We haven’t weighed in on Microsoft’s Kinect (formerly “Project Natal”) because we haven’t seen anything exciting about it yet. Maybe it’s better than Sony’s Move, and advancing what the Wii provided from a technological perspective. But let’s step back for a moment and look at where this all began, with Nintendo’s current console offering.
We picked up a Wii on release. We waited in line overnight, for crying out loud. And we did thoroughly enjoy the initial titles we played, but let’s be clear: they weren’t groundbreaking titles. Good titles with motion control, yes, but not groundbreaking titles in and of themselves. Maybe motion control is what made the Wii unique, and sold casual gaming to the masses, and maybe even pushed consoles into family entertainment centers where parents were previously skeptical of consoles as family-friendly entertainment. But as far as titles go, there’s no single Nintendo Wii game that’s more fun to play than any great title on any other console lacking motion control. (For example, the original Mario Kart was no less fun than the current Mario Kart is today.)
Yes, we’ll make a small exception for workout titles; EA Sports is a fantastic at-home workout for those without a gym who want to get into better cardiovascular shape, and traditional control schemes obviously wouldn’t work in this regard. But EA Sports, and games of this ilk, are not exactly fun gaming titles in the traditional sense.
So now with Kinect set to release late this year, we have another motion control scheme, albeit without a physical controller necessary. And this may work well for casual games, and probably pretty good for workout titles also (there will, after all, be an EA Sports title for Kinect). But for other gaming? If anything, Microsoft is looking to grab more Wii users and capitalize on the fact that a good chunk of gamers own both a Wii, and an XBox/PS3. Capturing the “casual” gaming crowd is an expected move for Microsoft, who has already moved in that direction during the XBox dashboard re-do (avatars, et al).
We’re highly skeptical that Kinect will bring anything worthwhile to the table if one already has a Wii sitting next to their XBox; Kinect is the Wii peripheral for the XBox. It’s a cool idea, but nothing more than a novelty, which conveniently comes out mid-way through the XBox 360 lifecycle. If anything, it combats Nintendo’s move of potentially releasing an HD Wii, forcing Nintendo to up their ante and delay a new product release more in line with Microsoft and Sony’s next generation, else simply throw in the towel like Sega did after the Dreamcast.
Either way, the Kinect alone won’t win Microsoft the battle here; the Kinect is a reactive move by Microsoft. Not in the way that the Move is Sony’s reaction to the Wii (which is playing catch-up more than anything else), but in the sense of allowing the XBox to be a competitor to the Wii on all angles – not just meeting the Wii’s capabilities, but arguably exceeding them without adding cumbersome, physical controllers. This move will likely pay off in keeping the 360 situated as the premiere US console, but probably won’t force Nintendo out of the console business entirely, unless Microsoft is able to capture some choice IP for Kinect-based games.
We just don’t see the Kinect doing much to sway the console wars one way or the other at this point. The Wii has already been widely adopted, and so the potential installation-base in Wii-less households appears very small. Unless there are some killer titles out there that make having Kinect outrageously desireable (and we haven’t seen any yet), why drop the money on Kinect?