Microsoft's Kinect for Xbox 360 is Doomed to Fail
By John Dvorak
Renamed the Kinect at E3 this week, the product formerly known as Project Natal isn't likely to be much more than a neat gimmick.
Microsoft rolled out Kinect—the peripheral formerly known as Project Natal—this week at E3 in Los Angeles. Videos of the product have surfaced all over the Web, including over at my blog. The device is essentially a mechanism that that lets players become the game controller. I think the pause button is a hard slap to the forehead, but I'm not really sure. Anyway, while the device could forever end childhood obesity, it's doomed for a number of reasons—not the least of which is its Microsoft origins.
First of all, game play is typically a sedentary activity. You typically play games while already pooped out from the day's activities. The last thing you want to do is jump around like some ninny. The device is never going to catch on with the general gaming community for this reason alone. Kinect is also limited by what it can actually do. Serious gamers get into fine control with specialty controllers that can execute elaborate and accurate action. This will never happen with full-body control—it would be too hard to make it work, and no coders will ever put in the effort much past, "it kind of works. Ship it!"
Then there is the big bugaboo: hardwood floors. Unless your house has a slab floor of solid concrete, no one is going to tolerate the room and house shaking that will be produced by this "controller." This relegates the games to the cement floor basement playrooms that are rare in many parts of the country. Live in an apartment? Prepare to be evicted.
Many homes have a second floor where the children's bedrooms are. You can be certain that this device, and the Xbox that uses it, will never find its way to the upstairs bedroom where the house would be shaken to its foundation. You may as well buy the children a drum kit. Even with padded carpeting, this product will be a nuisance to anyone not playing—that will probably be most of the people in the house, since it appears the controller can only handle two people, not a mob.
And while the carpeted floor may dampen the annoying home-wide shaking, the carpet will be beaten to death and deep-rooted dust, mites, and god-knows-what else will be kicked up. You'll need an electrostatic precipitator or high capacity HEPA filtering system in the house if you are going to use this. Of course, Microsoft designed this for families in an environment with no real families: the Microsoft compound in Redmond. People who develop such things are usually single men with no real thought about how such things will go over in a real family environment.
Let me give them a hint. Shout the following as loud as you can, "hey, you're shaking the whole house! Turn that damned thing off and go outside if you want to jump around! Now!" A recording of that plea ought to be included with the product.
That said, I'm sure this device will be fun to pull out at a party. It will also be a great way to monitor calisthenics. It does seem like an amusing way to run in place and do other limited motion exercises. It has to be a natural for non-impact activities, too. The bowling game might be interesting. Tai-Chi fans might find this product ideal as well, though watching a video tape will probably offer the same benefits.
This all seems like Microsoft's answer to the clever Wii controller, with its built-in gyroscopes and accelerometers. But when all is said and done, game consoles were invented with game controllers in mind. The Wiimote is a modernized game controller. The Kinnect is a gimmick, and as gimmicks go, its popularity will be brief, unless the most compelling game in the world arrives built around it. And I do not see that happening.