Conflicting Goals

Kinect's pricing speaks of a company torn between market expansion and monetisation.

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With the price for the system finally nailed down, the last major piece of the jigsaw in place, it's reasonable to pose the question - what is Kinect designed to do for Microsoft? It's a question made all the more important by the fact that the company itself doesn't seem to be entirely sure.

The line it most often rolls out is that Kinect will extend the lifespan of the Xbox 360 hardware, envisioning the combination of Kinect and the Xbox 360 S as essentially "Xbox 360.5" while the console's apparatchiks eagerly take up the chant of "five more years". On the other hand, its showing at E3 and various other events and statements suggest that it's all about market expansion, taking the battle for the hearts and minds of downstream gamers right into Nintendo's heartland.

Those are not necessarily conflicting objectives, of course, but it's crucial to understand that they're not actually the same objective either. Refreshing and expanding upon the console's capabilities could satisfy existing customers for a few more years without launching a new platform, without necessarily widening the demographic appeal of the system. Equally, it could widen the appeal to new audiences, but leave existing owners unimpressed and still keen for a platform upgrade within a normal timespan.

Up until this week, it looked for all the world like Microsoft's hope was that Kinect would expand the appeal of the Xbox 360, allowing it to continue strong hardware sales by breaking into new demographic groups. Appealing to core gamers - the vast bulk of the console's existing installed base - wasn't off the radar entirely but was certainly a significantly lower priority.

Those priorities made sense, for the most part. If Kinect could really convert some of Nintendo's audience over to the Microsoft camp (that, in itself, is a much bigger "if" than either Microsoft or Sony care to admit when flogging their respective motion control setups), then the console's sales would get a boost. Core gamers would, for the most part, remain glued to their controllers, but there would be plenty of games made for them as well.

The challenge to PR and marketing would be to avoid Nintendo's pitfall of appearing to pander to a new, casual audience at the expense of "long-suffering" fans, but Microsoft - with franchises like Halo, Gears of War and Forza Motorsport in its stable - would be far better positioned than the traditionally family-friendly Nintendo to see off those kinds of accusations.

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