Kinect gets you in the game (or does it?)



by Zach Walton

“You are the controller,” claims Microsoft’s marketing machine for the new Kinect accessory.

For those who may be unaware, Microsoft’s Kinect is an add-on for the Xbox 360 that uses a camera to track a player’s movement that then is translated to in-game action.

The Kinect launched on Thursday in two varieties: a stand-alone Kinect that retailed for $149.99 and the Kinect Xbox 360 console bundle that retails for $299.99 and $399.99 for the 4GB and 250GB memory size respectively.

According to many retailers, the stand-alone Kinect accessory has already sold out, and the console bundles are well on their way to selling out as well. Microsoft has even moved its sales forecast saying that it will sell 4 million Kinect sensors before the holiday season is over.  With these impressive numbers along with the wave of publicity endorsements the add-on has received from Oprah Winfrey and Ellen Degeneres, Kinect stands to fulfill Microsoft’s promise that the add-on will be akin to a full-scale console launch in scope and size.

Surely this means that Kinect is a true revolution for gaming and the new step in interactive entertainment. I hate to rain on the parade, but I’m still a little skeptical. There are a few lingering problems with the hardware and software.

First and foremost, all controllers have lag. That is to say, there is a moment of pause between when the player pushes a button and the action happens on-screen. This pause is so miniscule that most players never notice. The average lag of a wireless controller for a game moving at 60 frames-per-second (FPS) is 100 milliseconds. Early reports of people playing with the Kinect hardware report lag of 150 milliseconds. This may not seem like much of a difference, but with the lag from the television coupled with the Kinect’s reported lag, it will create a noticeable annoyance for players.

As an aside, Microsoft has stated that Kinect requires six feet of space between the sensor and the player. This space increases to 8 feet once two players jump into the mix. I don’t know about anybody else, but I don’t have that kind of space in my apartment’s living room.

Second, the launch line-up is too similar and too large. Kinect is launching with 17 games. Among those 17 games, four of them are fitness games, three are sports games, two are mini-game collections, and the others are casual games.

The problem lies in the fact that many casual gamers don’t like choice. The Wii was so successful because Nintendo presented consumers with one choice for each genre. Microsoft offers multiple choices and casual players are going to have to choose. Unlike those of us who follow games seriously, most casual players don’t want to research which game they should buy. This creates a problem where the consumer, not wanting to waste money on a bad investment, isn’t going to buy any games.

Third, there is nothing to appeal to the core gamers that Microsoft has courted since the inception of the original Xbox and Halo. Casual gamers provide a sales boost, but the hardcore carry the industry through its toughest times. There were a lot of plans for Kinect internally with Microsoft including Kinect functionality in Fable III, which just launched last week. These plans were scrapped as the director of Fable III, Peter Molyneux stated that the Kinect functionality just wasn’t up to snuff. Kinect hasn’t been ruled out of Fable III or any upcoming core games but most developers are skeptical of its use in traditional games.

Kinect is a great idea in theory, and it’s quite revolutionary in its system of tracking the human body to control gameplay. Any new control system is going to face these same problems but Kinect almost seems to magnify these potential issues. The consumer ultimately decides the fate of any new hardware and this holiday season will decide if Kinect is a fad or if it is here to stay.