The generation that grew up on Xbox and Playstation has now grown-up and has kids. Microsoft is betting that those twenty-somethings that typified the the rock-and-roll pioneer of video gaming are now looking to play with their family. In a bold departure from the hard-core blood-and-guts b-roll that was the staple of E3 launches in the past, tonight's debut of Project Natal, now renamed Kinect, was a love fest that featured yoga and pet tigers.
The name is a triple word play: Kinetic, Connect, and Kin. Kinetic for motion - you control the games by your movement. You don't have to hold anything. Your body is the controller. Connect - because the new device blurs the line between the physical and the virtual world, literally connecting you to the action. Kin is for family. Nearly all the games shown tonight were designed to be played by the whole family - sometimes all at once. In one car game, for instance, four players controlled the vehicle by leaning together, almost like bobsledders.
Want to know how big a departure tonight's refocusing of Xbox 360 was? There was no gunplay at all demonstrated. (Actually, this was interesting in part because many have wondered how Natal, I mean Kinect will handle the mechanics of pulling a trigger. We'll have to wait on that, because this device as it is currently being promoted is about anything but shooting. That will certainly change as third parties jump on board, but for now Kinect is all about family friendly fun.
Years ago, when I got my first demo of the original Xbox, I was struck by the size of the game controller. I asked how could kids even get their hands around the oversized device. The answer - kids aren't our market. I remember one children's software publisher telling me that Microsoft didn't even want them to apply for a kid-friendly title for at least the first year as Microsoft aggressively took on Sony for the lead in hard-core gaming.
Now, the bullseye is clearly on Nintendo's Wii. Microsoft is betting that their platform can accomodate the family and the hard-core gamer. They've promised exciting technology that rethinks the nature of gaming and gamers. The hardware seems exceptional, but the test is going to be in the quality of the software and how ubiquitous Microsoft can make this new hardware.
I'm off to a live opportunity to test Kinect. More on that soon.