Some days ago at gamescom Cologne I was able to spend some quality time with both Microsoft Kinect and Playstation Move. Both hardware add-ons shall broaden Microsoft`s and Sony`s audience in the casual market and extend the console cycles of both the Xbox360 and the Playstation 3. Here are some thoughts why I think these hardware add-ons won`t sell well:
1.) Technical limitations. Before testing Kinect at the Microsoft booth at gamescom I really thought this might be the best tech update for the consoles coming up next. Sadly, I must admit that after testing it I am a lot more sceptical that Kinect will improve the gaming experience a lot. Why? There is an input lag of a half or quarter second. Every user I talked to realized it during play and I think this will limit the games using the Kinect technology a lot. And there are other limitations (lower body point resolution, only two players simultaneously, bad recognition while sitting) mostly due to cost reduction of the hardware. So what we saw in the Natal demos won`t automatically work with Kinect…
Playstation Move feels pretty the same as the Wii Motion+. The hardware really looks robust and stylish and the cable connection of the Wii Nunchuck is gone. But why should I spend some money on an interface that`s pretty similar to the Wii one? Only for HD graphics? Because some old games get a PS Move update? Colour me unimpressed.
2.) The casual games bubble. I think the whole hype in the casual game market is a bubble which will explode sooner or later. Yes, the Wii sold pretty well but the majority of Wii games does not. The game attach rate for the Wii is lower than the ones for the 360 or PS3 which means that there must be some Wii owners out there who own just a handful of games or less. And now Microsoft and Sony want to convince the casual gamers who already bought a Wii to spend even more money for another console plus hardware add-ons plus games? And as a casual gamer you get a lot of free games at the moment. You have a huge amount of Free2Play-MMOGs, you have free browser and social games and a lot of free extra content for some games you already bought. Why invest money?
3.) Lean back versus stand up. I remember myself being extremely hyped after the first Wii trailers. Currently I am playing Monster Hunter Tri on my Wii (with the classic gamepad, not the remote) – but before this the console was not running for months. For core gamers the Wii is nearly dead – and even good core games like Red Steel 2 have very bad sales numbers. Motion control works pretty well for party games with friends but I know only a very few people who like to play core games for hours and hours with the Wii remote and nunchuck.
4.) Games sell hardware. I think the biggest mistake of Microsoft and Sony is to copy games that were successful on the Wii. In my opinion both casual and core gamers are unimpressed by the starting line-up for Kinect and PS Move. More party games? Another sport games collection? A light-gun shooter? Oh, a virtual pet? No, thanks. Sony has a small advantage with some core games like Heavy Rain receiving an update or Killzone 3 coming from start with the option to use Move. But both games can be played very well without PS Move – so why invest 150 bucks for something that is not absolutely needed to play the cool games? Kinect provides a new experience but the focus is on games for kids (Kinectimals) or casual gamers (Kinect Sports, Kinect Joyride). All the cool demo stuff from the early videos (beat`em up game, godzilla game and racing game) that hyped me is gone.
5.) The extension of the console life time. I think both Microsoft and Sony fear the next console generation and the dangers of a new console. Betting on the wrong horse (BluRay vs. HD-DVD, anyone?) can cost you a lot of money and both companies seem to prefer to extend the current console life time as much as they can. Microsoft`s 360 is now about 5 years old and Kinect already shows the limitations of the console hardware by being downsized from what Natal was before – of course they could have done Natal but at a much higher price point than Kinect. With the 360 being on the market with less than 200 bucks you cannot convince people to buy an add-on that costs more than the basic console. That`s why they downsized Natal.
Sony has a more comfortable situation with their hardware being more powerful on the long run but they also will try to extend the console cycle as much as they can. They are pretty straight forward in copying the Wii tech and making it slightly better but I don`t think that this will turn out to be the best idea. Sony`s main target group for their consoles has always been the core gamer (except the karaoke fans buying their Playstation just for Singstar). With Microsoft making a move into the casual game direction with a more sophisticated hardware approach, why does not Sony take the chance to strengthen the area they are good at? Sony probably would convince more new customers to buy a PS3 by strenghtening the keyboard and mouse support for future games (especially MMOGs and shooters).
In the end it does not matter which games are the ones that sell a system or hardware add-on, or if casual or core gamers buy the hardware. But I think a lot of people have some Wii remotes and a balance board at home which are not used that often. At the price point of 150+ bucks people will make up their mind if it`s worth to buy the add-ons and come to the conclusion that it`s not worth the money at the moment because there are no system-seller games out there. No hype. Both companies were very quick in building their own motion control to compete with Nintendo. It`s just a bit sad that they forgot to develop the right games for the hardware.
Picture by www.videogameszone.de