Chalk this one up to another prediction Steerpike got wrong. Microsoft’s motion sensing Kinect hardware has moved a stunning eight million units in 60 days… far, far more than the company’s prediction (one that I at the time thought bombastic, absurd, and unbelievably out of touch) that it would move three million units by the end of 2010.
We’re hearing of some issues here and there – some claim a new spate of red rings; I gather the device setup isn’t as straightforward as it could be; and of course there’s still debate over how much space you need and whether you’ve got to get rid of your coffee table.
But with eight million units sold, we must consider the larger philosophical questions. I admit I thought Kinect and Playstation Move both would bomb completely, and be stuck with only the usual Wii-like party games. But here Kinect sold eight million (Move isn’t doing nearly so well); Heavy Rain has already been ported for Move and Kinect has the upcoming Child of Eden, a game that looks almost transcendent. And yet motion controls haven’t yet fully integrated with the expected game experience. A lot of Wii games depend on traditional controller-style play. Moreover, despite the sales numbers, I have a feeling many a Wii is gathering dust in many a media cabinet. There’s a difference between “buy” and “use.” So will Kinect bridge this gap?
Console systems have long suffered a very basic issue: there has not yet been produced a control scheme as precise and flexible as the keyboard and mouse. While many players have gotten quite adept with thumbsticks, WASD reigns supreme. Even the Wiimote and Move can’t compare to the precision of an on-surface mouse. It’s a matter of human engineering, and the level of precision which we can apply to certain motions and digits.
Kinect (may be) different. If it reliably behaves as it claims it will, it could bring precision control to strategy games like Starcraft 2 on the console. But here in just the second generation of this kind of hardware (think of Wii as first, Move and Kinect as second), it’s too early to guess how precise things will eventually get. Though if Kinect can read our expressions now, Kinect 2 will probably be able to track eye movements, and from there the sky might be the limit.
Many “mature” people have told me they’d be interested in getting into video games but can’t because of the learning curve. “You take to it naturally,” they say. Well no, I didn’t. I started with an Atari 2600, which had one button and a joystick. The NES controller had two buttons and a D-Pad. The A, B, and C buttons on the Genesis controller were an embarrassment of riches. Of course a 360 controller, which has seventeen direct inputs plus two analog channels, seems like too much to start with. That young children can do it without the benefit of starting with a 2600 controller is based (in my opinion) on new theories of genetic and evolutionary memory – there have been some studies (which naturally I can’t find right now) that basically say even some very recent life skills are transferred over in the womb, and so eight year olds these days take to modern controllers like a fish to water. My eight year old self would have gotten the hang of a 360 controller pretty quickly, but of course by then I was already indoctrinated with the idea of what video games were and how to use them. A nongaming septuagenarian would also become accustomed to it, but it might take a little more time and patience.
Motion control comes sort of naturally to all people, so it follows that Kinect seems, to them, user-friendly. Even Move requires that you hold an object in your hand – an object that to a nongamer is alien and potentially intimidating. Though ironically, I thought that Move’s evolutionary step forward would prove more successful than Kinect’s revolutionary step forward.
I’m actually toying with the idea of getting one. There are no games I want to play on it, though Child of Eden is coming, but even so I admit I’m almost curious enough about how well it works to blow $150. I’m fairly certain my living room is large enough, and though the coffee table would have to go, it’s light enough to slide out of the way. Perhaps I could get one of those fitness games and get into shape. I’m not getting any younger. It couldn’t wind up like the elliptical I bought years ago; the device is too small to act as a clothes rack.
That thought aside, it sold eight million units in two months. The level of self-delusion I thought Microsoft was indulging in when they said they’d sell three million is pretty high, and look at it now. Honestly I thought they’d be lucky to sell three million across the entire lifecycle of the device. This is probably why I’m not considered one of the industry’s top analysts.
Things are changing out there. Before it shipped, everyone including me couldn’t wait to mock it – you need a room the size of an airplane hangar, you can’t sit down, blah blah blah. And then eight million units later, at $150 apiece, Kinect may have the last laugh. A co-worker was asking me about Kinect before Christmas. His daughters, seven and twelve, wanted it. He did not.
“You have no choice,” I said, “whether or not you want it, any household with young children will have to buy the thing on account of Kinectimals.”
So maybe that eight million is just the number of households whose kids finally drove their parents apeshit enough to buy the god damned thing so they could pretend to pet baby tigers and stuff. Or maybe not. After all, he did come into my office this morning and say “Matt, the Kinect is the most amazing piece of technology I have ever seen.”
What’s a guy supposed to do with that?
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