“It’s dead! It’s dead!” No, really, it is. Microsoft has officially ceased production of the Kinect peripheral. That means the bricks that have been taking up shelf/drawer space could now make you a wealthy collector! But in all seriousness, I’m actually rather surprised that it took this long for the Kinect to officially be put to bed. Arguably, it never really had a chance.
When Nintendo revealed the Wii Remote, it seemed like the entire gaming community took a collective gasp. For the most part, people didn’t really know what to think. It was a departure from the norm and Nintendo wasn’t just including it, they were embracing it. The Wii console was built pretty much entirely around the basis of the Wii Remote’s motion control capabilities, effectively putting it on a different path from the PS3 and 360.
It turned out that the motion technology behind the Wii Remote was actually first introduced to Microsoft and Sony before the Big N. The company behind it, named Gyration, met with and was rejected by executives from both Microsoft and Sony. Nintendo, on the other hand, liked the idea and work on what would eventually become the Wii and Wii Remote began shortly after the Gamecube was launched.
As we all know, the Wii turned out to be a massive success with over 100 million units being sold worldwide. Why am I bringing up the Wii? Well, let’s be honest—it’s why the Kinect exists.
The Kinect may have taken a different approach, but it was undoubtedly created to directly compete against the Wii.
Microsoft introduced the Kinect back in 2009 for the Xbox 360, and it was then released the following winter in 2010, four years after the Wii. I remember when the Kinect first began being marketed because it was at that same time my brother and I were debating on what system would be our first home console. While we were both already very much into gaming, we had never owned a system before. The motion control experiences offered by the Wii, Kinect, and PS Move totally grabbed our attention, and we begged our parents to finally get us a system. Somehow we made them agree. What was the final choice? It was the Wii.
One of the reasons my brother and I ended up choosing the Wii over the Kinect was due to the responsiveness of the Wii Remote. I remember playing an in-store demo of the Kinect in Best Buy and getting very frustrated at how awkward and complicated the “controller-free experience” was. It looked really cool in the commercials and trailers, but in the real-world, it was just a pain. This sentiment is shared by many people who have played the Kinect. Even so, it must be noted that the same casual crowd that was initially swept up by the Wii quickly flocked over to the Kinect since it was the ‘hot new thing’. But, they’re called ‘casuals’ for a reason—it was all a fad to them. They were never truly immersed in the experience. Once the initial hype wore off, the Kinect pretty much became a relic to most. But Microsoft obviously didn’t get that message.
Both Microsoft and Sony wanted a slice of the pie that consisted of the casual market that was making the Wii such a big hit. Hence the reason why both the Kinect and the Move were marketed in a very similar way to that of the Wii, even going to the point where many of their exclusive games were essentially rip-offs of Nintendo’s (i.e. Wii Sports vs. Kinect Sports). Despite the similarities, the original Kinect actually took the market by storm when it released and ended up selling 24 million units. While it may have gotten off to a strong start, the momentum didn’t last.
It’s hard to mistake what audience Microsoft was targetting.
Microsoft took the high sales numbers of the original Kinect as a sign that this was something the market really wanted. As a result, they sent their engineers back to the drawing board to develop a new version of the sensor, which would then become the Kinect 2.0.
What made it different was that it was designed for the (at the time) new system: the Xbox One. But it wasn’t just designed as an accessory; this time it was a necessity. Microsoft shipped a Kinect with every Xbox One for the first few months of the systems life when it released back in 2013. This time around, the feedback was not positive at all.
Many folks were quite upset that the Kinect was being thrown into the overall Xbox One experience as a necessary addition. It was around the same time that spying controversies were beginning to become a very popular topic of discussion. This didn’t help Microsoft at all since the Kinect 2.0 was pitched as an ‘always-on’ device that would constantly be listening due to its voice command software. On top of that, the technology inside of it wasn’t exactly cheap and thus ended up raising the price of the entire Xbox One bundle due to its mandatory inclusion. This was definitely a very poor move from Microsoft.
The initial success of the Xbox 360 Kinect made Microsoft think the sensor had longevity. Bad idea…
After all the backlash, the company finally stopped trying to push Kinect and began releasing Xbox One bundles without the sensor. Like clockwork, less and less Xbox One titles supported the Kinect and its features in the Xbox One OS were gradually minimized. When the Xbox One S launched last year, it was noted that Microsoft removed the dedicated Kinect port that was found on the original model. The same is true for the Xbox One X which will be releasing in a few weeks. Now the Kinect 2.0 has been discontinued altogether.
Kinect was built on the idea of surpassing the Wii’s motion control technology. While the system was popular, it was mainly bought by non-gamers who had no intention of sticking around for the long-term. They eventually tapered off to the mobile market. Since the Kinect was targeted at that same crowd, it ended up suffering a similar fate. Microsoft desperately tried to increase its longevity by forcing it upon early Xbox One owners, but the majority of the core gamer crowd never truly cared for it in the first place. That’s why there was so much backlash.
Ultimately, the Kinect never really had a surefire chance at success. Motion controls are still actively being used in the gaming world to this day, but not like during the Wii era. Nowadays, they’re mostly being utilized by mobile game developers and the VR market. As for traditional gaming, core gamers are far more interested in having a ‘normal’ experience. The Kinect was a cool idea, but there was never a stable market to sustain it.