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Why the Success of the Kinect is Important... and Why Hardcore Gamers Shouldn't Be Bashing It

  • Feb 19, 2011
I was recently cruising the internet and reading the video game forums.  For those who don't know me, I enjoy reading the threads but I never participate.  Not until gamers can go beyond saying, "You suck because you don't like what I like," and go beyond swearing and cursing out anyone who disagrees.  Gamers are a finnicky lot.  The good ones never speak up and the bad ones have somehow defined us.  Recently I found a thread discussing the Kinect.  It was on one of those websites where so-called "Hardcore Gamers" (i.e. people who THINK they're gamers but aren't because they're not willing to play and jump into EVERYTHING--case in point a gamer LOVES ALL GAMES and does not care for what system it's on) hang out. 

I came across one post that was a rant about how motion control was destroying gaming and how the Kinect was going to be the start of a horrible, bleak, future for gaming.  Such is the case whenever gaming has progressed.  When the Playstation came out everyone thought the CD based format was going to be the death of gaming... turns out it was one of the best things for gaming.  People screamed in terror at the thought of Microsoft entering the arena because it would take some of the development away from Japan... turned out that having more Western and European developers wasn't such a bad thing at all. 

With the release of the Wii motion gaming took off.  What gamers forget is that in spite of the Wii's initial success, the controller is not dead.  Nor is it dying.  In the first place, the Kinect is an add-on.  Something you don't actually NEED to enjoy your XBOX.  It's something you'll need for certain games, but not to play something like say... Halo Reach. 

The part that caused me to actually jump onto the thread was when he talked about how he hopes the Kinect fails because there are already "too many casual gamers."  Let's forget WHY it's important to have casual gamers at the moment (the "hardcore" vs. "casual" gamers argument is the worst thing to happen to gaming since G4 decided they had to be SpikeTV junior).  Let's focus on why hoping for the failure of the Kinect is bad for gamers of any breed, and why it REALLY affects the Hardcore market as well.

When the Kinect was being conceived it was probably during the time when the Wii was more scarce than a grizzly bear in winter.  Where you had to basically be at the store when the Wii shipment arrived.  Nintendo was selling somewhere around 500,000 Wiis A WEEK when it was at it's peak.  And selling nearly double that come Holiday season.  That Wii shortage lasted from the time it launched to pretty much sometime in 2008.  And the only reason the shortage stopped was because it had sold so many.  No one needs two Wii consoles, for instance.  And when fifty million sell it means fifty million people have one.  So Nintendo was eventually able to keep up because their product was satisfying consumers.

Of course, by the time the Kinect was finally announced and actually completed, Wii sales have dipped.  It still outsells the 360 and PS3 every month but it's games are often terrible.  Hardcore gamers think this is absolute proof that the Wii is a bad console.  The games are terrible.  They forget that those terrible games are still selling.  Now, A LOT of Wii games really are terrible.  Even the ones that sell are pretty bad (the first Red Steel has sold over a million copies).  So the quality of the game usually doesn't make a big difference in the quantity it sells.  But the bigger thing that hardcore gamers ignore is WHY those games are bad.  It most certainly isn't because they have motion controls.  If that were all the Wii would've eventually stopped selling.  Bad controllers have impacted the sales of consoles a lot (The Nintendo 64 may have been a success, but a lot of consumers didn't want one because it had an awful controller, and the Sega Genesis had software sale dips because the Super Nintendo version had a far superior controller).  It's true that SOME games have horrible motion controls.  Mario Party 8, for example, mostly has you tilting it to the left and right.  It's not intuitive enough.  But the bigger reason most games are bad is because developers aren't really trying very hard when it comes to developing them.  Because right now they're taking advantage of the new gamer.  That "casual" gamer, as it were.  They haven't been gaming long enough to know a good game from a bad and Wii games like that are cheap to make.

This is in part why the Kinect exist.  It appeals to the casual crowd.  They're eventually going to try and bring it to that hardcore crowd too.  It's not like it can't happen. 

