Microsoft's $149.99 Kinect Price: Right for You, Wrong for Me

Kinect Bundle

Microsoft's Kinect has an identity problem. The company won't come right out and say it, but their newfangled "you are the controller" motion-sensing camera for the Xbox 360 probably isn't for gamers like me. It's for gamers like you. That is, assuming you're not really a gamer.

That's a problem, because chances are you--the not-really-a-gamer you I'm referring to above--don't already own an Xbox 360. You're what the media calls a "casual" gamer. You play games, sure, but casually, the way some people play cards, toss a ball around in the back yard, or scribble through Sunday's crossword puzzles.

Which means (remember, if you don't already own an Xbox 360!) that Microsoft's asking you to fork over twice as much as Nintendo's Wii, a grand total of $300 for a storage-emasculated (4GB) Xbox 360 bundled with Kinect and a party-angled acrobatic adventure game.

Microsoft just announced the $150 price tag for Kinect by itself, or $300 bundled with an Xbox 360 slim, minus the 250GB hard drive.

Not-really-gamers snapped up Nintendo's Wii in droves, to the tune of 34 million in the U.S. alone, to date. I consider myself one of them. You know, when I'm wearing my "not-really-a-gamer" hat at family get-togethers, where the Wii makes its annual pilgrimages and fires up at halftime shows during football season.

But most days, the Wii's collecting particulate on a shelf, waiting for something not 10 Minute Solution or The Bachelor Videogame or Chuck E. Cheese's Party Games to cross the threshold.

I'm worried the same could happen with Kinect, once I've had it for a month or two. When I put the sensor through its paces at E3 last month, the takeaway was simple: Kinect is the EyeToy 2, and the games you'll see at launch are prettier versions of ones you've seen before, that feature the same sort of flailing and leaping around you witnessed gamers getting up to at retail store demo kiosks seven years ago.

I'm not saying that's a bad thing. As controller-related arguments go, the one where you don't have to hold one at all makes a lot of sense to me. At least in theory.

But what I'm wondering, since the launch titles look pretty dull so far, is what Microsoft's thinking pricing a peripheral designed to appeal mostly to families and party-play types way up near the enthusiast-o-sphere.

Say you've already shelled out $300-$400 (much more if you've an Xbox LIVE subscriber, paying $50 annually) for an Xbox 360 and peripherals. Microsoft's asking you to pay $150 on top of that for the "privilege" of owning a peripheral that lets you fool around with a handful of body-control sports games and deliver stentorian imperatives like "Xbox pause!" while playing back movies.

$150? That's at least two or three new games, and last I checked, November's full up with premium releases.

Sure, Kinect has gobs of potential. Peter Molyneux's Milo demo, for instance, hints at the kind of natural interaction long promised by sci-fi writers and moviemakers as we approach true "virtual reality." Imagine games that switch out play modes dynamically, alternating between the gamepad and motion-sensor, or heck--engaging both simultaneously.

But none of that's available in Kinect's launch lineup, and Microsoft's asking an awful lot up front, whatever sort of gamer you are, to buy into a "hurry up and wait" hypothetical.

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