Peripherals that are designed to take the controller out of the gamer’s hands have, well, gone hand in hand with video games since the beginning of time. First there was the Joyboard for the Atari 2600. It was a primitive balance board that enabled our body to function as the joystick. We can all imagine how that was. Next came the Powerglove in 1989 on the NES. The glove relied on ultrasonic sounds to detect its movements, effectively making our hand the controller. It sounds nice in theory, but it didn’t work that well. As popular as it was, it had only been successful in lowering expectations when it comes to video game accessories.
After the release of the Nintendo Wii, a new style of playing video games took over the world. Players fell in love with using their body movements to control their virtual on-screen selves, but we still needed to hold a controller (or remote). So once again history repeated itself because Microsoft felt the need to take the controller out of our hands with a device of their own.
The Kinect was born as Project Natal, and the world had its first look at the futuristic peripheral in a 2009 E3 hype video. It currently sits at a comfortable 14 million views on Youtube. The teaser told us that “we are the controller”, and what we were able to do as the controller looked simply mind blowing. It appeared that we would be able to control our TVs as if we were in a science-fiction movie.
Microsoft’s accessory for the Xbox 360 hit stores on November 4, 2010, in North America (November 10, 2010, in Europe). The Kinect was backed by a 500 million dollar marketing plan, and it paid off. The peripheral sold more than 8 million units in its first 60 days, a Guinness World Record.
The Kinect used infrared lasers and sensors to detect 3D body motions. It was also equipped with a microphone to be used for chatting and voice commands. It received many positive reviews when released, and in 4 months over 10 million games that were designed to be used with the accessory were sold. The success of the Kinect trickled down on to the Xbox 360, giving the console a boost in sales.
Before the launch of the Xbox One Microsoft had declared that the redesigned and upgraded Kinect－called Kinect 2.0－will be a mandatory attachment of the next generation console. Paranoid critics and gamers questioned whether or not the Xbox would be spying on people within their own homes. Those accusations caused a hasty reversal on Microsoft’s part. The Kinect 2.0 would remain bundled with the game system however, increasing its cost. The controversy caused disdain among the Xbox faithful, and led to the new console struggling in sales when compared to its rival the Sony Playstation 4. The Xbox One has yet to bounce back and recover any momentum built by the Xbox 360.
Kinect then suffered the same fate as many peripherals had before it: the novelty wore off. Game sales dwindled as most were not fun to play, if playable at all. Multiplayer games best suited for party situations were the majority of the games released, with very few being designed for single player experiences. Kinect games have become especially scarce in recent years. Microsoft themselves had not developed one that utilized the Kinect since 2014, seemingly abandoning support for the peripheral. 2017 meanwhile had seen only two major releases for the Kinect, one being the perennial Just Dance.
The Kinect was never able to live up to its hype, and never truly worked as promised. Without adequate light and space, the motion sensor was useless. The games never contained much depth to keep non-casual gamers invested. And using a controller was always easier and faster to navigate the Xbox’s menus.
The demise of the Kinect started in June of 2014 when Microsoft stopped bundling the multipurpose peripheral with the Xbox One. That move alone gave the console a much needed hike in sales. In 2016 the Xbox One S models were built without a port to connect the accessory. A special adapter was required for players who still wanted to use the Kinect.
The death blow was dealt in October of 2017 when it was announced that Microsoft had ended production of their stagnated hardware. To officially mark the end, on January 3, 2018, the production of the adapter was shut down too. With that the final chapter on the Kinect was written.
I will always have fond memories of the Kinect. I’ll never forget how awe-inspiring it was the first time I saw my in-game self-mimicking what I was doing in real life, goofy poses and all. As well as that, I have the memory of when I unboxed my first Kinect: I moved the sensor bar down by hand causing it to make the most dreadful of sounds. I thought I had broken it before it was even hooked up. I didn’t know it moved on its own. It really was an advanced piece of technology.