Is Kinect shooting itself in its invisible foot?

So, E3 has come and gone, and Microsoft has given Project Natal its final lick of paint. It is now Xbox Kinect, branded as the ultimate evolution of interactivity. With a great deal of pride, Microsoft asks the consumer, "Who thought that YOU would be the next Xbox 360 controller?" Who indeed? A more pertinent question may be, "Who thought that YOU being the next Xbox 360 controller was a good idea?"

Kinect looks great as a tech demo, and the lavish Cirque du Soleil extravaganza that unveiled it certainly introduced us to a bold and potentially exciting new concept. However, I fear that Microsoft, and indeed the public, aren't thinking very far ahead with Kinect. Just how much longevity does it have? Is there room for deep and involving gameplay? Most importantly, how is Kinect going to be able to entice the mainstream gamer in the same way that Nintendo's Wii has?

I have doubts about all three of those questions, having seen Kinect in action, and I fear that Microsoft's latest gimmick of invisible controllers is going to shoot itself in its invisible foot.

At first glance, Kinect appears to be a world of possibilities. A lack of controller, the recognition of an entire body's movement, it all looks like a realm crammed bursting with freedom and choice. That is, however, until you realize just how restrictive it is. The beauty of Kinect's interface is that it looks far more engaging than it actually is. When you sit back and think about it, the scope of what Kinect can do is incredibly limited.

There's a reason why the vast majority of Kinect titles we've seen so far are dancing games, minigames, and EyeToy knock-offs. It's because Kinect can't really handle anything else. The inability to conveniently make in-game characters walk forward already limits what the peripheral can do for gaming. One racing game has the player leaning forward in order to accelerate the car, but how long can you keep doing that before it becomes uncomfortable? That promising Star Wars game, otherwise known as the one title Microsoft will keep trotting out to convince us that Kinect isn't just for "TEH CASUALZ", requires the player to move forward in "bursts" by throwing their arms out. It may as well be on rails. A big deal has been made out of Child of Eden, but it's still on-rails and not really that hot looking. It's also coming to PlayStation Move, where I guarantee the controls will feel more precise and engaging.

On-rails gameplay is pretty much the body of Kinect's library from the looks of things, and there are only so many ways to make those types of games interesting. Having no buttons or joysticks sounds like a cool concept, but Microsoft underestimates exactly how crucial buttons are to the enjoyment of a game. Even the Nintendo DS has face buttons. The iPhone has only a touch screen, but who can argue that the iPhone is well suited for any game type other than weird puzzle games and five-minute oddities? I love the iPhone and I think it's an important gaming device, but the lack of actual buttons and sticks limits what it can do. The same goes for Kinect. Actually, I see Kinect being even more limited than the iPhone. At least the iPhone can mimic D-Pads and buttons, albeit in an unconventional and not always useful way. I dread to think about Kinect attempting to do the same.

Much of my time at E3 was spent watching sweaty game journalists play with Kinect. By the end of the week, I couldn't tell who was playing what. They were all doing the same things. Dancing around or jumping, while playing glorified EyeToy games. Microsoft has done a great job with the hype, but the delivery should fool only the most gullible of gamers. Show me a Halo or a Metal Gear Solid that can work better on Kinect than with a controller and I'll show you a horse that can ride a bicycle.

The simple fact is that real videogames aren't going to work with Kinect, and if a brave developer attempts one, it will most certainly be a simplified version, or a version that would just work better with a real controller.

We've already seen how Microsoft's ambitious plans for Kinect have been scaled back. Remember back at E3 2009, when players were shown steering cars with their hands and slamming their feet on invisible breaks? Yeah, where was that game at E3 2010? It wasn't there because Microsoft has had to consistently scale back its ideas. The Kinect of 2010 is significantly less exciting than the Project Natal of 2009, and it's because, from the very beginning, the product was more idea than substance.


  • HasRealitySmackedYouInTheHeadYet - December 4, 2010 7:06 p.m.

    Look at the sales. 2.5 million in 25 days. I guess that's an epic fail. 5 million by the end of the year expected. Another epic fail. 20 million projected by June. You are missing the big picture. This is so much bigger than gaming. So are you just anti-Microsoft, or will you write a follow-up piece in the coming months in which you eat humble pie?
  • Fro4show - July 4, 2010 7:43 p.m.

