Who is this?

Technology Editor of Times of London until July 2010. Now swimming in the freelance shark pool, with abiding interest in games, gadgets and what it all means. If you're looking for product reviews, head elsewhere. Unless it's a really nice product. This is more of an attempt to sift out what matters from what doesn't. With a bit of gossip thrown in for good measure. I'm also learning to use Blogger as I go along, so please bear with me.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Has Microsoft priced Kinect out of the market?

So, Kinect (Project Natal) is going to be priced at $150 and out on November 4, is it?

If you've been away, Kinect is Microsoft's new motion-sensitive control system for its Xbox 360 console. The video above comes from a demo at E3 in June.

Let's hazard a guess at the UK price. The new Xbox 360 retails at $300 in the States, and £190 here. Today's exchange rate suggests that the US price equates to £200.

$150 in today's money suggests a price of £100 for Kinect. I'd expect it to be more in the region of £110 or £120 to guard against currency fluctuations. And don't forget, UK prices include tax.

Is this pricing level viable?

One industry insider I spoke to last week reckoned that a tag of £120 would "kill it, when Sony is offering Move for £50".

I'm not sure it's that simple. In fact, it's very complicated and unpredictable. For every plus point there's a big BUT. But is that going to stop me from sticking my oar in? No.

First off, the Xbox 360 has a bigger installed base than the PS3, and therefore more potential buyers. BUT much of that installed base is hardcore (male) gamers, who don't really like waving their hands around in time to music.

Secondly, the new system will place the Xbox 360 firmly at the heart of family life, and make access to all manner of digital content a doddle. BUT I'd guess that - because of core market, above - relatively few consoles reside in the living room. Also, the Xbox 360 is a closed system and lacks a web browser, or even a YouTube plugin. A terrible restriction on all that digital content access.

Thirdly, Kinect will appeal to what one Microsoft exec refers to as "Wii graduates", people whose introduction to playing games came through the Wii and are now ready to move up a notch in terms of sophistication. BUT (THIS IS A BIG BUT) Kinect's games may be better to look at on a high-definition television, but I have seen nothing that suggests that the games that go with it are in any way mould-breaking. Let's face it, if people are ready to graduate from the Wii, they may be ready also to graduate from ten-pin bowling, simple tennis and Mario Kart style driving. What's on Kinect? You guessed it: ten-pin bowling, simple tennis and Mario Kart style driving.

So, will it succeed? Frankly, your guess is as good as mine.

I have played with Kinect on three occasions. It works well, and the spoken-word interface and facial recognition really are things that make you go wow.

BUT As a games player who likes the feedback from a physical controller, I'm not really in the target market for Kinect. It's aimed unashamedly at those for whom controllers are a barrier, and with them it may well succeed, as long as their demands for sophistication don't extend to their games. Kinect is a unique, sophisticated system. It now needs new games to match.

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