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Dreary dis-Kinect must up its game

Opinion: Xbox's new toy needs to woo the hardcore to survive, argues Tim Ingham...

So now we know. Kinect.

All those months of anxiety waiting for a new brand finally sated; the challenge of forgetting poor 'Natal' begins.

In the end, it's the sort of moniker we all suspected - marrying technology with a friendly, social veneer that throws open its arms to the uninitiated and the stupefied.

It's the next step in MS's fervent mission to woo mums, grandmas and other 'non-gamers' - and wears its ultra-accessibility on its motion-sensing sleeve.

The opening software line-up for the device - revealed by a red-faced USA Today earlier - veers in exactly the same direction.

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It's cuddly, modest, uncomplicated stuff that unmasks Microsoft's true intentions: To finally create something that can wrestle the gaming-bewildered away from Kyoto's grasp.

Yet by thrusting Kinect towards this demographic so brazenly, so exclusively, Microsoft is surely missing a trick.

Yes, Wii's incredible and continuing success - recently hitting 22 million sales across Europe, remember - was certainly boosted by a mainstream marketing drive and similarly uncluttered software, both of which Kinect possesses in its armoury.

But it was from the springboard of the hardcore that the console leapt to revolutionise gaming's audience - something Microsoft seems to have dangerously dismissed.

When Miyamoto-san first showed off a device that let you play actual tennis(!) on stage at E3 2006, it was the hardcore gamers that whooped and hollered.

They darted back to their blogs, magazines and TV shows - eager to tell every mum and her dog that their passion had been reinvented; and was finally something to be demonstrably revered.

When the console launched, it was the hardcore gamers that queued for hours to get their soon-to-be-a-waggling hands on it.

And whose grasp did they then push the Wii Remote's minimalistic charms into? Their mothers'; their girlfriends'; their non-gaming acquaintances'.

A groundswell effect took hold, and Nintendo's marketing machine roared into action. Very suddenly - whether Women's Institute or WAG - you had to own a Wii.

This evangelism became a tsunami force for Wii's prosperity. With the unpaid enthusiasm of gaming lovers to support them, Nintendo's mission impossible - winning the attention of a previously untapped (and, more to the point, uninterested) market - was all-of-a-sudden made attainable.

Who's going to sing about Kinect's dreary, predictable opening line-up? Why would we proselytise a copycat Wii Sports or Mario Kart Wii - Kinect's core two releases - when we've seen it all before?

Microsoft's starling lack of innovation and ambition with Kinect software will hamstring their core aim - but can be remedied.

Peter Molyneux stood alone at E3 2009 as the one man capable of enthusing hardcore gamers about Kinect. A genuine communal gasp left the crowd when he showed his stunning Milo & Kate demo - one very reminiscent of that which greeted Miyamoto's cartoon Wimbledon show three years prior.

And yet tonight, at Kinect's triumphalist launch, none of this stimulating tech lust was on show. The poncho-acrobat-elephant combination was baffling, avant garde, staggering; qualities conspicuously lacking from the mundane games they window-dressed.

Insider voices tell us that Microsoft is obsessed with "broadening"; pushing its new device to consumers for whom its big green X holds no meaning.

The firm's apparent avoidance of hardcore gamers with Kinect - the costliest gamble in gaming's recent history - could represent a killer blow.

The Redmond giant now finds itself facing a scary, fateful question - one that never crossed Nintendo's minds before Wii ruled the world:

How can you 'broaden' an audience when you haven't captured one in the first place?

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