Dis-Kinect: Leaked Specs, Bad Strategy Show Microsoft Doesn't Know the XBox 360 Market Anymore

Last Updated Jul 1, 2010 6:15 AM EDT

Microsoft (MSFT) was off to a great start with a nice XBox 360 Kinect showing at the E3 video game conference, but leaked specs and a contradictory strategy show that, come November, Microsoft may end up losing both the hardcore and the casual gamer.

First, the leaked Kinect specs courtesy of Luke Plunkett at Kotaku:

A British retailer has posted a set of technical specifications for Microsoft's upcoming motion-control peripheral, Kinect. Interestingly, it says only two "active" players can be tracked at any one time.

While the camera can track "up to six people", it can only handle two "active players" at a time, relegating the rest to support roles at best, and idle spectators at worst. Asking for six players at once may have been a pipe dream, but with the Wii supporting four players, a limit of two "active players" will be a let-down to owners upgrading and expecting the whole family to be able to play at once.

So the lush videos and examples at E3 where more than two people seemed to be playing were just for show. And, as Kotaku mentions, the four-year old Nintendo (NTYDO) Wii and, gasp, even the Sony (SNE) Move can handle more active players. If the goal is to move the proverbial family of four from the (already purchased) Wii to the XBox 360 Kinect, this is a big fail.

Even more perplexing is a recent report from Tom Ivan at EDGE Magazine. Evidently Microsoft believes the hardcore gamers -- not the casual folks -- will be the early adopters of the Kinect this fall:

"I think we know that hardcore gamers will be the first to go out and buy it, as they are with any product," Xbox's worldwide product marketing manager Ryan Moore told CVG... We now know Kinect will release in November with over 15 titles, the vast majority of which appear designed to appeal to casual rather than core gamers. These include Kinect Adventures, pet sim Kinectimals, exercise title Your Shape: Fitness Evolved and music game Dance Central.

Last week Microsoft explained the lack of core-focused Kinect games by spelling out that the upcoming motion sensing device is targeted at a broader audience. "At Xbox, we're developing controller-based games for the core and Kinect titles that appeal to everyone," the firm said.

So why again would the hardcore gamer buy the Kinect? As EDGE mentions, there was only one hardcore game on display at E3, an unplayable Star Wars trailer that, based on the scant information released, probably won't be available at launch. If the hardcore gamer isn't getting it for the games, they are getting it for the cool joystick-free, Minority Report-inspired media management with Netflix, Facebook and other online applications. However, even the media management aspect is looking suspect. According to the leaked specs, Kinect can only recognize movement from 4 to 11 feet. Urban dwellers in San Francisco, New York, Tokyo and other tightly-packed areas can forget about using it comfortably within a small living room.

Microsoft still has a few months until Kinect launches, but at this point the device doesn't support more people than the old Wii nor does it have the range, proverbially and literally, to handle the hardcore gamer. The Nintendo Wii thrived because it targeted the casual, just as the Sony PlayStation 3 survived because it appealed to the hardcore. At this point, the Microsoft Kinect is looking very middle ground -- which won't be enough to convince anyone to cough up another estimated $150 this holiday season

Photo courtesy of justgrimes.

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