In light of the NSA “spygate” scandal, Microsoft’s announcement of the Xbox One and its omniscient companion, the Kinect 2, at E3 has been greeted by a great deal of suspicion from hardcore gamers and pundits alike. In fact, fears that the new Kinect will usher in “the future of PRISM” have dominated discussion of the Xbox One.
The reality, however, is that Microsoft’s new technology probably won’t transform the average living room into a “twisted nightmare” this holiday season. In fact, much like the original Kinect, which was launched in 2010, the Kinect 2 is not likely to have a significant impact on the way that we play video games unless it gains a greater degree of third-party support from game developers.
While the original Kinect has sold over 24 million units and holds the Guinness World Record for the “fastest-selling consumer electronics device,” its actual use in gaming has remained confined to a narrow selection of largely first-party Xbox 360 games like Kinect Sports and Dance Central, both of which were developed by Microsoft itself.
After the Kinect's launch, Microsoft pressured publishers like Electronic Arts to introduce Kinect support to franchises that had little need for the additional functionality. Unsurprisingly, the results were mixed. While Mass Effect 3 was able to make decent use of the Kinect’s speech recognition, Kinect integration in EA sports titles like Madden and FIFA was half-baked and erratic at best.
Despite Microsoft’s promise to “change how you play games,” the Kinect for Xbox 360 has remained a gimmick in the eyes of most serious gamers.
Now, Microsoft has announced that the new Kinect for Xbox One “lets you reach into games and entertainment like never before.” Sound familiar?
With the ability to read a user's motion in three dimensions, interpret voice commands, monitor heart rate, and even detect human emotions, the new Kinect is an indisputably powerful piece of technology. Yet once again, Microsoft has given the cold shoulder to those who have the creativity to take advantage of these hardware capabilities in interesting and innovative ways: indie developers.
In an equally short-sighted move, Microsoft has required the Xbox One to be always Kinect-ed, an unnecessary decision that has fueled countless “Big Brother is watching” conspiracy theories. More than demonstrating a Orwellian desire for control, however, this design choice represents an awkward attempt on the part of Microsoft to shove the Kinect in the face of wary game developers and reluctant consumers.
Whether or not motion control is the future of gaming, as Microsoft would have us believe, remains to be seen. Still, until developers are able to create original and fun ways to make use of Microsoft’s new technology, I’ll gladly stick to my controller.