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Death Of A Thousand Cuts: Xbox 360 Goes All Kasual With Kinect

I’ve been sitting on a topic for a couple months – mostly trying to get past my annoyance and anger – but it’s now time to let loose. And in the process, try to stop Microsoft from screwing up a beloved franchise that owns the hearts and minds of millions: the Xbox 360. As background, I’ve been a gamer since before consoles existed. I still remember the electronic magic of my Merlin, which set me a on a path through Coleco Football, Atari, ColecoVision, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3 and on and on…

And what’s my all-time favorite? You guessed it: the Xbox 360. The reasons are simple: gorgeous hi-def video, killer first person shooters like Halo and Gears of War (the genre I prefer almost exclusively) and a real online service in Xbox Live that powers serious co-op gaming fun. Now that I have a two-year-old and another on the way, I don’t have time for gaming like I used to but I still fit squarely into the ‘hard-core gamer’ persona. And virtually every move the 360 division has made in the last six months disappoints the hell out of me. Let me elaborate…

First, it was the Red Ring of Death. After falling hook-line-and-sinker for the original Xbox, I spent multiple nights in Best Buy lines to score a spanky new 360 (spurred by my wife’s incessant calls for me to have the perfect birthday present). And sure enough, being an early adopter in the 360 world got you a good square kick in the nads. My misery is I got a lucky unit, which didn’t fail until 34 days past the extended warranty of three years. 34 days! And what do you think Microsoft did? You guessed it: they told me to go pound salt. If this was a typical warranty situation, I’d accept my unfortunate luck but the RROD fiasco is easily one of the most well documented manufacturing failures in consumer electronics.

So me and my $49/year Live subscription, ~75 games, and a $180 Rock Band kit were all blowing in the wind without a console. This was the moment the PS3 came out of the family room upstairs and made it into the living room. And to be honest, it’s close enough for as much gaming as I do these days. So the platform fail was simple: Microsoft had an incredibly well documented manufacturing issue, and wouldn’t budge an inch to get me a new console. Now that I don’t have the Microsoft razor, guess who ain’t buying the Microsoft razor blades? Sorry Bungie, I love Halo but your rich uncle is creeping me out (which you figured out too, and went all independent).

The next move that boggled my mind was the Kinect launch at E3 last week. Do you really go through all those stage antics, get everybody revved up about the potential, and then not announce a price? Is the strategy really to float a ‘target’ price a week later in your online store, and then have your PR people back away from it being final? I’m as much into cool rafting games as the next guy, but let’s not make statements like “At Xbox, we're developing controller-based games for the core and Kinect titles that appeal to everyone.” That tells me everything I need to know about where Kinect is going. Why not respect the core audience and show up with a Gears of War demo? Now there’s a diskinect…

And while I’ll reserve my Kinect judgment for when I go hands-on (literally), I can tell you $150 is an absurd price – especially when it’s not even aimed at the hard core gamers who would actually spend that kind of money for a peripheral.  Is a non-360-owning casual gamer really gonna drop $450 bucks on a complete new setup?

And that’s the real problem with Kinect: it’s all about arcade-style games, which are the antithesis of why we collectively own the 360. That’s what the crappy resolution, family-safe Wii is for – if it ever got turned on in our household (I bet I’m 4-5 system updates behind it’s been powered down so long). Despite what Microsoft’s Alex Kipman told the UK’s MCV at last year’s E3, they’re now backpedaling hard on Kinect features for games like Halo: Reach or Gears of War 3. So let me get this straight: the console that built its existence on Rated M, adult-targeted gaming wants $150 from me so my daughter can pet a tiger named Skittles. Get real.

So the question is why do I care? I haven’t even replaced my blown-out 360. The answer is simple: the 360 is still the premier system for a gamer like me – and I love the platform too much to give up for good. I’m just pouting. Truth be told, I maintain my Xbox Live account without having a console to retain my gamer tag (GhettoWarrior, which makes lots of sense if you knew my old neighborhood in downtown Atlanta). And by the way, I’m actually very much open to alternative input methods like Kinect, if only because the Wii showed me it could be fun for stupid arcade games like bowling and boxing. I can see the potential for tossing a grenade or driving a Warthog.

