E3 2010: The Microsoft Conference

Typically Microsoft’s show consists of a whole plethora of new games for the Xbox 360 and Xbox Live Arcade, a couple of new features for the dashboard, and a bunch of bragging about offering a rounded entertainment experience. Rather than catering to their core demographic as in previous years, Microsoft instead decided to focus on their new product, Kinect, which they hope will give them a slice of the casual audience pie which Nintendo has gorged itself on for several years.

That’s not to suggest that they didn’t show games for their core audience – the start of the show featured demonstrations and trailers for Call of Duty: Black Ops, Metal Gear Solid: Rising, Gears of War 3, Fable III and Halo Reach. Yet there were no surprise game announcements or any discussion of Xbox Live Arcade content.

Kinect was the main focus of the show – a little surprising given that the new technology had an entire show dedicated to it just yesterday, but not entirely unexpected. Today’s show did, however, feature much less tacky posturing and a lot more solid information. Some applications of the technology were impressive, such as navigating the dashboard through either hand gesturing or voice commands. Video chat, already available through the Vision Camera accessory, appears to have gained a boost in quality and the ability to watch videos with your conversation partner. One might feel that the presentation was heavy on the stereotyping; boys like sports, girls like to talk, casual gamers like exercise games and so on.

Kinect launches with 15 games on November 4

Ultimately, the Kinect technology is going to live or die based on the games and the price. Microsoft is targeting November 4 for the Kinect’s launch, though they neglected to mention what the price of the device will be; speculation is mounting that it will be around the $US150 mark. The launch lineup consists of 15 games, but if you’re expecting unique experiences or anything tailored to core gamers, prepare to be disappointed. Many of the games emulate concepts already executed on the Wii and double up on each other – there are four exercise games and four sports mini-game compilations, for example. The games will launch for the standard HD generation price of $US60, but will come in a purple case instead of the standard green.

Before closing the show, Microsoft revealed the new version of their Xbox 360 console. Featuring a 250GB hard drive and built-in Wireless N support, the new model 360 hits store shelves in North America this week – PAL gamers will have to wait until mid-July to get theirs. The new model is much smaller and quieter, and will support the Kinect without any extra power cables (unlike the standard Xbox 360). The recommended retail price is the same as that of the existing Xbox 360 unit.

The Kinect and the new model Xbox 360

This year’s Microsoft E3 performance couldn’t have been a greater departure from the company’s usual presentation. A lot of Xbox fans are likely to be disappointed by the complete lack of surprises on the core game front, while others may be baffled by Microsoft’s inability to recognise the middle ground between the core gamer and the casual gamer, indicated by the Kinect’s launch line up. The technology is certainly impressive, but with a rumoured high price and no identifiable killer app, it may be a tough sell this holiday season.

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