milo and a vague set of options for Forza. That’s not reassuring for the customer putting down $150.

Nobody said launching a new platform would be cheap, but any of these steps could help make Kinect a winner this holiday. The price tag is absolutely steep, but it’s not insurmountable, and people still like the tech even if the E3 lineup seemed lackluster. We’ll see in November if Microsoft’s willing to dig deep; as an early adopter, I’m crossing my fingers.

Oh yeah…I’d avoid bringing this guy stateside, too:

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