We seem like we're getting away from why the success of the Kinect is important, but we haven't really.  There's just a lot to cover before we get into why Hardcore gamers shouldn't be bashing it.  The success and failure of the Kinect affects them greatly.  They just haven't considered how. 

We're going to jump into that now.  Let's start with the obvious.  The first being it's a ploy to steal some of the Wii's market.  This is actually where I think Microsoft is making a mistake with their Kinect.  Imagine, if you will, that you walk into a bookstore and you see two books.  Both of them are the same.  Same words, same title... same version.  They're both paperbacks with no real distinguishing differences.  But one of them cost eight bucks and the other cost sixteen.  Again, they're both the EXACT same book so please save your smart ass, "One is a trade paper back and the other isn't," kind of comments to yourself.  The point is... it's the same book, but one is double the price.  Which one would you buy?  No one is going to pay for the sixteen dollar book.  Not if they're both the same. 

This is what Microsoft is doing.  Sure it's not the same thing exactly, but the games on Kinect so far are mostly better looking versions of some of the games we're seeing on the Wii.  If this is the casual crowd... you have to market to them by giving them more than just a prettier version of the same game.  The Wii is cheaper.  Sure it doesn't look as good as the 360... but money talks.  Now, the Kinect has seen some moderate success because they actually are putting out different types of games and because you do more than just waggle a controller... you actually use your whole body.  That's the genius of what Microsoft is doing.  They're taking Nintendo's product and making it better.  But that's not exactly enough for the casual gamer.  Remember, the biggest reason the Wii is ridiculously successful is that it holds firm to what so many hardcore gamers forget works: simplicity.  Anyone can get into it and play.  There's no worrying about whether or not you've got a great television to play on or anything like that.  The setup is also self explanatory.  With the Kinect you're asking those same gamers you're trying to steal to spend money on the 360 itself... and then spend MORE money on the Kinect.  The 360 is already around 300 bucks.  The Kinect is 150 on top of that.  Why would the casual gamer want to spend 450 bucks when they could spend 200?  Different games... check.  Different setup for the controller... check.  Simplicity?  Almost check.  Money Management... big minus, there.  Using your body as a controller is great, but it goes a little too far in the sense that the casual gamer needs to have a simple way of setting it up.  And HD is also something that may not make a difference either.  A casual gamer is probably not going to care so much whether or not they're bowling in HD.  We're not watching a Blu-Ray, here, or plowing through fantastic, hyper resolute environment.  You're dancing... or bowling... or something.  You're playing a game where the graphical presentation doesn't really matter so much as the fun factor.  With that in mind, advertising HD for Kinect games is a waste of the casual gamers time.  A Hardcore gamer might like this, but if the assumption is that Hardcore Gamers don't care for Kinect (a great deal of them actually do) then looking good doesn't matter as much as playing well.

Likewise, the hardware of a console has NEVER been successful on their own.  The software has always decided the fate of a console and how well it does.  This has been true since the beginning of gaming.  Remember, that video game crash didn't happen because the consoles were no good, it crashed because the GAMES were terrible and eventually stopped selling so well.  The Kinect will be a success if it has good software.

The good news is that casual gaming is widespread.  Regardless of what Hardcore gamers think, we'e ALWAYS had casual gamers.  This is why even your precious 360 and PS3 you sometimes see games like Bejewled or Tetris or Portal on them (people don't think of Portal as a game that was made to appeal to casual gamers... but it really was... it holds onto simplicity to really make it work and even Hardcore gamers love the hell out of it as a result).  Again, sometime Microsoft is getting right with the Kinect.  But to pretend that we're in the middle of this "rise of the casual gamer" is ludicrous.  They weren't under a rock or keeping themselves independent of the Hardcore crowd... you just didn't have a big corporation like Microsoft or gaming journalists at places like Gamespot, IGN or Game Informer giving them a label before.  In fact, until then most of us never really thought about it.  It only recently became important to distinguish the two crowds.

So we've made it clear that the Kinect is more expensive and that can harm it... but hasn't really done so at this point.  The thing is selling relatively well.  This is a good thing.

