[In this editorial, originally printed in the December 2010 issue of Game Developer magazine, EIC Brandon Sheffield discusses the strengths and weaknesses of Microsoft and Sony's new motion controllers, and how their dependence on proximity could influence their demographic.
Now that both Sony's Move and Microsoft's Kinect have hit the market, we can take full stock of the new kids on the motion control block. Where Move goes for a 'Wii plus camera plus greater precision' setup, Kinect hopes to make your body the controller.
It's no secret to anyone that these technologies are spurred on by the success of Nintendo's Wii. If the drive to create the technology wasn't necessarily Nintendo-inspired, the desire to release it with such pomp and circumstance certainly was.
Both companies have tried to get a drink of Nintendo's milkshake in slightly different ways. Each platform lends itself to a different experience, but both companies have unfortunately gone straight for the Nintendo-alikes.
King of the Me Toos
Many developers have played with either or both systems by now, but for those who haven't, I'll explain a bit.
The Move uses a camera to identify your movements (in a 2D sense), and also to put you 'in the game' at times, like the EyeToy before it. It uses wands to interact with objects and avatars on the screen, using both motion control and buttons simultaneously.
With the Kinect, there are no buttons, just body (especially hand) recognition through the 3D camera. Menus are navigated and confirmed through swipes, and holding your hand over an on-screen button for a certain amount of time. In-game actions are all performed with your body, and an avatar usually does its best to mimic your movements.
These setups each lend themselves more naturally to certain kinds of activities, and less well to others. Let's look at two genres: pets, and sports.
In the pets genre, Move has EyePet
, and Kinect has Kinectimals
. In both, you're supposed to be interacting directly with a little pet character. For the Move, it's a bit odd, because not only are you holding this wand in order to interact with the pet most of the time, your legs are physically in the picture, brought in-game by the camera.
This creates an illusion that you could reach down and grab the pet, but of course you're always physically behind it in the screen, no matter how close you get to the camera. The interface doesn't feel natural, and you don't feel as connected to your pet, even though it's visually 'in' your space.
, there;s a clear distance between you and the screen; you're in your living room, and the animal lives inside the TV. But it actually works much better, because all your interactions with the animal are done via virtual hand avatars that mimic your actual hand movements. So it's much easier to feel like you're really interacting with this little beastie, and the minigames (for the most part) also take this interface into account. In this camp, the Kinect wins.
Then there's sports. Here, the Move makes great sense. For many sports you have a bat, or a racket, or a bow, so holding a physical object -- the wand -- makes you feel connected to the world. With Kinect, steering a car or holding a bat feels bizarre, because you don't have an actual 'prop.'
Whereas with Kinectimals
, the feedback was very positive, here it's much more difficult to feel connected to your actions, because in reality these actions would center around a physical object. Pantomiming them doesn't cut it.
It's clear that each solution has its strengths, and areas in which it excels. But what I'm seeing right now is some strong me-too-ism. The first titles offered on both consoles are very much in the vein of Nintendo's biggest titles for the Wii, or the third party successes, regardless of whether it fits the system.
The dance, exercise, minigame, and pets genres are all well represented, and I guess that's a start. But to really succeed here, developers are going to have to figure out how to maximize the unique qualities of these systems.
The Proximity Problem
One similarity between Move and Kinect, which differentiate both from the Wii, is that they use cameras. It's interesting technology, but also represents a curious limiting factor.
In order to get Move or Kinect to recognize you correctly, you've got to be about seven-to-eight feet away from your television. You also need to have a clear, unobstructed view, meaning you've got to move the coffee table or ottoman.
I live in an urban environment, as many game developers do. I also am not the richest human being on the planet. With that combination, getting seven feet from my television is a bit of a challenge.
My living room is neither small nor huge, but I don't have a whole lot of space to move things around, and I really don't want to move my couch every time I play a game. I don't even want to have to switch system cables or replace batteries! I can't be the only one.
As the online space has taught us, any barrier to entry significantly limits your audience. So instead of potential players being those who own a Xbox 360 or PS3 and can afford a Kinect or Move (or buy the whole package if they have neither), layered into who actually wants the device, now you have the added element of 'can it function in my home?' That's a big deal. At each layer, you lose a portion of your audience.
Take the entire nation of Japan, for instance. Very few people live in homes that are large enough to accommodate a seven-foot buffer without reconfiguring their entire living space. Urban dwellers across the U.S. and Europe face similar issues.
In the U.S., the persons who will be most able to use the Move and Kinect live in the suburbs, and own or rent entire homes. This, by and large, means families. Both companies have specifically singled out families as the group they want to market their new devices toward, but due to the space requirements, they may accidentally be ensuring that those are the only people who can play with these technologies.
[This editorial was published in the latest issue of Game Developer magazine, for which paper subscriptions are currently available at the official magazine website -- the Game Developer Digital version of the issue is also now available, with the site offering six months' and a year's subscriptions.]