The Michael Jackson Experience has already have been available for three-plus months on the Wii.
We're only a few days into the new year, and we've already got at least one piece of eye-poppinggaming news to chew on: According to the UK-based analyst firm Screen Digest, Microsoft expects to sell 7.6 million Kinects this year, to go along with the 5 million-plus they've already moved.
Maybe it shouldn't be surprising at all. Kinect was easily the gotta-have-it videogame gadget of the holiday season, hands down. Or hands up and to the side, depending on which part of the Kinect Adventures obstacle course happens to be hurtling toward you. Tons of families, here in Madison and across the country, now have that horizontal Kinect camera parked on their coffee tables and in front of their flat-screens.
Great. So now what?
As fun, entertaining and, yes, amazing as jumping around in a whitewater raft in Kinect Adventures and digging virtual volleyballs out of the dirt in Kinect Sports has been, I've gotta be honest: Neither of these experiences is the sort of thing that even the most devoted gamers are likely to do for more than a few weeks before abandoning their new toy. Obviously, the average family isn't wired into what's coming out every week the way those of us who write about this stuff are, but that said, those average families are still going to start looking for the next big thing eventually.
The first major Kinect-enabled release of 2011 hits…in early February.
And it's Ubisoft's The Michael Jackson Experience, a game that will:
A. Already have been available for three-plus months on the Wii, and,
B. be little more than a King of Pop-themed spin on the experience Harmonix's Dance Central has already given us.
You can argue that there were 15 launch games for the Kinect, and surely some of those can tide us over until the next wave hits. (Or until May, when we'll hear about all those cool new games at E3.) To which I'd reply that the market has already pretty much answered the question: There are about five really worthwhile Kinect games that belong in your permanent collection, and the rest are a bunch of half-baked/ badly constructed money-sucks.
(For the record, the PlayStation Move faces the same dilemma, only without any rock-solid launch releases on which to hang its glowing ball-controllers. The Move's first major release of 2011 is PlayStation Move Heroes, a mash-up of the Ratchet and Clank, Sly Cooper and Jak & Daxter series that somehow doesn't involve any of the original development teams. It's either going to be the action-platform equivalent of Super Smash Bros. or 2011's biggest corporate franchise cash-in.)
A few weeks ago, National Public Radio explored the question of why the Nintendo Wii's 2010 sales plummeted faster than Yogi Bear was in and out of movie theaters. The answer, according to this story, was fairly straightforward-Nintendo managed to successfully lure a large group of non-gamers into buying systems and balance boards with Wii Fit, then followed up with little to nothing that kept them interested in buying more.
Microsoft wisely front-loaded the Kinect's release calendar, and now have to hope that the holiday momentum they've built up doesn't evaporate like a snowball on a grill at the local HuHot. Because that navigate-the-360-menus-with-a-wave-of-your-hand feature remains a major work in progress.
Maybe it won't matter. I don't doubt that when the LucasArts Kinect-enabled Star Wars game, set for release much later in 2011, finally hits, we'll all be re-amazed at how cool it is to swing our virtual light sabers around with the wave of a hand. That's the kind of thing that's likely to drive the bulk of that 7.6 million figure. Perhaps by then, there will even be a few more new controller-free experiences for us to go crazy on, something beyond punching air and busting a move.
Perhaps. Part of the reason mobile gaming continues to pick up speed is that it's attached to the smartphones and MP3 players so many of us have glued constantly to our opposable thumbs, and unlike console games that can take a year or more to develop, there's a constant stream of content. That's not the case with peripherals like Kinect. If you want us to stay Kinected, you've gotta keep that content coming.