Watching companies pimp new products, say Microsoft's Kinect or Sony's Move, often feels like dropping by an old fashioned tent revival. Plying social media services like Twitter and Facebook, paid advocates of the company hit the airwaves like missionaries, pumping endless positive vibes.
GameStop's VP of merchandizing Bob McKenzie is working the crowd, telling Gamasutra that Move and Kinect are "bringing in a new consumer...much like we've seen for years with Nintendo." McKenzie's claims are of course purely speculative. GameStop doesn't perform exit polling, or have any real sense of who's buying these things demographically speaking. All the launch line pictures I've seen depict hordes of teenage males, but I'd never assume that means only "traditional" gamers are buying the peripheral.
Microsoft's high priest of publicity Aaron Greenberg has been churning Twitter with updates like "In case there was any doubt that Kinect is everywhere, check out this pic of promotional partners." Click the link and you're treated to a snap of promotional tie-in merchandize (see above): Front shots of Kinect on Apple Jacks and Corn Pops. A "you could win!" Kinect contest grabbing half the side of a case of Diet Pepsi. Microsoft's "you are the controller" spiel splashed across the back of what looks like a box of Frosted Flakes. Never mind that these cereals rank among both Consumer Reports and CerealFacts' worst breakfast cereals for kids.
And in the UK, where Kinect launched last night, retailer Game claims the Xbox 360 motion-sensor will sell out in 24 hours due to stock shortages. Note the distinction drawn between "stock shortages" and "consumer demand."
Even a few news outlets like the UK-based Telegraph get in on the spin with a story misleadingly titled "Microsoft Kinect 'to sell out by Christmas'," despite the fact that nothing of the sort's actually said in the article. What Best Buy UK's commercial director Harry Parmer actually says is that "availability is very limited and on a first-come, first-served basis, but we expect deliveries between now and Christmas."
My local Best Buy was sold out of standalone units early Monday (no shipments on Sunday) but had Xbox 360s bundled with Kinect to spare. The local GameStop by contrast had plenty of both. Meaning? Nothing journalistically decipherable, that's for sure.
Reading around the web, you hear stories of blazing sellouts in some places and overstock creep in others. The standard wash of anecdotal flimsiness, in other words. Microsoft knows precisely what's happening but won't divulge a thing until it deems the moment "market optimal" and issues a press statement titled something like "X million Kinects sold" in such-and-such amount of time. Sony's done much the same with Move, though fudging the crucial distinction between units "shipped" and "sold-through."
In fact Sony fudges a lot of things. The company's PlayStation 3 "can only do everything," which of course it can't.
Take the PlayStation Move. Replace my plastic back scratcher? Maybe next time, Sony.
Follow us on Twitter (@game_on)