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Kinect sets its price

Microsoft unveils gesture-recognition controller for Xbox

Microsoft on Tuesday announced that Kinect, its new gesture-recognition controller for the Xbox 360, will retail for $150 when it hits stores Nov. 4. That is in line with what the gaming world was expecting — but it may make the launch of the long-awaited system a bit less spectacular than people were hoping.

The company says the chief goal of Kinect is to attract new users to the Xbox 360. To achieve this, Microsoft will also offer a larger bundle, which includes an Xbox 360 (with 4GB of storage), a Kinect and “Kinect Adventures” for $299.

“The focus for us, first and foremost is on the console bundle … which we think will drive new customers into the Xbox 360 environment,” said Aaron Greenberg, director of product management for Microsoft.

Microsoft is betting big on the peripheral, giving its launch the same attention it would give a new console system. Rather than targeting core gamers, though, with action and role-playing titles, Kinect games will revolve around fitness, dance, sports and kart racing.

Kinect uses a 3D camera to monitor players’ movements and voice, turning those into commands that affect the action on screen — basically transforming the human body into a game controller. Titles for the system will retail for $50 each — $10 less than traditional Xbox 360 games and similar to what Nintendo charges for Wii titles.

For a family that will have two or three people simultaneously playing motion sensor games, Kinect’s price point makes the peripheral cheaper than Sony’s competing PlayStation Move, which costs $130 for all the pieces of the first system and $80 for each additional controller. But the pricing is still worrisome to some industry observers, who were hoping for something closer to $100.

“For me, the key thing is keeping the price of peripherals under $100,” said Graham Hopper, executive vice president and general manager of Disney Interactive Studios, during a conversation at E3 last month. “Beyond that, it’s going to make it much more difficult to get a decent installed base.”

Microsoft, though, says it believes the price will not scare potential buyers away.

“We don’t make pricing decisions without doing our research,” Greenberg said.

Microsoft could lose some publisher support if Kinect fails to achieve mass-market penetration. Several game makers, including Activision and Take-Two Interactive Software, have chosen to hold off on making any titles for Kinect until they see how it performs at retail.

Re-engaging the casual audience is critical for the company. While core games have continued to perform fairly well for the Xbox 360 in the recession, casual titles have lost steam, and the mass audience still seems to prefer Nintendo’s offerings when they make a purchase.

If Microsoft is able to spur those players to pick up an Xbox 360 with Kinect, it could see a sales boost that gives the system a significantly longer lifespan — and lets it close the gap on the Wii’s wide lead.

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