Kinect aims to please, but price could be a hurdle
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 2:09 PM
NEW YORK -- Caryn Bailey, a 32-year-old blogger and mother of two, is impressed with Microsoft's new Kinect game-control system. But she already owns the Wii from rival Nintendo, and she's not ready to shell out hundreds of dollars to switch.
That's the challenge Microsoft Corp. faces as it begins selling the long-awaited system on Thursday ahead of the lucrative holiday season. To succeed, Kinect will need to exude the kind of iPad-like magic that defies frugality and gets people spending to experience something new, even as they cut back elsewhere in the uncertain economy.
By all accounts, Kinect is loads of fun. The black, rectangular device, used in conjunction with Microsoft's Xbox 360 console, goes just below your TV screen and senses all the activity in the living room. Using a 3-D camera, depth sensors and voice-recognition software, it recognizes your face, voice and gestures as you move around and talk, without requiring you to hold a controller or wear a headset. Kinect removes the last barrier between you and the screen: the remote.
With Kinect, your on-screen character faithfully mimics your movements. Kinect also determines where you are in the room and with whom, and it can register objects so you can scan in your skateboard and "ride" a digital version on screen.
It'll have you flailing your arms to steer on-screen cars using an invisible steering wheel. It'll have you shaking your bum as you practice on-screen dance moves. It will even take a photo of you doing these things so you can post it on Facebook for everyone's amusement.
Both Kinect and Sony Corp.'s new Move controller build on the active, motion-guided gaming experience pioneered by the Wii four years ago. Both are betting that Wii owners are ready to graduate to high-definition consoles and more precise controls.
"The best thing is that you don't have to sit on a couch. You get up and move," said Bailey, who lives in Aliso Viejo, Calif., and tried the Kinect at several Microsoft-sponsored events. "There is a lot of interaction between you and the person you are playing with."
That said, you don't really need one. And at $150 - that's without an Xbox - it's a pricey proposition in the current economic climate. Buy it with the console and throw in a few $50 games, and the price tag for fun can quickly rise to $400. Move, meanwhile, costs $100 for a camera, one controller and a game, or $400 for a PlayStation 3 bundled with a Move controller and camera. Extra controllers are $50 each.
"If I didn't have any gaming system, I'd choose the Xbox, without a doubt," Bailey said. "But I've already invested so much in the Wii."
Bailey, who has a 10-month-old daughter and a 3-and-a-half-year-old son, is precisely the type of customer Microsoft is going after with Kinect as it works to expand its reach beyond the "Halo" crowd by removing complex controllers from the experience. But unlike hardcore gamers, who can be counted on to open their wallets in good times and bad, people who play games more casually can be fickle.
Microsoft, which launched the original Xbox in 2001, won't disclose how much it is spending on convincing people that Kinect is a must-have item for the holidays.
"It's pretty unprecedented to see the type of retail support and marketing support and consumer enthusiasm we are seeing," Dennis Durkin, who runs day-to-day operations for Microsoft's video game business.