Ten years ago, Microsoft was ridiculed for trying to compete with Nintendo and Sony and become a player in the videogames biz with the launch of Xbox.
No one’s laughing anymore, now that 40 million Xbox 360s have sold over the past five years — or even as the company is throwing out the traditional videogame controllers to launch the motion- and audio-based Kinect.
The company plans to spend heavily to get consumers to take Kinect seriously, or at least try it when it arrives in stores Nov. 4.
“Its all about showing not telling,” said Don Mattrick, senior VP of Microsoft’s interactive business, at the company’s flashy press conference Monday morning at the Wiltern Theater.
Microsoft certainly had a lot to show as it took the stage, starting Sunday night with an elaborately produced presentation featuring Cirque du Soleil to kick off this week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, the videogame biz’s biggest annual confab.
Microsoft took the stage at the Wiltern to unveil the first official look at the Kinect sensor and lineup of games that will roll out in this fall. (No pricing info was announced.)
Many of Kinect’s capabilities had already been revealed at last year’s E3, when the system was unveiled under the code name Project Natal. It’s Microsoft’s answer to Nintendo’s motion-sensor-based Wii, where a user’s gestures move characters or make selections. This time, voice controls are also built in.
“With no controller, anyone can jump in and play,” said Kudo Tsunoda, creative director of Kinect. “Just be yourself and do what comes naturally.”
But software is what typically sells hardware, and Microsoft’s initial 15 games for Kinect are mainly of the minigame variety that made the Wii popular — bowling, boxing, volleyball, soccer, track and field, ping pong and racer.
But there were some standouts:
• “Kinectimals” should win over kids and adults with its cute factor. Game lets users adopt from a selection of 40 cuddly animals and interact with them and teach them tricks as they live inside their TV.
• Ubisoft’s slick “Your Shape: Fitness Evolved” should make Microsoft a player in the interactive fitness space, which Nintendo has dominated with its Wii Fit software and Balance Board.
• MTV Games’ “Dance Central” is a potential “Rock Band”-like franchise for gamers looking to show off or improve their dance moves. Title also should give music acts another outlet to sell their tunes, with the game’s soundtrack boasting tracks from the Beastie Boys and Lady Gaga, among others.
• A “Star Wars” title coming next year from LucasArts will let players wield a light saber and battle Darth Vader.
• Kinect’s gesturing system will also control Xbox Live’s offerings like Zune, Last.fm, Facebook and Twitter. When using Netflix, voice commands can pause and rewind a movie, for example. Xbox Live will also receive new enhancements like Kinect Video, which launches video chats between consoles and Windows Live Messenger users. Xbox Live has 25 million members.
“We’re in this place in time where the living room is being reinvented,” said Marc Whitten, corporate VP of Xbox Live. “We want to make it simpler and get more of the technology out of the way.”
Microsoft’s presser wasn’t just about Kinect, however.
The company generated buzz with the unveiling of a redesigned Xbox 360, which hits stores this week with a $299 pricetag — the same as its current console.
The sleek new console is thinner and quieter than the outgoing model and boasts built in Wi-Fi and a considerably larger 250-gigabyte hard drive.
ESPN is being added to Xbox Live and will give Gold members free access to 3,500 sporting events and stats involving events and players.
Event was used to showcase the first looks at high-profile sequels like “Halo: Reach,” “Gears of War 3,” “Fable III,” “Forza Motorsport,” “Metal Gear Solid: Rising” that start rolling out in September. Press event opened with a presentation of “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” from Activision Blizzard and Treyarch. Move wasn’t too surprising given that the previous game, “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” was last year’s top selling title.