But Hardcore gamers say otherwise.  They say this is a bad thing because it's going to change the face of gaming forever.  Two things to consider.  The first is that the industry is always changing.  It's inevitable.  Many of these screaming Hardcore gamers are too young to remember when cartridges were the thing to play games on and people were afraid of what going to a CD based format would do.  The argument was that load times would interrupt your playtime (because gamers are clearly notoriously impatient), that cartridges had an internal battery to save directly to the game, and that we were already familiar with that technology.  When Final Fantasy VII came around we understood the importance of doing this.  You could develop a game at a cheaper price.  You no longer had to come up with 70-80 dollars to buy a game.  When the Playstation launched only having to spend 50 bucks on a game to purchase it was a Godsend.  It was 20-30 bucks cheaper to do so (and consider that the gaming industry isn't hit nearly as hard with inflation... when movie ticket prices were rising... gaming prices were DROPPING).  It was all around cheaper.  But most important... it allowed developers to really experiment with gaming.  They could afford to take risks and try new things.  The result of this were games like Resident Evil, Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX, Gran Turismo, Metal Gear Solid, interactive movies like Wing Commander, etc.  Sure, the Sega CD had already done some of this before and the PC was certainly capable of it... but at the time we all thought cartridges were better.  And yes, there was a divide.  "Real gamers play their games on cartridges and will buy an N64."  Gamers are like any other medium.  When something becomes popular they like to try and avoid it... even when the popularity is actually a good thing.  Yes, Wii Bashers... if you wanted to prove you were "Hardcore" at one point... you played the Nintendo console!  Final Fantasy VII made the landmark difference (Along with Wing Commander III) by showing that you could also make a game as long as you needed to.  Cartidges were limited.  If you wanted to make a game longer you had to design a custom cartridge.  Final Fantasy VII, of course, was going to be an N64 game first.  But it was going to cost well over 150 bucks to play it if that was the case.  The CD?  When you used up all the data on one disc you could continue onto another disc without having to charge the consumer more. 

How does this relate to the Kinect?  Easy... you're looking at a point in time when developers have a chance to really experiment with video games again.  It's our chance to break away from the tired First Person Shooter genre that has populated the advertising and the sales (there was a time when Platformers were the big thing... and later JRPGs, they all grew stale because you just couldn't do a whole lot of new things after a while... the same thing WILL happen to FPS's if they all insist in trying to be Call of Duty).  Developers have a chance to create and experiment with brilliant technology... for cheap.  This means that even if they make a terrible game... they can AFFORD to make it, realize it doesn't work and try again.  Part of the genius of Nintendo (we've talked about the genius of Microsoft already) is that they make sure they can recoup their cost.  They developed the Wii in such a manner they can afford to sell it for two hundred bucks and STILL make a proft.  This means that even if they make a horrible game, they recoup costs because their console is selling.  Microsoft and Sony can't do that.  I'm not sure if they're turning a profit off of their consoles yet (everyone knew that when their systems launched they were both selling at a loss) but they can't afford to make a flop just yet because there's nothing that will cover that cost.  Kinect has a chance to save them money.  Money they can use for another project.  And that project DOESN'T have to be another Kinect game.  It could go toward making the next awesome FIrst Person Shooter, Platformer, Adventure or Puzzle game or something like that. 

This is the importance of Kinect.  Whether you like it or not is insignificant.  The important thing is that it allows the industry to stay afloat and allows developers to experiment with what they have now.  What's more their game won't have to sell millions of copies.

But it gets bigger than that.  It's always bigger.  Here's where Hardcore gamers (that original forum poster especially) forget... Major Gaming studios are taking a gamble on Kinect.  Major Game studios that produce games that YOU love.  Games that you invest your time and money into.  They're gambling on the Kinect as well.  Why is this important?  If the Kinect fails it has the potential to take A LOT of the industry with it.  Because studios and developers are investing millions of dollars into it.  If the gamble doesn't pay off the studio could go under, thousands of people lose their jobs and YOU Lose out on some games.  The keyword is "potential."  If the Kinect fails it doesn't mean it'll take a studio with it.  If Infinity Ward invested a lot of money into Kinect they might survive if Kinect doesn't.  They'd have a huge loss of profits, but that's really it. 

