Saturday, 3 July 2010

Editorial: Kinect - The Price Of Admission

The price of any new product is always hotly debated, especially when the item in question is being positioned for consumption by the mass market, the largely mainstream segment of gaming society. This is exactly what has been happening this past week with Microsoft’s Kinect. Ever since the estimated launch price for the US was revealed, people have speculated on how much the device would cost in the UK; how much it should, or would need to sell for in order to be successful, no more so than when revealed what it believed would be the price for the unit here in the UK.

North American retailers have been pricing the Kinect at $150 for the last couple of weeks, which roughly translates to around £100 in direct conversion, and allowing for other market factors to effect overall cost. At the end of last week UK site started taking preorders for the device set to cost £129.99 in the UK. Or so they are estimating. Many other retailers have also spoken out on how much they think Kinect will retail for when it hits the UK in November this year. A vast majority believe that anything from £100 to £150 is possible, squarely in the range of Nintendo’s Wii console, and firmly ahead of Sony’s PlayStation Move.

The price then, roughly equates to a direct, or near thereabouts conversion between US and UK, with the overall bracket set to ensure the best return for Microsoft but not the most value for money for consumers. Playstation Move on the other hand, is relatively cheap. It has a confirmed RRP of just £59.99 for both the Move controller and PlayStation Eye camera. The Navigation controller will go on sale separately for £24.99, taking the total cost of getting the complete Move experience to just £84.99, some fifteen pounds less than the £100 entry price so many retailers believe is necessary for the Kinect to have widespread success at launch, outside the standard core Xbox 360 user.

Speak to any retailer, or in turn most market analylists, and they will tell you that a sub-£100 price point is absolutely essential to drive forward sales aimed at the casual market - the Wii’s market. Many in that market won’t already have a 360 console, so in essence Microsoft would need to provide both to the consumer at an almost impulse buy price, something below £200 but confortably above the Wii. Though, for this to happen they need to have the base Kinect unit selling for somewhat lower than the £130 seem to be suggesting.

£79.99 for the Kinect on its own, or maybe with one bundled set of mini-games is exactly the price tag most retailers in the UK, both on the high street and online want to see. A price tag that appears instantly more affordable to the casual user - something that isn’t going to break the bank, and that will tempt them in on there own accord. Suffice to say, that might not be happening, and might not actually be possible, as various sources have stated that the Kinect actually costs close to $150 dollars to make, meaning that Microsoft will be loosing money on every sale, or at least only just breaking even.

In that sense you can see why the company is being rather coy with UK pricing. Perhaps it is testing the waters, seeing how much interest there is for the device if it was to be priced up at over the £100 mark. And in this regard the low amount of preorders as reported by seems to show that there is very little.

Of course it may not just be the price putting people off. At E3 most hands-on reports of software for the Kinect was poorly received, plagued by a high amount of lag, and a lack of any real precision when tracking player movements. Now, whilst this is unlikely to matter to the mainstream consumer – who is likely just to see the device and think ‘that looks like fun’ no matter the technical issues – it does create a negative buzz around the unit somewhat, especially when the PlayStation Move has already started to prove its worth in games like Socom, in which the response time and accuracy is said to be incredibly impressive - a substitute for the standard DualShock controller. You then begin to see just how important it is for Microsoft to get the launch price right. Too little, and they loose too much money for it to be viable as a way of propping up 360 sales, and too high, and they’ll fail to attract the mainstream consumer.

And that’s the point. Unlike PlayStation Move Kinect isn’t designed to be some kind of hardcore device that also plays up to the casual market. It IS designed and aimed at precisely that particular market, and in order to meet the needs of that market has to be priced accordingly. The Move can been seen as a premium product as such, tied in with the PlayStation 3 brand but at a fraction of the cost of what ‘premium’ means to most people. Microsoft on the other hand, seem to be aiming Kinect at everyone but at a higher more premium-like price tag, if have in fact got their estimations right.

So, I think it’s clear that in order to guarantee the success that Microsoft would like it is essential that the price of Kinect stays low, around £100 would just be the clincher, though at £79.99 everyone can be tempted in for a go. And ‘guarantee’ they must, as Nintendo’s Wii can be picked up for as little as £149.99 in most places, and for £169.99 with a game in others. Move also looks very attractive in its £59.99 guise, and especially at around £85 for the whole set.

Microsoft definitely needs to consider these things in addition to their target audience – they don’t appear to have the sometimes fanboyistic nature of the core gamer behind Kinect – and perhaps should meet at some kind of compromise. After all, while the device sounds promising on paper it has failed to back up any of its initial fanfare with any revolutionary, must-have pieces of software, something that the Move is slowly heading towards with the likes of Killzone 3 and Socom.

At the end of the day both companies need to come out flying, and so far neither of them has done anywhere near enough to justify a massively successful, sell-out launch. Pricing aside, the quality of software for both Kinect and PlayStaion Move leaves a lot to be desired. You need more than just a bunch of Wii-too mini-games, or a singularly impressive, hardcore experience in order to make this work. You arguably need a bit of both, coupled with the right price tag to boot. Just look at the Wii as an example, it’s a perfect combination of brilliant marketing, and some solid, but overly sparse, high-quality software.

The price given for Kinect on is just an estimate, and not the final RRP of the unit. Microsoft have yet to set a final retail price for the device, although most reports strongly place it in the £100-£150 price bracket.

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