Game Buzz is a weekly opinion column designed to take an irreverent look at one of the biggest news stories to break in the past week. Every Friday we’ll be bringing you another slice of reaction to topical gaming news, and inviting you to agree, disagree, shout assent, vent rage, scream and complain to you heart’s delight. This week, following speculation about Kinect's price point and a number of statements from publishers, we take a look at what might be in store for Microsoft's answer to motion control.
Wow, this has been a bad week for Kinect... and it's all about the money.
Kinect's $150 price tag has been under constant attack from all sides these last few days... and even from within. Microsoft are apparently being wracked by internal disputes over whether to release their peripheral at a loss due to its huge manufacturing costs- and retailers and publishers alike are lining up to take their shots. HMV, ShopTo and Morrisons have doomed Kinect to fail if it debuts at anything over £100. Square has calmly dismissed Kinect as a novelty toy that "won't change the games industry." Activision are "concerned" that it's simply too expensive to consider producing anything but a few selective titles for. Frankly, Microsoft's inability to finalise their price point is nothing less than a flagrant show of weakness.
However, this latest week is just the tip of a blunderous, shameful iceberg. Microsoft has mishandled, mismanaged and missed the point at every stage of Kinect's publicity campaign over this last year; demonstrating a gobsmacking degree of incompetence and detachment from the desires of the average gamer.
Microsoft started strong when Steven Spielberg stepped onto the E3 stage last year... but it's been downhill from there. Seeingly ashamed of their own peripheral, they clammed up tighter than Bobby Kotick's purse strings- issuing weak and defensive press releases on an irregular basis. Whilst Kevin Butler took great gouges out of Kinect, Microsoft simply sat there and turned the other cheek; letting their potentially revolutionary project dwindle into obscurity. Heck, in a recent poll, only 15% of gamers had even heard of it!
This publicity fiasco reached its crescendo in their E3 Press Event... where no amount of animatronic elephants and poorly-acted happy smiling families could cover up the stench of weak launch titles and a blatant lack of substance. From beginning to end, MS have simply botched the job.
But here's the thing, folks. Whilst Microsoft appear to be actively attempting to drive their product into the ground, Kinect is actually a very capable and exciting piece of technology in its own right. In fact, I'd go as far to say that it's got the potential to be a true game changer- possibly more so than the Move or the Wiimote. Before you reflexively scroll down to the comments to give me a right royal flaming, allow me to explain my reasoning...
Microsoft have been banging on about how hardcore gamers can stick with their beloved controllers, and casual gamers can enjoy Kinect... but seem to be missing a very important point. What's stopping a game from using both a controller and the Kinect peripheral at the same time? Just off the top of my head, I'd love to stick my hand out and mime a drive-by shooting in a GTA title... or wield a virtual sword with my right hand as I control my character's movement with the controller's thumbstick.
And that's just the camera. The voice recognition software claims to be one of the best in the business- so the mind boggles at how this could be applied to almost every gaming genre. Giving accurate commands to virtual squad members in the middle of a pitched firefight or deploying a powerup would be as simple as taking a breath... and just imagine what it could do for the console RTS genre? Being able to snap back to your base or give extremely complex commands to offscreen unit groups would completely change the face of console strategy games. And hell, scrolling through labrynthine RPG stat menus would feel like that scene from Minority Report. With Swords +1.
Of course, this is just off the top of my head. I'm sure you could come up with any number of better suggestions... which is where Bethesda comes in. Seeing Kinect in action, they suggested that it was "wasted on games", and Microsoft ought to open up the API to its budding crowd of Indie developers to see what they can come up with. Whilst it's unlikely that they'll show much love to the bedroom devs (considering the current shameful state of the Indie Games service), I can hardly begin to imagine what the combined creative skills of the independent scene could come up with.
The fact of the matter is that Kinect offers developers genuine choice. It could be used to create entirely new game experiences or integrate and improve upon existing ones- and I genuinely believe that, if handled properly, Kinect would be the most important console innovation since Xbox Live and PSN. But that would require Microsoft to manage and price it properly... and as we've already seen, there's almost no chance of that happening.