Hot Topic: Kinecting to a Whole New Generation
Written Wednesday, June 30, 2010 By Martin Gaston
For a long time now, Microsoft’s Xbox has been seen as the purveyance of hardcore gamers. This can be attributed, predominantly, to two reasons: firstly, the consoles (especially the 360) are chock full of features to appeal to this particular demographic and, secondly, that Microsoft has spent oodles of cash on perpetrating this image.
Moments before journos were bored to tears with Kinect.
But the times, they are a-changing. Microsoft’s E3 2010 press conference emphasised the company’s dramatic U-turn. While previous years have seen titles like You’re in the Movies pitched as the aperitif to mainstay franchises like Gears of War and Halo, this year we saw Halo: Reach and Gears of War III briefly rushed through to make way for Kinect Sports, Kinect Adventures and Kinectimals. Kinect, for 2010 at least, is ruling the roost over at Microsoft HQ.
This renewed focus on the lucrative casual market has been met with varying degrees of scepticism, especially across sites like X360A, which are especially tailored to attitudes of the core audience.
I am not especially fond of the term ‘core’ when it comes to gamers, as it does little other than add layers of distance, complexity and separation between people and games, but I will be using it in this article as a term of contrast to the ‘casual’ gamer demographic that has been subject to such grand scrutiny over the last couple of years. They are familiar and recognisable terms, and they also help signify a split in gaming demographics, all of which I will be discussing later in the article.
Kinect, then, has been pitched solely at a wide casual audience. The sole exception is the Kinect version of Forza Motorsport, which seems to be trying to appeal to dads who love a bit of car porn. The potential for Kinect to redefine the boundaries of the Xbox are immense, and Microsoft is banking on it doing exactly that. But what are you supposed to think if you’re perfectly comfortable with the console as it is now?
Forza's Kinect showroom lets you look under the hood.
Anyone who thinks motion controls will destroy our beloved core gaming might want to consider whether they’ve accidently become inverse victims of Microsoft’s aggressive hype campaign. Granted, it’s hard for a long-standing gamer not to consider the impact of Kinect when you can’t even visit YouTube without seeing an advert featuring two fake children pretending to enjoy the product, but this is exactly how Microsoft wants the product to be seen.
The trepidation most core gamers have towards things like Kinect, I think, is that they feel trapped in a medium that’s chosen to abandon them. What happens to us core gamers, and our preferred methods of playing games, when every games publisher is off chasing a slice of the potential profits that Nintendo has been enjoying for the past few years?
The truth is that Microsoft is trying to present Kinect as a world-shatteringly important peripheral, and one that will redefine the very fibres of our day-to-day existence. They are doing this in an effort to get consumers to spend what is predicted to be $150 on a product come its launch in November. The eventual reality, as we have seen countless times with almost everything on the receiving end of extensive marketing campaigns, will probably be slightly different to what they’re trying to pitch.
My personal opinion of Kinect is not exactly positive - but then I feel none of the games on offer at the moment are trying to curry the favour of someone like me. At the same time, I don’t think Microsoft has forgotten the core gamer, but instead realised titles like Halo: Reach and Gears of War 3 barely need promoting at this stage in development. They’ll sell themselves, after all, and both games look so familiar and comforting the pair will undoubtedly fit the sweaty palms of the core audience like a snug glove.
Are Microsoft swapping Halo for Kinect? No chance!
Microsoft is much too clever to forget their existing audience and the sales potential of their established franchises, after all, there will almost definitely be big pre-launch promotions, and classy adverts for the pair will be splashed all over YouTube, newspapers and in the trailers when you take a trip to the cinema. It makes far more business sense, however, for them to devote their current time and resources on promoting their new slice of the unknown.
Still, that’s not to say Microsoft couldn’t have handled their E3 2010 conference better. This was their big opportunity to effectively pitch Kinect to the core audience and gain some momentum on an undeniably important product in the company’s future, and even the most devout Kinect optimist would have to admit Microsoft stumbled on the former.
While E3 is still predominantly a trade show, its news lights up the web for weeks in its wake and plenty of gamers even stream the conferences live from their computers. One of the main reasons for the negative response towards Kinect from the core gamer is undoubtedly because these dedicated fans now feel left out of a console they have invested in for years.
It also means the big question regarding Kinect – at least for a site and community like X360A – has been left entirely unanswered: is Kinect compatible with the core gamer?
Awwww. I just want to shoot him. No. No! I mean cuddle!
The problem, as I see it, is that Microsoft has - intentionally or not - created a immovable dichotomy with their product line. You’re either a casual gamer, idly dossing around with things like Kinectimals and Your Shape or an indignant hardcore gamer seething with resentment as you plug another four hour session into Halo: Reach. In targeting their assorted products so aggressively at one particular demographic, the overall images presented have become ones of exclusion instead of inclusion.
Interestingly, Sony worked very hard to pitch their competing Move device to the middle section of the market. Sorcery looks like it could bridge the gap between casual and hardcore, offering up a traditional slice of dungeon crawling with accessible Move controls. Killzone 3 will also feature Move support, which has the potential to be interesting regardless of the fact it will almost definitely be inferior to using the controller.
It’s much easier for Sony to do this, of course. Their technology isn’t as revolutionary and is also a perfect fit for the shooter mould, which works out just dandy for them seeing as how it’s the staple genre of the core gamer. Microsoft has the more ambitious - and arguably more exciting - product, but they seem to have made absolutely no effort to bridge the gap between casual and core gaming. Even Ubisoft’s Child of Eden, one of the most exciting product announcements of the show, was completely marginalised to make way for more excruciating time with Skittles and Kinectimals - or, more probably, because it isn’t exclusive to Kinect. Still, it feels like a wasted opportunity.
Oh well, maybe E3 2011 will be different.
Editor’s Note: Hot Topic is a monthly feature here on X360A, where we take one of the month’s talking points and discuss it until your eye-balls bleed through sheer delight. Now that's intense!