Nintendo is fond of saying, and I believe it will reiterate this morning's press conference, that the reason for its success is innovation and creativity realized in both hardware and software. There is no doubt that Microsoft's newest offering, Kinect, is also innovative. More powerful than the Wii, the new hardware device can see and hear us, permits us to control the console with voice and movement. But is that enough?
My reservations about Kinect, having had three opportunities to play with it over the past year (including game-time with all of the first party launch titles on Sunday night) are primarily about the lack of creativity in the software. The success of the Nintendo Wii has proved that you don't have to have the best hardware to win the market. It is creative software, thinking consistently outside of the box, that appeals to parents and kids. What blood and guts are to the hard-core market, new thinking is to the family space. Moms and dads aren't looking for the best home media center controller, or the highest pixel count. They want to bring entertainment that is uplifting, fun, and even helpful to family life.
Having now had personal, hands-on time with Kinect, I come away with decidedly mixed feelings about the new product's chances. The first-party games I tried at a Microsoft press party on Sunday night were surprisingly old-fashioned, using familiar gaming genres, relying on the wow-factor of the hands free controller. Since every major platform will have some sort of movement controller by the end of E3, I think it may come down to software quality that determines the winner in the fight for the hearts and minds of the "family fun" market.
Take away the hands-free elements from JoyRide (a racer), Sports, and Adventure (an action platform game) and you've got titles that might have shipped ten years ago on first generation consoles.
Missing from any of the first-party titles was the kind of creativity in concept that exemplifies the best Nintendo products. Nothing compared to Sony's Little Big Planet or ModNation Racers. Think back to the launch of the Nintendo Gameboy. It wasn't the best hardware, but it was perfectly designed for the target audience. The same can be said for the DS versus Sony PSP. What propelled Nintendo into the lead was the innovative way it puts hardware to use: touching games, thinking games, even creative built in activities that can be played with the camera.
Microsoft's first-party launch titles seem like safe bets designed by committee, in comparison to the best Nintendo games that seem to spring to life fully grown from the head of their creative genius Miyamoto-san. If they want to dominate the family space, Microsoft will have to do more than have us waving our arms. They must capture our imagination.