Last week, Microsoft held a Kinect launch even in San Francisco. Over the obligatory cocktails and canapes, much of the system's launch lineup was on hand, including Kinect Joy Ride, Kinectimals, Kinect Adventures, and just about every other game with "Kinect" in the title. Dance Central was also in the house, as was Adrenalin Misfits and a demonstration station for the new Kinect dashboard (see below).
Also on hand was Phil Spencer, the corporate vice president in charge of Microsoft Game Studios. The executive is understandably excited about the launch of the Xbox 360's motion-sensing system, which his company views as an extension of the console itself. However, with a launch lineup of mostly workout and casual games, there is some skepticism that the controller-less system will appeal to the core demographic Microsoft Game Studios has cultivated with titles like Mass Effect, Gears of War 2, and Halo: Reach.
Since he's seen many unannounced games for Kinect, Spencer said he has no such concerns. He sat down with GameSpot to discuss the launch plans for the system, what games are in the pipeline, and whether or not the Kinect camera will secretly watch the room where it's stationed.
GameSpot: Now some people are a little apprehensive about having a camera that can track them and recognize their faces in their living room. What do you say to those people?
Phil Spencer: Well, do you have the controls to not make it always connected to the Internet? Yes. Is the thing always looking at you? No. You'll see when you use it that you actually stand up and wave to activate the camera. Then the camera will see you, and that has nothing to do with the RGB camera. That's just the infrared picking us up. So it's pretty specific when it's looking into the room, if you want to call it that, and when it's not.
GS: Now Microsoft is treating Kinect like the launch of a new console. How much further do you expect it to extend the Xbox 360 life cycle?
PS: Well I am kind of simple on this question. For me, it's how it is going to do in the market. We come to these events, and we bring people, and they bring in their families. We watch people play, and I love seeing them light up. But in a few weeks, it's going to be on the shelves and that is when we will see if people go buy [it]. If it delivers the way people think it's going to deliver, and by that I mean people and their families, then I think as a platform holder and as an industry, we're going to want to build as much content for that customer as we can across all genres.
GS: Now speaking of genres, the launch lineup for Kinect is heavy on workout titles and minigame compilations, and a few casual games, but there's not a lot of core games. I mean Sony is really pushing how the Move will support SOCOM 4 and Killzone 3 and how that system can support core games. When are we going to see some core games for Kinect?
PS: Well we view Kinect as a fundamental part of the [Xbox 360] platform. It is as core to the platform as [Xbox] Live is. And we think about the all products in our pipeline, including things that haven't been announced. And just like there's an [Internet] pipe connected to the dev kits, there's a camera connected to the dev kits. So you think about those dev kits and those teams and that creative space, and how they want to add [Kinect] to that experience.
I think over time for first party, you're not going to see that differentiation between "Is that a Kinect game?" and "Is that not a Kinect game?" You're just going to think about these things as 360 games. Now that doesn't mean there's no controller included. This is just like Live, since Live is used in many different ways across many different experiences that we build.
I think our [Kinect] launch lineup is strong. It's deep. I think it's great seeing the third parties step up. But our gamer customers should expect to see Kinect across all genres. All genres will support Kinect at some point.
GS: I think one area where it could be really fun is using the controller and Kinect in tandem, which we're already starting to see with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1. Do you see many more games that use both?
PS: Well, when you think about voice commands, when you think about gestures and how those are recognized by the system, you can imagine these scenarios where the experiences are intertwined. I mean using the controller comes naturally, but now there's this added feature in the ecosystem--voice, gesture. So absolutely, I think that will become an aspect of what people see as a 360 title.
GS: Do you foresee Kinect functionality being patched into existing 360 games? I know Sony is patching a bunch of existing games with Move support, games like Heavy Rain.
PS: We start thinking about stuff from the beginning, about the full capabilities of the system, and then getting the best creators thinking about the whole ecosystem and creating on top of it. This isn't about trying to ram stuff in where it doesn't belong. For us, the experience is from the ground up, and that's why you see the first launch experiences are completely body controlled. That was the bar we set for ourselves: to make a game that uses the body that's as fun as one that uses the controller. We're putting those games out there, customers will tell us what they think. Third parties have put out a lot of games, and I've been really impressed with the creative that's come to market.
GS: Now Sony has said that by the end of March 2011, it will have 40 titles that support PlayStation Move. Will there be a comparable number of Kinect titles by then?
PS: Well, we are launching with 17 games, which is right up there with the Xbox 360 launch. Now one thing we, as a first party, don't want to do is dominate our platform. There's a real healthy third-party ecosystem on our platform; that's really important. We want to foster that. We get our games out to third parties early; we show them what we're doing in first party to help build interest and excitement. The level of support we're seeing from third party is growing.
In terms of numbers…I don't know whether it's 30 or 40. But what I can say is the diversity of experiences I see both on the floor here and in development tells me there's going to be a lot of content there for a lot of different players. That's what people really want is those highlight experiences. If you look all the way back to the beginning of the 360, we have a pretty good track record of producing AAA hits on a regular basis to our customers.
GS: When did Joy Ride become Kinect Joy Ride?
PS: Well early on, back when it was called Project Natal, we had done some work with Burnout, so we knew that racing worked. So we said, "Hey, let's hook up the Natal controls to Joy Ride and see what happens." And we did it, and it was a lot of fun, especially since it's not a sim racer; it's a little more kind of comic-y. But it was about a year ago, and we were a month away from shipping what was Joy Ride, and we said, "Hey, I think a better way for this to come to market is with Kinect." And the team did a great job. It took them, what, nine months to turn it around and add Kinect? I mean the core game kind of stayed the same, the progression and the art, but it was really in the input in the controls.