I am a doctoral student in Cultural Anthropology, with a bachelor's in English & Creative Writing. I specialize in subcultures and cognition.
I love gaming, and I have followed the industry and its technology since I was a kid in the 80's. I have gamed primarily on PC since 2000, though I still follow console news and hardware as well. I was also a sales associate at Micro Center for a while, which was a great experience and got me into PC hardware.
I worked as a mapper and beta tester for the mod Action Half-Life. My maps, most of which have vanilla Half-Life Deathmatch versions, are available on my website.
While Microsoft has done a 180 on its DRM policies for the Xbox One, Kinect remains a pack-in item that is required for the system to run at all. Yet very few games have been announced for it, its non-gaming uses are dubious, and it raises major privacy concerns.
Kinect With What, Exactly?
To start, there was something missing at E3 for the most part... actual Kinect games. Here's the best list of Kinect games I could come up with:
That's it. You are paying extra money for a Kinect so you can buy those games, many of which won't even be out at release. They aren't even providing Kinect Sports Rivals as a pack-in to help justify the thing's inclusion.
Crimson Dragon looked awesome... then I read "Kinect"...
I've seen Microsoft fanboys claim that Kinect needs to be included for developers to give it proper software support, avoiding the chicken-and-egg problem console peripherals often suffer. This is understandable. Yet... I'm not aware of any high-profile Kinect-dependent titles in development. That list is it for Kinect 2.0 games, that's all I could find anywhere. Project Spark is probably the most interesting title there, but it sounds like Kinect is merely optional for it - I'm not sure it should even be in that list. Ryse, which was shaping up to be the flagship Kinect 2.0 title, has ditched Kinect entirely. Apparently even a game as dumbed down as Ryse, a glorified quicktime-event, is too complex for Kinect.
This controller would probably be fine for Ryse. Kinect? Not so much apparently.
Are there non-game uses for Kinect? Yes. Apparently you can use it for Skype, and for certain voice and gesture commands while you are watching television television television. But that hardly justifies such an expensive, advanced piece of hardware being shoved down consumers' throats.
Yes, I know it can be used for voice command stuff in games. So can a much less expensive microphone.
In addition to being relatively useless to consumers, this peripheral comes at considerable cost. It is probably the main reason the Xbox One is $100 more than the PS4, despite having weaker hardware. They blew the hardware budget on a gadget nobody wants and that is of dubious value for gaming. I made a similar complaint about the Wii U's GamePad making the Wii U a weaker system than it should be. But between Zombie U and New Super Mario Bros. U, at least a few games made interesting use of that hardware. Kinect, on the other hand, serves no purpose whatsoever for most gamers other than to get accidentally broken and brick their console. It also makes the system much less portable.
Still the best way to play a console game.
So why are they forcing Kinect on everyone when they have barely any software - much less compelling software - that uses the damn thing? When it has little other use? Ditching it in favor of a $400 price point would surely move more Xbox One consoles. And given the lack of software being developed for it, selling games doesn't seem like much of a motive, either. The overall opinion of gamers toward Kinect is negative, and it's hard to say whether the mainstream audience they are going after will even understand what it is, much less want to use it to control their television. I can really think of only one reason Microsoft would forcibly include Kinect.
Is It Spyware?
I don't mean that in some conspiracy-theory way. I don't think the NSA is going to be using Kinect to monitor your home. Rather, Kinect could be used by Microsoft to track your gaming and consumption habits. I looked around for documentation of Kinect features and was disturbed by what I found. I'm pretty sure that's all been mentioned on Destructoid before, but was overshadowed by the DRM controversy.
This is a camera so advanced it can tell your heart rate just by looking at you. It can tell how many people are in the room. It even has facial recognition. All of that could be used for licensing content, DRM purposes, etc. - or to gather marketing information.
While you can have Kinect off, the question is how much data will it be sending back to Microsoft when it's on? Microsoft could easily use Kinect to learn a great deal about its audience. This thing could tell whether you were a loyal Doritos customer, whether you read while watching television on your couch, and even what book you are reading. It could basically track an entire household's tv/gaming consumption habits (remember, they want the TV to run through the Xbox). This also fits with Microsoft's desire for the console to be always-connected. That way Kinect could sent information back in realtime.
A lot of this doesn't sound like much - it's similar to what websites do with things like tracking cookies. But for marketers this kind of feedback on user consumption habits would be gold, and people would pay Microsoft a lot of money just to know when you watch TV and play games the most, how many people are usually in the room when you do, etc. The facial recognition means it can even track the habits of specific family members vs others. And if this data starts getting correlated with Skype and Facebook accounts... well, Microsoft could have quite a file you, by name, in its electronic archives.
I know this sounds Watch Dogs level paranoia. And this is worst-case scenario. But we're talking about a company that is fine with using "reputation management" to manipulate us, a disgusting practice that is basically hiring people to lie for you. I don't trust them, and I don't trust Kinect. Neither should you.
How much background info could Kinect find or collect on you?
One final thing to consider - if Microsoft can gather this kind of information on their end (again, a big "if"), how soon will it be until government agencies start requesting warrants to "tap" a person's Kinect? Or to use a broad sweep of it to look for criminals or terrorists via facial recognition?
Beyond the Xbox One, there's a broader concern we should have: how soon before Kinect cameras start popping up all on their own in public places? There are good uses here - facial recognition at a airport security checkpoint has potential, for example. But where would it stop? The technology is brilliant, but risks taking us one huge step closer to Foucault's panopticon, and of destroying any sense of privacy or anonymity we have left.
In Any Case
Privacy concerns aside, Kinect still makes no sense. Not from a consumer perspective, a business perspective, or a developer perspective. Unlike their DRM policy, however, it's far too late for Microsoft to ditch it as preorders for the One are already in progress and the unit is surely in or headed for production soon. All I know is that I don't want one in my house. And I'm rather worried about where they are going to start popping up next.