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.