A lot of ink (real and virtual) was used up yesterday on Microsoft's new add-on for the Xbox 360 called Kinect (previously code-named natal) which basically turns your body into a games controller.
What is Kinect? Well, here's a video showing it in action.
Looks pretty cool, right? A bit like a Nintendo Wii but without the nunchucks. As well as offering control features, it'll also allow for facial and voice recognition and video chat too.
Now, the question is, will it be a hit or a miss? Back when Nintendo announced the Wii, folks were skeptical. Pundits didn't like the name, thought the controls would suck, and worried about lag and the lack of good games to make use of the control system. As it turned out, these fears were unfounded and the Wii was a runaway success.
It's clear what Microsoft is trying to do here. Basically there's little that separates Xbox from Sony's PlayStation 3 since the games are usually available for both consoles simultaneously. What Nintendo did with the Wii was carve out for itself a niche that offered different games and a different gaming experience. It worked. What Microsoft is trying to do is a similar thing, only three and a half years later.
Let's do some number crunching. Nintendo has sold some 70 million Wii units, Microsoft some 40 million Xbox 360 units, and Sony some 35 million PlayStation 3 units. This means that Microsoft certainly has the user base to push this sort of add-on onto. Sony is also playing catch-up, with it's wand-based motion controller not due until the fall of this year, giving Microsoft the advantage.
But does any of this advantage translate into Kinect being a winning product? No. Only one thing does - the games.
What separated Wii from the rest of the herd was that it took gaming in a new and different direction. Not only did it move away from the pixel-perfect obsession that Microsoft and Sony was chasing, it also introduced gaming to a whole new market of people who previously didn't see themselves as console gamers. This bold, and potentially risky move, paid off. But it paid off not because people were jazzed by the tech, but because people liked the games. If Microsoft is going to convince people to part with $150 for Kinect on top of the price of a 360, the games not only need to be good, they need to be fantastic and capture the imagination of gamers.
Success and failure of Kinect will come down to the games. Sure, there's a price barrier for those making the leap to the 360 in that they need to buy the console and Kinect, but if the games are good enough, I can see this being good for Microsoft.
What does it mean for gamers? Well, I guess it means that the 360 will get exclusive games (and possibly exclusive features for other games) that PS3 users won't get. It fragments the market in Microsoft's favor. But again, it's down to the games and whether Microsoft can convince studios that Kinect is a good bet to invest in.
If Kinect, along with a raft of good games are released in time for the holiday spending extravaganza, then this could get some serious traction.