Now that some of the dust has settled from this year’s (rather uninspiring) E3, it’s time to step back and think about the prospects for Microsoft Kinect and Playstation Move.
After all, these products are like mini- console launches mid-generation – and that’s not something we’ve seen before (unless you count something like Sega’s 32X0.
So what does the future hold for these two peripherals – other than you waving your arms around like an idiot?
Wii Are Not Threatened
First, it’s important to note that neither Move nor Kinect can, in terms of sheer numbers, pose a real threat to the Wii. The Wii has already sold 70 million units worldwide. In terms of scope and dollars, it’s clear the Wii will remain dominant in the near-term.
But that doesn’t mean that either Move or Natal couldn’t theoretically be more influential for what’s coming next or that ‘hardcore’ gamers might not respond to them more favorably than they have the Wii.
So in some sense, both Move and Kinect are experiments; partial attempts to keep the PS3 and 360 relevant for longer than a normal hardware cycle, while at the same time setting up the Playstation and Xbox brands as being ‘for the whole family’ in the future.
Which One Will Yo Momma Play?
Regardless of any of the rhetoric coming out of Sony or MS, one thing is clear: they, like Nintendo, are looking to broaden the demographic of who plays games. Put another way: it’s all about your mom.
So which of the two will appeal to a more mainstream player? Hands down, Kinect. Yes, the initial games seem little more than Wii evolved – simple, cartoony and best consumed in short spurts – but that’s exactly what the mainstream gamer finds compelling. With Kinect Adventures and Dance Central, Microsoft has the type of game that is far more likely to attract a family crowd – or, for that matter, drunken college students looking for some fun.
On the other hand, while Sony have Move Party and Eyepet, the simple fact that they require the Move controller puts Sony at a disadvantage. After all, the kind of people for whom the Wii was their first video game experience ever have never held a controller, right? In fact, it seems Sony is more intent on appealing to hardcore gamers than the Wii crowd. So…
Advantage with casuals: Microsoft
However, when it comes to traditional action games, there’s just no way around it: Sony looks to be in a better position than Microsoft.
The problem for Microsoft lies in the technical constraints of Natal. The camera technology at the heart of the tech introduces lag into gaming that make it less suited to the frenetic pace of the 360’s key franchises like Halo or Gears of War. Furthermore, Kinect can’t be backported into existing titles.
What we haven’t yet see, however, is how Kinect may be used to provide compelling, secondary functions in games that still mainly use the standard 360 controller. (Sorry folks, walking around a car in Forza doesn’t count.) It might be interesting to see how someone like CliffyB works Kinect into whatever Gears spinoff we spin next.
Move, on the other hand, seems better poised for ‘hardcore’ games, since its relative lack of lag and superior precision allow for its implementation in titles like SOCOM 4 and Killzone 3, which will obviously appeal more to the traditional action-gaming demographic. Furthermore, Move can be backported to older titles, and is in games like Heavy Rain and Resident Evil 5. Based on what we’ve seen so far, Move is of more interest to fans of shooter and action games.
Hardcore advantage: Sony
Media: Overlooked Path to Success?
These days, the HD consoles are clearly used for more than gaming. So you have to wonder: to what extent will Microsoft push Kinect as a new way for people to interact with their media?
See, the thing is, my elderly parents – and less tech-savvy friends – are often baffled by remote controls. If Microsoft could market this as the device that lets you access Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, video and music and other services with a simple swipe of the hand, they could open access to technology in a way that even Apple haven’t been able to yet. The E3 demo certainly looked compelling.
Of course, a potential problem here is that Kinect may not work while sitting down – which would be a giant fly in the proverbial ointment, and render everything I’ve said above null.
As for Move? Sony have demonstrated using the controller to scroll through the XMB, but it’s definitely nowhere near as ‘noob-friendly’ as Kinect. Assuming that Microsoft can work out their issue with sitting vs. standing, it looks like they’ll be better off.
Media Advantage: Microsoft
Yet, despite all the chatter about which gamers think is better, a lot of this will come down to marketing. After all, other than Wii Fit – a product that successfully targeted a pretty specific demographic – few video game peripherals have ever succeeded.
So the question is, who is better suited to sell a message to a mainstream audience? To my mind, Microsoft. This generation, they’ve just been better at crafting a comprehensive message. Whether Xbox Live, Halo or Gears, the folks at Redmond have been more successful at making their platform the one people associate with gaming this generation.
While Sony has now found success and a compelling marketing figure in the Kevin Butler ads, it’s unlikely it’s a campaign that they will be able to extend to a mass market. This means they’ll need to find a new way to sell Move in a new way, and Sony haven’t always been able to nail marketing campaigns off the bat.
So, unless Sony do something really surprising in terms of marketing…
Marketing Advantage: Microsoft
At the end of the day, if we’re talking about ‘which will prevail’, then this comes down which will sell more. And as to that question… well, if I had to venture a guess, I’d say Microsoft.
Why? With a larger installed base, a better track record of marketing this generation and a line-up more suited to a broader demographic, it seems like Microsoft are more poised to sell more units.
Sony’s Move will have some success – and to be entirely honest as an owner of both systems, it’s the one I’m more personally interested in – but Microsoft just seem better at selling experiences to a mass audience than Sony, and with a head start in the numbers, it seems that MS is the horse to bet on.
Still – what’s clear to anyone concerned with video gaming as more than just entertainment is that neither company has shown much in the way of true innovation. What we’ve gotten is largely rehashes of Wii games. We’ve seen small glimmers of new ideas, such as the above video for Echochrome 2, that uses the PS Move as a flashlight so that players can use the shadows to solve puzzles.
But other than that, this will likely be a marketing game for now, with each company doing their best to push their product on hype for now and hoping that the truly compelling titles are ready for 2011.
Nonetheless, anything that expands gaming to more people is a good thing. Let’s just hope that neither Microsoft, Nintendo nor Sony are content to rest on their laurels and give us something truly groundbreaking and revolutionary in the way of games soon.