The lackluster sales of such poor efforts to court the casual audience as Scene It? and Youâ€™re In The Movies made Microsoft realize that it will need something far more eye-catching to turn heads and take the industry by storm. Its answer to Nintendoâ€™s triumphant Wii is Project Natal or Kinect, as itâ€™s now called, a controller-free, motion sensing add-on peripheral. As thrilling and promising as Kinect is, however, I canâ€™t help but notice that Microsoftâ€™s all-out strategy of market expansion is riddled with some glaring flaws.
Following are five reasons as to why I think Kinect is likely to flop when it releases later this year.
1.) $150â€¦ Seriously?!
Kinectâ€™s price is at the very forefront of why Microsoftâ€™s approach at attracting a wider audience is muddled. The Redmond guys keep preaching to us that Kinectâ€™s primary mission is to drive new console sales to new consumers and the software line-up unveiled at E3 definitely manifests that determination. What doesnâ€™t dovetail at all with that strategy is the high price. Now, the entry cost for Kinect is only $149, they say. Thatâ€™s trueâ€¦ for existing owners, the majority of which are most definitely not casual gamers. What this means is that the consumer Microsoft is aiming for doesnâ€™t only have to pony up for Kinect, but also the Xbox 360 console itself which brings the total price to a significant $299. Taking into account that most of the casual crowd has already flocked to the Nintendo Wii, judging by the decline of the Wii sales, Kinectâ€™s price is none too inviting.
Granted, there will be a million or two of early adopters who just want to get their hands on the latest new gadget or see the device as a fun thing to have around, be it for their families or their friends, but that number could have been a lot higher if Microsoft had opted for a lower price.
Having said that, whatever way you cut it, $149 is simply asking too much.
2.) Lack of clear direction
Before E3 2010, Microsoft had to choose between either using Kinect to reinvigorate the way existing core owners play games or using it to lure in a mass market and drive console sales to new heights. When the day arrived, Microsoft sent a crystal clear message: We are going after the casual slice of the pie! Though hardcore gamers were mostly disappointed, having previously thought Kinect could open the floodgates for some cool new ways to play their favourite franchises early on, it made perfect sense for the motion controlling device. Then came July 20, the day Microsoft confirmed the price to be $149, and the whole thing instantly made a hell of a lot less sense. It not only makes them look greedy but also clueless as to where they are headed. For someone whoâ€™s basically playing catch-up, itâ€™s a very bold move to say the least. This disconnect between target audience and price makes me very doubtful of Kinectâ€™s future.
3.) Software line-up too Wii-like
Kinectâ€™s main advantage over the Wii is no doubt the ability to play games without any controllers. As Microsoft likes to say: â€śYou are the controller.â€ť If thatâ€™s the case, then why is almost every single Kinect title a duplicate of some Wii title? You have your mini-games collection ala Wii Party, a sports game ala Wii Sports, a Yoga game ala Wii Fit, and others. Where are original titles that would set Kinect apart from the Wii? Peter Molyneuxâ€™s Milo Project would be a great start towards genuine differentiation from the other products. As it stands, Microsoft gives consumers very little incentive to ditch their Wiis and invest in Kinect.
4.) Too late to the game
Since the Wii launched in late 2006, Nintendo has sold a whopping 72 million units! Thatâ€™s nearly twice as many units Microsoft has been able to sell to date, despite a one-year head start. The integral part of Nintendoâ€™s success story with the Wii is that it was the first one to discover a new market with very high potential and did its best to exploit it in many ways. After four highly successful years, the market has finally started to show signs of saturation, as evidenced by the drop in sales. That doesnâ€™t seem to worry Microsoft though, who thinks that Kinect will spur new interest, even though itâ€™s following in the footsteps of the Wii like a duckling. A lower price and a software line-up that actually offers a new, noteworthy interactive experience would go a long way to alleviate the consequences of arriving late to the market.
5.) Customer perception of Xbox brand hardly works in Microsoftâ€™s favour
Everybody knows what an Xbox is by now, surely. Brand awareness is definitely there. However, itâ€™s the way that itâ€™s perceived that makes the job of Microsoftâ€™s marketing staff that much harder. Since the dawn of the Xbox brand, the console has been regarded as a place hardcore gamers like to call home. The new Alienware-like look of the redesigned Xbox 360 console doesnâ€™t help much either. Nintendoâ€™s products, on the other hand, have always been known as family-friendly and the Wii simply augmented that reputation. With that said, the consumer perception of Xbox 360 as a shooters console will only serve as a detriment to Kinectâ€™s performance on the market.
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This is a column written by ICGamersâ€™ news poster Zan Toplisek. The opinions expressed in the editorial do not necessarily represent the views of ICGamers as a whole.