But even a huge loss of profits is not such a good thing.  If a major studio doesn't go under... but loses profits instead it means they have to cut back on Game Development because they don't have the money to do it.  Meaning they can't give you the full experience they want.  You never know, one of the things that might have to be cut might be an incredible multiplayer experience.  Sure they could recover, but it would still mean you'd have to suffer through years of mediocre games before you got a good one.  The gaming industry could definitely survive a dark period like that (the limitations might even make developers experiment with their newfound limitations), but why  go through it if you don't have to?  And you could still experiment without having to be forced to do so. 

The point is simple: You don't have to hope for the failure of a system just because of your own selfish desires.  No one will force a Hardcore Gamer to BUY a Kinect, but the Hardcore gamer probably shouldn't stop someone from buying the Kinect.  In the first place, it isn't your money.  In the second place, there is a way in which it can harm the industry and punish the Hardcore gamer.  We're not saying this stuff WILL happen if the Kinect fails, only trying to get the so-called Hardcore Gamer to realize that success has an impact on him as well.  And that the failure also does.  The Gaming industry isn't "too big to fail," if you want a mediocre reference, but there is something about the potential of the Kinect brings to the table that Wii simply can't.  And I don't think it would be such a bad thing to encourage it.  You're going to get a lot of crap.  Every game system has more crap than it does actual awesomeness.  The only reason it seems like it's the other way around is because the race isn't over.  Sure we fondly remember the Playstation now... because the good games stand out while we let the crap it had slowly die.

The Kinect is still in its infancy and at the moment is in the perfect moment for developers to take advantage of its capabilities.  In a few years we can re-examine the Kinect and rule out whether or not it's worth it.  But for now, we can't exactly say, "I sure hope the Kinect fails," because if it does it can be a disaster.  Once people sort of grasp whether or not it was worth investing in and pull out if it isn't then we can hope for the failure of the Kinect.  But if the Kinect turns out to be successful--as it so far has been--then Hardcore Gamers would do best to simply let bygones be bygones, continue to enjoy their video games, and be content that their favorite developer is still able to develop for them.

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February 20, 2011
Good review/analysis. But like i said to a dude in Best buy the other day. Im not Ready for Controller free gaming. Hell I grew up with a controller in my hands im not letting that go just yet. An with kinects success it wont be long before everyone starts doing that. I see both sides of the argument though Yes a real gamer tries out eveything before they bash it but using nintendo As an example with the whole motion/casual gaming now a days there has been alot of those kiddie shovelware titles on wii. And i think thats what gamers are scared of. Delevopers seeing the money in casual gaming and they just ditch us non casual gamers. At least thats what im scared of. Nintendo hasnt really been one to listen to fans.
February 20, 2011
I don't think the controller is ever going to die and I don't think the Hardcore Developers will lose their audience either.  The trend with gaming here isn't really that new.  Developers will always go where the money is sure, but there are also developers who are well aware they have an audience.  As I said, the casual market has NEVER been something new.  It is always odd to me that so many gamers think this is new.  Until people started dividing it in the media no one really much cared.

Not even shovelware or kiddie shovelware is new.  That's also always been there, most of us just happened to look the other way.  Likewise, consider that Microsoft and Sony in particular tend to push you to buy certain games like letting others slide into oblivion.  Consider the previous generation.  Almost every week there was some new rhythm or Dance Game that came out.  Sony and Microsoft and even Nintendo didn't push these games, but they continued to push people to buy games like Final Fantasy, Halo, Metal Gear Solid... titles almost all of us have heard of while quietly letting the other games released to the casual market slide into oblivion.  Before you used to find a lot of the shovelware on the PC or on cell phones and stuff like that.  You found it on Consoles, it was just never really pushed before.  It's why it seems like it's so huge now.  Sure some games are selling but if you take a look at what the Wii's bestsellers are... their biggest sellers are almost all Nintendo produced and they're continuing video game series's that are familiar to everyone. Casual and Hardcore alike.  The Wii's flagship titles are partially big because of Hardcore gamers.  The casual crowd isn't buying the next Legend of Zelda, for instance... but it will still sell truckloads more than the next mini-game collection that comes out.  A lot of the shoevelware, despite being there, hasn't exactly sold well either.  It seems that way because it's everywhere, but consider that some of them (not all, but definitely some) don't have to sell well in order for developers to turn a profit.

