“By taking the controller out of the equation, Microsoft has solved a problem that didn’t exist.”
Tom Chick, Fidgit
One question nags at me about the-technology-formerly-known-as-Natal: what’s it for?
Have people really been hanging out for a breakthrough in motion-controlled gameplay? I don’t think so. I think core gamers and the wider market alike are politely disinterested – in the legal sense, of “not having the mind or feelings engaged”. They may yet be convinced, but they’re not clamouring for this.
So what, right? Nobody knew they wanted a Wii until Nintendo told them. And this is, pretty clearly, an attempt to improve on the Wii. Microsoft is doing what Microsoft has always done best: take someone else’s successful idea and build on it.
But the idea they’ve chosen to build on here is motion control, and motion control alone didn’t make the Wii popular. Arguably, it wasn’t even the primary factor; just a means to an end. The Wii was popular because it made games accessible. It was cheap, friendly, obvious and not in the least intimidating. Motion control allowed Wii games to be self-explanatory: people could watch someone play Wii Sports for a split second and say, “Oh, that’s tennis!”, without ever seeing the screen.
I don’t know what people will make of Kinect. I suspect they’ll find it a little bit intimidating, a little bit scary and weird. Look at the sensor bar: it’s black. It looks expensive and technological. It stares back at you with a trinity of baleful eyes. And seeing it in use is like witnessing a demonic possession. How is any of that friendly and accessible?
There’s a line in marketing: “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” The sizzle, the hype, the idea is what gives products like the Wii momentum. Microsoft is trying to copy Nintendo’s success by copying its technology, and it can now justifiably say, “We’re better, see?” But the Wii was designed to sizzle, and Kinect doesn’t seem to have been designed for anything in particular. Microsoft has just cooked a better steak.
That’s not to be discounted: on the face of it, Kinect does seem to be a better technology than the Wii. But the people who really care about that, who digest the bullet-point details of the product and consider its benefits, are the enthusiasts: core gamers. And they’re showing few signs that they want this. To them, it’s the solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. They like their twelve-button controllers and twin thumbsticks, and they don’t see why they should give them up.
“I just do not want motion controls.”
Leigh Alexander, Twitter
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