Kinect is the New Wii -- Pitfalls, and All

If there was any doubt that Kinect is a smash-hit, Microsoft erased it with official sales figures: In 25 days, the company sold 2.5 million units. As ReadWriteWeb notes, Kinect is being adopted faster than the iPad.

In essence, Kinect has become the new Wii, the hot gaming toy on top of many holiday wishlists. If Microsoft can keep it up, Kinect could keep the Xbox 360 alive for at least another couple of years.

But following the arc of the Wii is as dangerous as it is lucrative. Indeed, the news of Kinect's soaring sales pairs nicely with Ben Fritz's look at the declining Wii in the Los Angeles Times. He notes that stereotypical non-gamers - the same folks Microsoft is targeting - eventually lost interest in the Wii and didn't buy enough software, and now monthly hardware sales are behind the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Major publishers eventually soured on the console as well. Now that Microsoft has proven that people want Kinect, its challenge is to keep those customers around.

Microsoft has a few chances to avoid the Wii's eventual fall. Unlike Nintendo, Microsoft has focused more on making the Xbox 360 a general entertainment device, with video from the Zune Marketplace, Netflix and ESPN3, and music from Zune and Last.fm. (The Wii only offers Netflix.) These features could keep families coming back to the console even when there aren't any games to play.

The Xbox 360 is also more social than the Wii. Connecting with other consoles isn't a chore like it is on Nintendo's console, and Kinect's video chat feature could encourage non-gamers to give Xbox Live a try.

Finally, the Xbox 360 is a better platform for downloadable games than the Wii, with free trials on all games and regular sales promotions. October was a record month for Xbox Live Arcade, thanks in part to great games like Super Meat Boy and Plants vs. Zombies. I'm dying to see Microsoft open Kinect development to indie game makers, given the crazy stuff that people have done with hacked Kinect drivers.

I still think Kinect needs killer, big-budget games to thrive. The Wii was certainly buoyed over the years by hits like Mario Kart Wii and Wii Fit. But at least Microsoft doesn't need to solely rely on blockbuster games to keep people interested.

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