Editorial: Kinect Fun Labs – A Wasted Opportunity
Kinect Fun Labs is certainly case of promise vs. reality. Announced at E3 2011, the new application promised fun, quirky, experimental side projects that aimed to show off unique ideas and concepts for the Kinect. While some of that may be true, there’s definitely potential for so much more. The unfortunate reality has resulted in paid-for widgets that are pretty shallow. While I’m not going to argue that I haven’t had fun with the current offerings such as Googly Eyes, Build a Buddy and Air Band, it’s far from what the service should have been.
Imagine of the Kinect Fun Labs application was much more open, just like the Indie Games platform, allowing developers to release free or cheap experimental applications for Kinect gamers to play. There’s certainly been a huge influx of Kinect titles recently, more so with ‘Kinect features’, but there’s nothing quite like community projects.
The release of Kinect for Windows and the SDK went a certain distance in making the platform easier and more straightforward for PC developers to have a crack at creating motion-controlled experiences. Previously, homebrew drivers were produced, and the unique potential the early projects showed proved that there’s both the drive and passion for creating these types of projects. Unfortunately however, these projects are tied to the PC platform, and having to purchase a higher priced Kinect along with getting the grasp of the SDK may be too much for some who want to experiment.
I’m not quite sure why Microsoft has made these restrictions, as they are clearly more open and arguably flexible when it comes to the Indie Games at a base level, and since the Kinect has seen some novel uses in a number of areas ranging from music to medical applications, it certainly seems like a missed opportunity. Full retail Kinect games are good and all, but it would be even better to see cheaper, shorter and more innovative experiences directly downloadable through Xbox Live.
If the current Kinect Fun Labs application is to succeed, it needs better exposure. It took me a good number of attempts to actually locate how to access it, as it doesn’t appear under ‘Games Library’ or any of the ‘Apps‘ sections, If you’ve had a good dig for it, you’ll have found that it’s actually hidden in the Games Marketplace itself, and even then it’s not clear what it actually is. The fact that it’s a separate marketplace you have to boot into, of which is both very slow and clunky to load in the first place is another unnecessary step.
Hopefully at this year’s E3, Microsoft will take the opportunity to expand the offering, as it definitely needs added consistency when it comes to releases, as it does seem rather hodge-podge to when games actually appear on the service. It’s certainly a plus that they come along with achievements and gamerscore, but opening up the platform also has its rewards.
After the successful sales that the Kinect received (breaking a world record while they were at it), there’s certainly enough of an audience to make it worthwhile. The Kinect is indeed primarily marketed at families and younger children, but there’s potential for the core audience to expand the device further. By far the most useful aspect of the Kinect is the integration it’s seen to the Dashboard in relation to the voice commands and Bing search, but what would happen if the community got their hands on it too?
It’s also clear that a large amount of families with the Xbox 360 and Kinect haven’t connected their systems to Xbox Live, and this has to be a sore point for Microsoft. Too many times during my retail sales experience would an Xbox 360 customer come in having no knowledge of what Xbox Live can offer them, even on the basic free level. They’d seem almost overjoyed at the potential that their system had that they didn’t know about originally. It’s all very easy to throw in leaflets, but a new advertising campaign focusing on innovative Kinect projects aimed at this audience would be great. Happy Action Theater is a perfect title that appeals to all gamers, but its visibility is just not that high enough.
The Kinect platform is set to both evolve and expand, and Microsoft are surely working on the second generation of the technology to allow better and more fluid tracking. The platform definitely has a bright future ahead of itself, and it’d be an easy assumption to make that the new Kinect will arrive alongside the next generation of Xbox hardware, maybe even integrated directly into the system. With this in mind I hope that Microsoft opens the door for developers to experiment with the device further, as in my opinion smaller teams often have more freedom when it comes to unique and innovative game design ideas.
As it stands, Kinect Fun Labs is both fun and simple, but lacking in what it could truly offer. The initial trailer certainly promised a lot, and while the current applications are certainly novel, there’s a lot more work to do to get both independent developers as well as casual gamers interested in what the device is capable of.