Microsoft formally lifted the lid on Kinect on Sunday night and demoed a whole bunch of launch titles for the device at its pre-E3 conference on Monday. We caught up with Neil Thompson, Senior Regional Director, Northern Europe, Entertainment & Devices Division, Microsoft Corporation, to discuss the reaction core gamers have had to the reveal, the possibilities Kinect offers and how it stacks up to PlayStation Move.
Q: During your conference you went big on Kinect and its casual-focused launch titles. Were you expecting a negative reaction from core gamers as a result?
Neil Thompson: When you look at what we outlined with Halo: Reach and Gears of War, what we're doing with Call of Duty for the next three years and a lot of the new franchises that we showed a glimpse to today with Kingdoms and other things, I'm hoping the core gamers feel we're still offering amazing gaming experiences. And, you know, Metal Gear Solid, all of those elements we demonstrated today I'm hoping resonate with what we would call our traditional audience maybe.
Kinect was obviously a big part of what we had to talk about in the last two days because it is a transformational thing. It is going to change the way people interact with technology and how you get different types of people to interact with technology. My view is gaming enthusiasts get enthusiastic around great innovative technology. A lot of the games we have for Kinect, although they're easy to get involved in and start playing, they also have some great depth we think the person that loves good deep rich gaming experiences will also enjoy. So as people get to know more about what these games have to offer they'll resonate more deeply with them than maybe they see at the moment.
Q: Is it no more complicated than to say, if it's got shooting in it then the hardcore will like it, and because we didn't see any shooting games on Kinect there is scepticism from core gamers?
NT: I give our customers more credit than that. I don't think they're so one dimensional that it's just about shooting. I think they love great gaming experiences and great entertainment experiences. That's what I think Kinect is going to bring. It also allows that community to maybe have gaming experiences with other members of the family and other friends that traditional gaming interaction via a control pad doesn't necessarily offer.
I just encourage people to explore and investigate what we have to offer and then come to some conclusions, because I think it's amazing. I play a lot of first-person shooter content. I'm a big Modern Warfare fan, a big Halo fan, I play Gears a lot, traditionally, but I love other types of content as well. Sometimes with some games I do find it hard to get into certain types of content because the controller mechanisms just aren't something I'm used to, because I'm so drilled in the FPS stuff. This offers people a great opportunity to get involved in other things.
Q: We were hoping to see more from Lionhead during your conference. Milo and Kate and also Kinect integration with Fable III - what happened there? Is it a long way off now? Is Kinect integration with Fable III happening? Peter Molyneux has said it will be in the game.
NT: Knowing Peter [Molyneux], he will be investigating every creative opportunity he can investigate, because that's what he's about. What we showed with Fable III today is where the core of that game is going and the sort of experience that that game is going to offer. I'm sure as we go forward with all sorts of games Kinect integration is going to become a part of lots of different types of franchises in the future.
I would treat what we've talked about today as the starting point of what we're offering with this technology. It's not an end point. It's just the beginning. There's going to be a lot of evolution over time in terms of how this gets built into different gaming experiences.
Q: Fable III is coming out this year. Will Kinect integration be in it?
NT: What Peter showed today, it wasn't part of it, so I'm not necessarily expecting it to be part of it. We'll just have to wait and see what Lionhead Studios... where they develop and how they develop and where and when they'll want to integrate this sort of technology into their products.
Q: When will we see more of Milo and Kate?
NT: Again, it's probably a question you'll need to direct to Peter and how he's thinking of the development process. He'll have some very clear ideas as to the way he wants to take the type of integration that Milo and Kate alluded to at last year's E3 and subsequently. He'll be developing products around that idea. He'll have a better idea probably of when he thinks he can mould that into something that he wants to bring to market. It'll need to be at its creative best for him to get to that point because he is a perfectionist about what he does.
Q: Can you give us an indication of how much will Kinect cost in the UK?
NT: Not at this point. We haven't announced any pricing detail. We will do obviously as we get closer to launch.
Q: When will it be launched in the UK?
NT: They announced November 4 in the US. I expect it to launch in the UK during November at some point. We'll announce a more specific date as we get closer to it.
Q: Will we see Kinect bundled with the new Xbox 360 250GB model in the UK?