So I plead with Microsoft: don’t aim to be a high-definition Wii. Stay on the path you carved by taking-on PlayStation head-to-head, which was a monumental task. The technology behind Kinect feels like it could change the way I game. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you could double the number of consoles by selling out to the masses. Wii changed the industry because it’s under $200 – yeah, that’s only $50 more than your visual gaming thingy. Show me Halo Kinect, and I’ll show you what a line of super fans outside Best Buy looks like – myself included.

I’m Dave Walters, and I’m not a casual gamer.

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0 # Heath Wilkes 2010-06-23 14:08
While I agree the Xbox 360 is blowing a huge opportunity by not implementing Kinect features for Halo Reach or Gears of War 3 this holiday season, I liked most of what I saw at E3 regarding their hands-free technology. The potential is there to please hardcore gamers, as seen in the Ferrari demo for Forza Kinect: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REnYXw-Fbq4 (impressive) and with Star Wars: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDIz3-oSUiA (orgasmic). Plus, remote-free movies, music and that augmented reality version of ESPN make me feel all Minority Report.

And my reaction to the dreaded "casual gamer" stuff? It looked pretty fun to this jaded console owner, especially the cart racing and river rafting games. The biggest beef most seem to have is with how Microsoft is overtly positioning Kinect at moms, female tweens and young kids. I won't try to argue this point as that's exactly what they are doing in an attempt to grow market share and graduate families from the Wii. (See Nintendo's revenue as to why game companies are chasing this strategy.) My advice to serious gamers is to look beyond the marketing campaign, and notice how much fun people are having when they play Kinect.

Watch this video of Leo Laporte's first time playing River Rush: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOol_XXR4yg -- notice how the gameplay wins him over almost instantly. Having a blast is what gaming is all about! Kinect looks to have that part nailed, and that's exactly why I plan to buy one come November. The bloody-bliss of hardcore FPS games will arrive soon enough in 2011. Until then, enjoy something different...

I'm Heath Wilkes, and Skittles the tiger is my friend.
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0 # marhorn 2010-06-23 15:33
I emplore you to disconect the ethernet cable and tv cable from your xbox, take out and disc inside and take of the hard drive. Then wrap a towel (or 2) snuggly around your xbox and power on for at least 15 minutes. Then power off and leave for half hour, power back on and I SWEAR it will work! (you will thank me)

Yes even with the failure rate I prefer the Xbox as its game line up is the best! people harp on about blu ray, but when virtually no games use more than a dvd (9 gig) virtually all games are better graphically on the xbox and i can watch hd movies through my xbox either through streaming or through zune I know the xbox is better!

Bring on Halo Reach!

my name on xbox is marhorn
and yes I have a ps3 but never use it
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0 # GFRRTDEFF 2010-06-23 15:40
Screw my last comment about that being my best one this week. A dude with a potential solution – sweeet! I'll try it tonight, and find you on Live if it works. Thanks man...
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0 # derp 2010-06-23 15:15
You're a moron if you think the 360 is just now going casual. It has been and always will be for idiots such as yourself that play generic, water-downed shooters such as Halo and think they're hardcore gamers. Shut the fuck up.
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0 # GFRRTDEFF 2010-06-23 15:35
That's easily the best comment I've gotten all week, thanks! So what's your definition of a hard core game (and I'd bet the farm it's an arrow-based PC deal). So are you really just saying you wanna pet my tiger?
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0 # derpalicious 2010-06-23 17:26
Quoting derp:
You're a moron if you think the 360 is just now going casual. It has been and always will be for idiots such as yourself that play generic, water-downed shooters such as Halo and think they're hardcore gamers. Shut the fuck up.

What's a non-watered down shooter then?
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