The Kinect launch: A lesson in Microsoft marketing

Today is the day you get to throw away your Xbox 360 gamepad and become the controller. Kinect has arrived. In fact if you're a truly dedicated fan you probably picked yours up at a midnight launch last night. It's been a long road since we first heard about what was then called Project Natal back at E3 2009. Until a few months ago, interest in Kinect seemed tepid at best. And now suddenly Microsoft is bumping up sales projections for this year from 3 million to 5 million units. Five million in two months? That's confidence.

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So what happened? Microsoft marketing, that's what happened. In the early days Microsoft was aiming its marketing muscle at the young, hip demographic, so we'd see it demonstrated on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and other similar venues. As often as not, Xbox's Kudo Tsunoda would be running the demo, wearing his trademark shades and slinging the lingo like the marketing dude he is. When the so-called 'core gamers' responded, for the most part, with apathy, Microsoft switched gears and talk show hosts. The next thing you know, we're seeing Kinect on Oprah (where every member of the audience got one) and Ellen. Suddenly pre-orders start to take off. Microsoft is continuing the media blitz with goodwill moves like giving away $150 worth of freebies to the first 3,000 Kinect purchasers at the Toys R Us store in Times Square where they opened for a midnight launch. There's no better way to buy a line of eager purchasers than by giving away gifts of equal value to the item you're selling. And to show what a warm hearted company they are, they likewise are providing every Boys & Girls Club in the US (4,000 in total) an Xbox 360, a Kinect controller and two games to play on it. More great press, and they even got some celebrity muscle behind that move. Mark Walhberg was in on the presentation. Oh, and a bunch of little kids standing around on stage were given Xbox/Kinect bundles. The squees were enough to melt the coldest heart. Heck, Kinect has even been on the Home Shopping Network (see video below). Even with all the buzz, Kinect controllers were readily available for pre-order as recently as Tuesday night, but yesterday everyone seemed to be sold out. It'll be interesting to see what in-store supplies are like later today. Is the demand all smoke and mirrors or has Microsoft really managed to get the public's interest at last? The last step in the marketing campaign was to keep all those pre-orders intact. One of the tools Microsoft used to do that was to put a gag order on the gaming sites that had access to the retail hardware ahead of time. There was a review embargo that expired last night at midnight, ET. By the time online pre-order customers read the reviews, their units had shipped. So did you pre-order a Kinect? I did not, and I'm a total gaming geek that buys virtually everything. My concern revolved around how much space the system requires. I live in a small apartment. According to my research, Kinect wants 6 feet of empty space in front of the TV. I measured, and 6 feet falls right between the coffee table and the couch. Since it 'reads' your entire body, my understanding is that it would have to be able to 'see' your legs. That means moving the coffee table every time I want to play. Sure I could do that, but would I? Probably not very often. I stayed up last night to read the first reviews (Kotaku, Engadget, Joystiq, Ars Technica) and now I'm glad I didn't pre-order. The overall take-away I got from these reviews is that my concern about having the space to use the system was a valid one, and that while Kinect is interesting tech it still needs some work to polish off all the rough spots. Hopefully Microsoft can refine the technology in order to make it friendlier to those of us with limited room. (I have to admit to being almost geeky enough to get one of these things just for the voice commands, once they've been fleshed out a bit.) Without the least bit of hands-on (or hands-off, as the case may be) experience to base my opinion on, it seems to me that Kinect could be a fun product for house-dwelling families with kids and large living rooms. That's not a small demographic, so perhaps Microsoft will hit that 5 million mark. What do you think?

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