NT: Well, that all ties in with the pricing set of decisions and everything else, so we'll have to wait until we decide on those elements before we figure out what we're going to do with that.
Q: During your conference you announced the new Xbox 360 is hitting US shops this week. When will it be out in the UK?
NT: It'll be released in the UK on July 16, and it'll be at the current estimated retail price of 199 Sterling and 249 Euros in Ireland.
Q: Why is it coming out later in the UK than the US?
NT: There are just a lot of logistical issues in terms of shipping around Europe and shipping product into Europe and the registration processes we go through in Europe. It's just a logistic thing that we have to work through. At any point we have to make sure we have enough consoles in any market to launch with, and so you have to get your production volumes right. It's a combination of a whole set of factors we have to put in place to make sure that we're not accused on day one that we didn't bring enough product in. We just have to make that balance work. It's not going to be a long wait. It's a few weeks. So, hopefully people will still be excited about it.
Q: With Kinect and the new Xbox 360 and the exclusive titles you showed during your conference, how do you feel the 360 stacks up compared to the PS3?
NT: I think we're uniquely placed. It's as simple as that. I don't think any other platform is transforming entertainment in the way we are. Be it from the core content, the LIVE services, or the new technology we're bringing through Kinect, a brand new console as well, and you add all those elements up, I don't think anybody's offering this year to the consumer the range and depth of experiences and innovative entertainment experiences we are. We feel very confident we have a very compelling offer to consumers. We hope we can convince them to enjoy the platform.
Q: Sony's PlayStation Move incorporates a controller, which has led some to say it's like the Wii. Firstly, would you agree with that? Secondly, is Kinect significantly ahead of the PS Move because it's full body motion?
NT: Kinect is full body motion. Kinect is voice recognition. Kinect is facial recognition. And it's a combination of all of those elements that make it truly unique. You don't have anything in your hand to get in the way of you and the entertainment experience you want to have. So anything that can make that interaction as natural as is humanly possible, or mechanically possible in this sense, I think is totally differentiating from what other people are doing. That's why I think we are transforming what's happening in entertainment, whereas maybe what some of our competitors are doing isn't quite as transformational as that. It's interesting, obviously. What they're doing is interesting. But it's just not transformation in quite the same way as what we're doing.
Q: When we first saw Kinect last year, it suggested we could have a conversation with something that doesn't exist. Speaking frankly, is that really possible in a convincing way?
NT: When people see it there is an element of, you have to see it in action to believe it, because it is so transformational and it is so innovative. Someone coined a phrase earlier that I quite liked: it's moving away from you having to figure out how to work the technology to moving towards the technology is figuring out how you work. That's the fundamental change in this, I think. Some people may argue that we've been somewhat slaves to technology in the past, where we've had to learn all of the complicated motion controls to get the thing to do what we wanted to do. Now the technology's being much smarter and just learning from what we do. That's the element that blows people's minds, I think.
The idea that you are communicating and it does recognise you and you've got this much deeper richer interactive experience, it is true, and it is amazing, and it is magical, and people look at it and they do say, wow, that is tomorrow's world today. It is phenomenal.
Q: The suggestion last year was that the technology will be able to detect your emotions through facial recognition. Is that the case?
NT: It will certainly evolve in that way where based on the facial recognition and what you're doing it will get to a point where it will tell if you're smiling or not smiling. Whether that's built into gaming technology from day one, maybe not. But this is the sort of explosive creative opportunity that is in front of us, I think; all of these different types of experiences that people can have. We saw today the fitness game, the fact that you're physically having to do everything and it's as if you have a personal trainer right next to you, it's not just a video game you're trying to manipulate, this is real life activity. This is real life interaction. That's going to be the real differentiator, I think, for this product and this technology.
Q: At the end of your conference you announced that you would be giving everyone in the audience a new Xbox 360. Why did you do that?
NT: Because we want to ensure everyone enjoys and understands the transformation we're going through. It probably is a thank you for a lot of people that have been very supportive of the platform. It's our tenth anniversary. It's a great time to say to people, we're going through a transformation, we've shown you some amazing things, we want you to go and enjoy some of these amazing things. That's really the reason. It's just a nice thing to do, and we're very nice people [laughs].
Kinect will be out in the UK in November. The Xbox 360 250GB will be out on July 16.