    I hope that Kinect really is as bad as it seems. Microsoft screwed up and if they do not recieve the rewards they look for, and instead a slap on the hand, then maybe they'll just stay away from Nintendo's market and focus a little more on the hardcore gamers. Hopefully they'll be rash and make an immediate turnaround by E3 2012. If they end up busting it out like Nintendo did at E3 this year, then maybe I'll forgive them.
  • nwnfan98 - July 4, 2010 5:31 a.m.

    worst idea by micorsoft to date what sucks even more is that everyone is trying to copy nintendo with motion control they should just stick to what they do best and stop trying to copy eachother all the time
  • philipshaw - June 30, 2010 12:34 p.m.

    Great article and I agree that it doesn't appeal to anyone because the price is too high and you can only make party games for it
  • pin316 - June 30, 2010 11:54 a.m.

    I have a 360, and would like to be able to say that I'm looking forwards to this but alas i'm not. however - not for the typical reasons I think the casual market has a place (and can be a lot of fun at times even), but kinect might be a step to far for the casual gamer...the wii (and move in future as well) have a key element - something that you hold and point at the screen - this gives a point of reference that makes the concept easy for a non-gamer to understand. I think someone who isn't used to technology is more likely to discount kinect as over the other two as the concept of not having to use anything won't make sense. On the 'hardcore' (man i hate that word for gamers) side of things I was actually really excited initially about kinect - not becuase i think that it would make current types of games better or anything, but rather there is the potential for completely new types of games to be invented, adn that's exciting. However, i would have hoped that something would have been announced by now, yet all we get is companies trying to work existing mechanics into kinect controls. Think outside the box people - i mean, you could create something akin to a platform-style game, but instead of moving the character (which would require a control), you could instead have it where you actually manipulate the environment instead. It would work in a similar manner to the control of the dashboard - that whole minority report thing - it would be kind of an inverse platformer with a similar core concept to those games where you move an entire maze to try and get the ball to the exit, but on a massive/complex scale.... That took me more time to write than it did to have the idea - imagine what some of the guys out there in the industry could come up with. In all honesty kinect should be a nintendo thing, as i'm pretty sure they would be able to think outside the box and come up with some awesome concepts
  • thor0997 - June 30, 2010 4:02 a.m.

    I come back from a day at work. Im tired but want to have fun. I want to press buttons, not jump around and jog. Microsoft just didnt get it. Could be coll, but just isnt there yet.
  • hyrumwhite - June 29, 2010 11:04 p.m.

    It's like you peered into my mind and typed out what you saw. Kinect is going to fail and fail hard.
  • Sabtos - June 29, 2010 10:27 p.m.

    Hadn't thought of many of these points. I definitely will not buy the Kinect at all. And I'm not even sure I'll ever find an excuse for buying the Move, although Heavy Rain would have been 100% better with a Wii-like controller scheme. Great points, read the whole thing. "Show me a Halo or a Metal Gear Solid that can work better on Kinect than with a controller and I'll show you a horse that can ride a bicycle." "I wouldn't expect self conscious [or old] people to play with this peripheral at all."
  • BodyDamage - June 29, 2010 8:44 p.m.

    this is exactly what ive been saying ever since natal was announced. they've completely missed the point and are a day late and a dollar short. i'm no big fan of the move either but at least sony seems to be taking a bit more of a "little of this, little of that" approach in the perspective of casual vs core games. "heres move, now heres twisted metal" that kinda thing.
  • Metroidhunter32 - June 29, 2010 8:30 p.m.

    Natal is inferior to the Wii even for the hardcore games. Wii can make a hardcore game work (Prime, No More Heroes) but Natal is good for nothing save the minis.
  • BillyBrush - June 29, 2010 8:01 p.m.

    For hardcore gamers - yes, there's one reason. Child Of Eden, the industry at the moment is churning over the usual games, yearly big FPS' etc (See EA E3 conf), and something like this comes along once in perhaps a 5 yr cycle (if lucky). So, for connoisseurs of leading edge visual art/music/control in games, Child of Eden is basically it (also on Move of course). 99.9% of this may be for casuals not gamers, but the 0.1% looks something very special, and i think gamers with taste (i.e. the rez fans out there) it's a must. Also 3 companies with remotes and nunchucks would be dull, even if this does flop.
  • TruckThunders - June 29, 2010 7:58 p.m.