Part of that comes from the fact that most of us who've been playing games for a while haven't exactly been good about turning Casual Gamers away from this stuff.  Instead most of the hardcore sector decided they needed to push them in a box... but didn't consider the mantra: "Friends don't let friends play bad games!"  If the hardcore market actually decided to help the casual market get acquainted and educate that market, you'd see sales in shovelware go down.  Instead gamers in general never got beyond that trash-talking stage they should've grown out of when they graduated high school.

But I think most of us also understand the majority of anything that comes out in any particular market is just all around crap.  Let's take the Playstation 2.  If we take every region video games on the PS2 were released in into account there are well over 2000 Playstation 2 games out there... but we only remember a couple hundred of them.  And even THAT'S a stretch to say.  Most of us could probably only name maybe twenty or so without a list open in our browser.  Because we filtered out the bad games and have come to only remember the classics.  The same thing is apt to happen when this particular generation is over with as well.

I guess what I'm saying is that the so-called Hardcore crowd doesn't have much to worry about.  Especially considering the sales for all those so-called Hardcore Games really shot up over the past couple of years despite the Wii dropping down.  We've broken more records than we've ever broken before and even those Hardcore games are becoming much more woven into the culture.  We even see more games selling more than a million copies than we've ever seen before.  And most of them are Hardcore games.  I think it's mostly a widespread panic because the people who are talking about it in the News and such... aren't really gamers.  But places such as Gamespot or IGN or Game Informer still focus on News that caters toward that Hardcore Gamer crowd.  As long as developers are still making a profit off of Hardcore games... there are going to be Hardcore Games.  And as long as that's around, so will the Controller.  There are just things developers can do with a controller they simply can't without. 

I guess I'm optimistic in that regard.  Extremely so because I see big potential.  Everything starts off casual before someone out there decides to reach a little higher. When gaming was first revived we mostly saved Princesses... now we're saving worlds and universes!  Who is to say with motion control that someone won't reach a little higher, right?
February 20, 2011
well clearly that shows that i may still be a little biased. looks like your a true gamer dude. keep being awesome.
February 19, 2011
pretty great analysis I have to say and a different way to look at this add-ons. I used to dislike console add-ons, but I have to say in this new generation, it does have its uses. Good commentary on the potential effects in the industry...I think the same can almost be said for 3D televisions these days, but then again, perhaps not...thanks for the great write up!
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About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes ()
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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Coming this holiday 2010, Kinect will turn YOU into the controller for games and entertainment, and it will work with every Xbox 360. Unlike 2-D cameras and controllers, Kinect tracks your full body movement in 3-D, while responding to commands, directions, even a difference of emotion in your voice.
  • You are the controller. Kinect provides a whole new way to play. It uses a sensor to track your body movement and recognize your face, even listen to your voice. If you know how to move your hands, shake your hips, or speak, you and your friends will be able to jump instantly into any Kinect experience.
  • Full-body play. Kinect provides a new way to play where you use all parts of your body — head, hands, feet and torso. When you're the controller, you don't just control the superhero, you are the superhero. Full-body tracking allows the Kinect sensor to capture your movement, from head to toe, to give players a full-body gaming experience.
  • Personalized play. Kinect provides an in-game experience in which the player’s face and voice are recognized. Greet and speak to characters in the game, or simply step into view of the sensor to log into Xbox LIVE and connect with friends. Kinect is smart enough to remember voices and faces. Fun has never been so personalized.
  • Off-the-couch play. Kinect provides gameplay that gets you off the couch, on your feet and in the fun. Each Kinect experience is designed to get players moving, laughing, cheering and playing ...
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Brand: Microsoft Xbox
Category: Motion-sensing console

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