Good thing Microsoft had a packed line-up of Kinect games to show at its E3 press conference, because last week’s big rumor about live TV on the Xbox 360 turned out to be kind of a dud.
Kinect, the motion-sensing, audio-detecting Xbox 360 camera that launched last year, dominated the discussion at Microsoft’s press conference. I counted 15 announcements for games that will either support or require Kinect, plus a revamped console menu designed for gestures and voice.
The big showing for Kinect was expected, but I was surprised to see the directions in which Microsoft is taking the $150 peripheral. Several big-budget action games will include optional Kinect features. For instance, Mass Effect 3 will let players bark orders to their AI comrades, and Ghost Recon: Future Soldier will include a weapon assembly mode for swiping in new barrels and stocks.
Some future core games are being designed specifically for Kinect, including Ryse, a hand-to-hand combat game set in ancient Rome and Fable: The Journey, an on-rails action game in which players summon magic with their hands. Less impressive was Kinect Star Wars, a hack-and-slash game that seemed a bit laggy in the on-stage demonstration.
Still, Microsoft’s not letting the casual audience slip away. Kinect Sports is getting the sequel treatment with new games such as football and golf, and a new partnership with Disney will yield Kinect Disneyland Adventures, a virtual theme park with motion-controlled adaptations of popular rides. A Kinect game based on Sesame Street is also in development. I’m not sure where this sits on the casual-hardcore spectrum, but EA Sports will bring Kinect support to four of its games over the next year, including Tiger Woods, FIFA and Madden.
And then, there was Minecraft. Although it wasn’t demonstrated on stage, the build-your-own-world indie darling will land exclusively on Xbox 360 with Kinect support this year.
Outside of gaming, Microsoft will integrate the entire Xbox 360 dashboard with Kinect this fall. Previously, you had to use a special Kinect menu with limited features. The dashboard will also get content search powered by Bing and a YouTube app. Finally, Microsoft is finally harnessing the power of bedroom programmers, who can submit their own Kinect experiments to a new feature called Kinect Fun Lab. Microsoft demonstrated this feature with an avatar scanner and a 3D painting program.
Of course, Microsoft trotted out its usual exclusive games, including Gears of War 3, the rumored Halo 1 remake and an early Halo 4 teaser, but the other big news was an upcoming live TV package for U.S. users — or at least it was supposed to be. Rumor had it that Microsoft would introduce a new tier of Xbox Live service that included cable-like TV content. But the actual announcement was rather subdued, with only vague promises of news, sports and local channels to come. The only content partnership Microsoft announced is with UFC, allowing fans to order live fights and interact by predicting who will win.
After the press conference, I spoke with Mike Delman, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of global marketing for interactive entertainment. He said more content deals are in progress, and insisted that the real challenge for Internet TV isn’t getting the content, but managing it once it’s on your system — hence Bing search and Kinect navigation. Still, there are countless examples of content owners treating potential cable-killers with caution — limited content on Hulu Plus, for example, or only a couple major networks participating in $1 Apple TV rentals — and I doubt it’s going to be much easier for Microsoft.
I’ll be checking out some of Microsoft’s Kinect stuff as E3 progresses. Stay tuned, and use the E3 tag for all coverage from the show.