    Kinect has been very entertaining so far, but not in the way Microsoft intended. The (negative) press feedback from E3 has been very entertaining for me. I'm sure the media circus that will ensure at Kinect's launch will make for comedy gold.
  • Mozz3r - June 29, 2010 5:09 p.m.

    I'd like to see how Kinect could be employed in improving certain genres that don't work too well using a controller, RTS's for example. I know R.U.S.E. will be playable using touch screens, why not on Kinect, using similar gestures? Use that with voice control like in End War and there might be an enjoyable experience to be had playing an RTS on a console. Granted you will look and possibly sound like a prat, but it's a possiblity.
  • Pruman - June 29, 2010 4:04 p.m.

    After reading this, it's clear that Kinect is yet another example of Microsoft's twin strategies of "deliver crap into the market and then float a toxic cloud of promises that kills off superior products until there’s no options left but to buy Microsoft’s crap" (props to Daniel Eran Dilger over at and copy-killing its competitors. I thought the tech looked pretty cool until this year, when Microsoft decided that it wanted to out-Wii the Wii instead of focusing on its core audience (although, we should have seen this coming when "avatars," which were shamelessly ripped off from Nintendo's Miis, debuted a few years back). Thanks Microsoft, but I already have a Wii, along with millions of soccer moms and old people that comprise your target market. If we want to play third-rate ripoffs of Wii Sports and Wii Fit, we already have plenty of options. On top of that, soccer moms and old people aren't as excited by technological innovation as core gamers and early adopters are, so getting a slice of that audience that Nintendo captured already is going to be an uphill climb from day one. I predict massive fail for both Kinect and Move based on this premise, and the one on price that Jim addressed here, along with the fact that needing to buy two different things and put them together is going to be too hard for the average soccer mom or grandparent. (FYI - I take no sides in the console war. I own and love all 3 systems, and am hard on all of them when I think they're being stupid.)
  • fattoler - June 29, 2010 3:45 p.m.

    I'm thinking of buying a Wii just for Epic Mickey, not because of it's motion control. Take note Microsoft, games make people buy things, not gimmicks.
  • InFeRnOg - June 29, 2010 2:48 p.m.

    This article mirrors my sentiments precisely. To quote a previous GR article, games use controllers because they WORK and they work well. The world doesn't need Kinect and it certainly didn't ask for it.
  • CAPST3R - June 29, 2010 2:39 p.m.

    This is what I've been talking about! Kinect and Move are absolutely moronic ideas. Move wouldn't be too bad if they tried to innovate a bit (PSP-style joysticks on the controller, perhaps?), but all they're doing is trying to dig in to the Wii's market. The fact is that only morons will buy this, and I dare say that not even the CODBOTS are that stupid.
  • Nanook - June 29, 2010 1:40 p.m.

    Yeah, it'll be a creative and conceptual fail, but I think you're underestimating the "gotta have the newest, brightest, shiniest thing NOW" aspect of the gaming market. Kinect'll sell out come Christmas time. Sell out like CRAZY. Next Christmas? If you still want one you'll be able to get all the same ones from last Christmas in the used bin. These articles tend to separate gamers into "casual" and "hardcore" exclusively. While I give big props for the sliding scale GR tends to use (recognizing that the separation between the two isn't black and white), I think you do underestimate what based on my experience is a LARGE section of the videogaming market -- people that will buy any new peripheral as long as the hype is there. It's become an odd status thing amongst superficially tech-headed males. I remember when Rock Band came out, all the dudes I knew with gaming systems went out and dropped a ton of money on the whole kit. Virtually NONE of them still have it (and Rock Band is widely considered to be one of the good game/expensive peripheral tie-togethers) or even kept it for more than 6 months. Microsoft has read the tea leaves well enough to know that even though this isn't the future of game-media ANYTHING, there are enough dopes out there who'll buy it, just to have it, that they'll make a buck enough to make it not a monetary fail.
  • lozarian - June 29, 2010 1:22 p.m.

    @purple_omlet - "kinect has the potential but cannot deliver" I don't know if it's cannot, or will not, in the mad scramble for casual money. Just as the wii had massive potential, but didn't deliver, I predict kinect will fail similarly. Just in a more expensive way.
  • Bateman666666 - June 29, 2010 12:37 p.m.

    i am gettin it... why not eh?

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