Talking Point: What Did We Learn From Kinect?
Posted by Ken Barnes
Sales success, but critical failure.
The next chapter in the Xbox story is about to be written, and we’re expecting that from the opening paragraph, the next generation of Kinect will feature. The overall consensus seems to be that Kinect was a success at retail, shifting over 24 million units at the time of writing, but that with a dearth of high-quality software and waves of poor titles, it was a critical failure. Kinect 2.0 is due to be announced either on May 21st, or at E3 in June, so this is the perfect time to look back and think about what gamers, developers, publishers, and Microsoft themselves should have learned about motion control.
You Can’t Please Everyone
In general, gamers aren’t stupid. You can’t usually pull the wool over their eyes easily. There are some truly great Kinect experiences out there – Fruit Ninja Kinect, Child of Eden, the Dance Central games, Kinect Sports, and The Gunstringer are just a few – but even with that in mind, a very high percentage of gamers just aren’t interested. Why? Well, there are a number of theories, but the simple fact is that a lot of people out there – a lot of whom haven’t even tried Kinect – see the device as something for casual gamers. Given the available software lineup, that isn’t an entirely unfair conclusion, but Microsoft still seems to be intent on convincing the hardcore. The amount of time dedicated to the likes of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier and Splinter Cell: Blacklist’s Kinect functionality at previous E3s is a testament to that.
This time around, with Kinect 2.0 likely to be bundled with every console and publishers far more likely to adopt Kinect support because of it, it’ll be interesting to see the path that Microsoft take. Will they continue to try and convince the inconvincible? Or will they – more sensibly – carry on pushing the kinds of titles that they’ve pushed so far for the device, and hope that the naysayers actually give Kinect a try one day and come into the fray that way?
Nobody knows as yet, of course, but the one thing we do know is that even if Kinect 2.0 is absolutely perfect in every way, there will still be a fair percentage of gamers who will remain unconvinced.
Everything Needs To Work, Every Time
One of the main issues that prevents people from enjoying Kinect, is its inconsistency. You’ve got voice recognition that understands the first four commands you give, but then either gets the fifth one wrong, or completely fails to acknowledge that you’ve said anything. In terms of motion control, a similar thing occurs relatively frequently. A few games get it right by noticeably overcompensating for errors, but in lifestyle products such as UFC Trainer, a similar range of missed commands occurs. Your first three press-ups are picked up quickly and flawlessly, but you can do another six identically right after, and watch as your count remains fixed on three. That just isn’t acceptable, and it isn’t going to win any new fans. With Kinect 2.0’s rumoured higher-definition camera and more accurate detection, this should improve the situation somewhat, but the software has to keep up.
Not Every Game Needs Kinect
We’re big fans of Kinect. But that doesn’t mean that we want to see every single game include Kinect support. Look at the aforementioned Ghost Recon: Future Soldier’s “Gunsmith” mode, which allows you to take a gun apart using gestures, spin it around, zoom in on it and save it for use in the game. There’s absolutely NO benefit to doing this with Kinect. Using the controller to do the same thing makes much more sense. Shoehorning Kinect support into titles that motion control doesn’t naturally fit with does nothing but make the device look like a bad joke. You can look around your car in Forza Motorsport 4 using Kinect? Past the first time – when it would have been a bit of a novelty – just how many people did Turn 10 think would use that regularly?
Let Kinect stick to what it does best, by bringing us games that provide rewarding motion control.
The first Kinect’s start-up time is absolutely horrendous at times. It’s all well and good saying that you can control the Xbox Dashboard using voice commands or motion control, but if Kinect isn’t “ready” by the time the dashboard has loaded (we’ve seen it take a minute and a half to come online), what’s the point?
After we press that power button, there’s an inherent expectation that once the infuriating “spinning wheel” loading icon has cleared, everything will be ready to go. Often, your Kinect device will still be initialising. This needs to be fixed next time around.
The Wheat Needs to Outweigh the Chaff
Outside of Nintendo’s own titles, software sales for Wii games were – generally - miserable when compared to the system’s installed base. The reason for this is quite simply that the vast majority of Wii titles were almost offensive in terms of quality. Non-gamers who are pulled in to gaming by the attraction of motion control will only suffer so many bad games before they decide that they aren’t going to buy any more. There’s only so many times they’ll drop £20 or more on the likes of Ninjabread Man, Countdown, or Billy the Wizard before they don’t come back again.
The first-generation Kinect software library DOES feature some gems – as we’ve mentioned – but the sheer weight of rushed, lazy, unrewarding titles means that people are generally wary of purchasing Kinect titles – more so than if they’re buying titles that use a standard controller. Barring implementing a 1980’s Nintendo-style approval process, there’s not much that Microsoft can do about this – but we’re hoping that in the next-generation, publishers finally realise that with gamers becoming better informed (thanks to the Internet), just farming out trash in the hope of turning a quick buck has a smaller and smaller chance of working.
And please…limit it to just one Just Dance title a year, Ubisoft, and we might be making a bit of progress.
What are your feelings about the first round of Kinect action? Were you impressed? Disappointed? Let us know in the comments.