Nintendo has been a runaway success with the Wii console. Where motion controls and casual games were at best a niche market when it came to consoles, they proved that consumers would buy the hardware as fast as they could make it. Hoping to capitalize on the idea, both Microsoft and Sony have introduced new devices that promise to “change the way [we’ll] play games” on their respective consoles. But how are they doing it, and will it pay off?
Microsoft is betting a lot on Kinect, and it shows. From hiring a world-renown acrobatic troupe to officially launch the device, to spending the majority of their E3 keynote press conference showing it off. The problem is, it’s a big gamble.
They indicated the device would not be made for the “core games”. Halo and Gears of War, two major, exclusive IPs for the Xbox, both have upcoming releases. While it may have been a worry that they would “tack on” an inappropriate Kinect feature for the sake of using the device, they don’t have any Kinect features whatsoever.
Kinect is an entirely new device, and all the games are new. They’re also all strictly Kinect games. If you want to play any of these new games, you must buy Kinect; and if you want to play any games with Kinect, you must buy the new games. The Kinect games shown so far have a definite “Wii-too” vibe. There are multiple “Kinect Sports” collections and a couple “Kinect Fit” games, in addition to a couple casual “steering-only” cart racing games.
There are two notable exceptions to the “casual” and “Kinect-only” rule, though: a new Forza game showed off features that included Kinect-based driving and interacting with a car in a showroom; and Fable 3, whose Kinect features are mostly under wraps, but has been promised to be 100% playable with a standard controller and have special, immersive features for Kinect.
Price is somewhat difficult to discuss, considering Microsoft has refused to announce an “official” price. Retailers, however, have already started taking preorders in anticipation for its November launch, and they’ve unanimously set the price at $150. Even Microsoft’s own store is taking preorders at that price, albeit with the standard “price subject to change” notice. It’s a high price for a completely new add-on for a console that doesn’t work with any existing games, although it’s worth noting that only one device is needed, as a single Kinect unit will reportedly track multiple people easily. (The E3 demos showed two people at once; reports that four people and possibly more can use the device simultaneously have also surfaced, although people beyond the first two may not be valid “targets” for full tracking.)
Microsoft’s target demographic for Kinect is quite obviously the casual gamer. However, it seems unlikely that this will move Xbox consoles into the homes of those gamers. It’s really only likely to expand the Xbox’s influence in the homes where it already exists, i.e. a home with at least one “hard-core” gamer. This will be for the partners, spouses, or parents who occasionally play Zuma or or Peggle off of XBLA while the hard-core gamer, the one who “owns” the Xbox, is off at work or school.
On the other side of the aisle, Sony is taking a slightly different tack with Move. Not only is the device different from Microsoft’s Kinect, using a physical controller instead of tracking the players’ bodies; but their core marketing strategy is pretty different as well.
One of the smartest things they’re doing with Move is giving it an install base. There are games that are either on the market now or will be before Move’s launch that are playable without Move, but will have added features or modes when played with Move. So, assuming people have the games that will have Move support, people will have a reason to get Move.
For future support, they touted the benefit of Blu-ray, where a developer can ship a Move and a standard version of a game on the same disc. It’s a good concept. On the positive side, it means their market has less of a danger of being split — a game wouldn’t not be sold for lack of a peripheral, since the same disc would work just as well with or without it. It does make me wonder how it might affect production costs, though, if an “additional version” is required for the Move, and how different the Move version might be from the standard. It would, of course, be dependent on the developers and how they choose to incorporate Move.
Sony is also bringing Move into the “core gaming” market. They showed off a wizarding-type game that showed off how well Move works in an action-adventure environment. The results were rather impressive.
The Move’s price sounds a little more palatable at $50, but that’s only for the “Motion controller” itself. The PS3 requires an Eye camera to track the Move. Sold separately, the Eye runs about $40. There is also a secondary controller to the Move wand, the “Navigation controller”, akin to the Wii nunchuk. Sony says the Navigation controller is functionally equivalent to the left half of the standard PS3 controller, so a user could choose to use to hold that in his hand instead; but users optioning for maximum comfort by getting the Navigation controller (designed to hold in one hand) will shell out another $30. That’s a total of $120, and that’s for a single player; each player will require their own Move Motion controller. As soon as you add a second player, you’ve exceeded the theoretical price of the Kinect. (Mileage will vary with to-be-determined bundles of Move controllers, Eye cameras, and games.)
While it’s probably inevitable that Move will see its share of “Wii-ware”, Sony is primarily pushing Move’s entry into the hard-core gaming market. Their target demographic for Move — as well as all of E3 — is the core gamer, the one that plays Resistance and God of War.
Between the two, the PS3’s Move seems the most strategically sound. They’re launching it with an install base, and setting the stage for games that support but don’t require Move so they don’t automatically divide their install base into the haves and have-nots. They are also targeting the very game players that likely bought the PS3 in the first place. Kinect, on the other hand, is entirely separate and new. When it is released, no existing games will support it; it will require all new game purchases to go with it. The install base will be split; a Kinect game will only be sellable to someone who owns a Kinect. The Kinect itself is targeted towards the casual gamer, one who may be unlikely to have an Xbox of their own. Thus, the households that are potential Kinect sales are the ones that both already have an Xbox and have a casual gamer in their home. Families are most likely, with singles the least. It’s also probable that current Wii ownership could be a deterrent, considering how similar the Kinect games are to Wii titles. Why get a new, probably expensive peripheral for the Xbox when you can already play most of the same things on the Wii?
Console peripherals are typically a big gamble. Developers like to see enough of them sold and attached to consoles before they are willing to invest time developing for one, let alone making them required and tying their sales to its success. Consumers like to see enough games that support them before deciding to invest in the purchase. Time will tell if either Kinect or Move is enough to be successful, or if they’ll join the long line of console peripherals that only ever saw support from a handful of games before fading into obscurity.