Microsoft pushes for new game audience
Yesterday, Microsoft detailed its new Kinect game technology, coming this fall for the Xbox 360 game console. Once known as Project Natal, the Kinect system recognizers users’ gestures and voices, so players can control on-screen avatars in racing, action, and sports games by moving their bodies. Microsoft showed off a “Star Wars’’ game, coming in 2011, that will use Kinect to let players swing virtual lightsabers from their living rooms.
Another game that is being created for the new system is Dance Central from Harmonix Music Systems Inc., the Cambridge, Mass., maker of Rock Band.
Kinect’s voice feature also means users can say “pause’’ or “play’’ when watching a movie on the Xbox instead of reaching for the remote. And it has a video chat function that can connect people from different sides of the country, as Microsoft demonstrated yesterday at the E3 Expo in Los Angeles, a video game conference with 45,000 industry insiders.
Kinect will launch Nov. 4 in North America, Microsoft said. Prices were not disclosed, and it’s not clear whether Kinect will come with new Xboxes or only be sold separately. The technology works with existing systems, including a new version of the Xbox console that goes on sale next week. It’s smaller, sleeker, and comes with built-in Wi-Fi and a 250 gigabyte hard drive. The new Xbox will cost $299.
Until now the Xbox has been mainly known as the device to play hard-core shooter games such as Call of Duty and Halo. Microsoft ranks second in console sales to Nintendo, just ahead of PlayStation maker Sony Corp.
Since the original Xbox launched in 2001, the video game system has been part of three money-losing divisions. Microsoft doesn’t break out results from the Xbox, but in total, the divisions that housed the game unit reported operating losses of about $7.45 billion from fiscal 2002 through 2007. The past two years, the group that now includes Xbox, Zune media players, Windows phone software, and the touchscreen Surface table computer finally was profitable, with operating earnings of $497 million in fiscal 2008 and $169 million in fiscal 2009. The most recent figure was still less than 1 percent of the company’s total operating income.