Rethinking the ‘Killer App’

The PlayStation Move and Microsoft Kinect are catching flack for a lack of hardcore-focused blockbusters. Those waiting for a Halo- or God of War-sized hit need to readjust their expectations, lest they miss out on variety of great gaming experiences.

After I leave the office today, I’ll probably be buying a PlayStation Move. I’ve spent the last month borrowing the office hardware and becoming acquainted with the Move (as well as the Kinect), and I’ve been impressed with many of the games I’ve tried–particularly the new Move-focused software that’s come to light in the last month. The weird thing is, you don’t need the Move to play any of the games that sold me.

Here’s a few more strange facts about the games that convinced me to get a Move-most of them are better with a DualShock, many can be purchased from your couch, some of them are already in the hands (and hard drives) of millions, a few of them are cheaper than new releases (or free!), and none of them came out on the Move’s launch day. Of these games-the Move-patched Heavy Rain and Resident Evil 5, Move-enabled shooters like MAG and Modern Combat: Domination, leading up to this week’s amazing HD iteration of Dead Space: Extraction. In the case of the latter two games (which ultimately pushed the Move into the “buy” column), I found that the Move-enabled controls added a greater sense of immersiveness and accomplishment upon notching kills. In the case of Domination, I’ll probably play it more with the DualShock, but I certainly enjoy the option of using the Move.

I wouldn’t venture to say that any of the games listed above are the PlayStation Move’s “killer app.” They do, however, serve a collective purpose-to disavow the public of the fact that one amazing game is necessary to justify a platform when plenty of very good titles are available.

Before you flame my declaration, realize its context. I still absolutely believe that most platforms should have a “killer app.” Most video-game systems are extremely expensive, and consumers can often only afford a one or two titles at launch, so they’re completely justified in their need for a sure-fire success. The Nintendo 3DS is a perfect example of a system in which it’s perfectly acceptable to wait until a near-perfect game comes out and makes the $250 purchase worthwhile. It could happen at launch with a game like Nintendogs + Cats; it could be later this year when Kid Icarus lands; or it might not be until Nintendo actually produces an all-new Mario or Zelda title for the console.

The Move and Kinect shouldn’t be held to the same standard for two reasons.

First and foremost is the price. With the two products running $100 and $150, respectively, there shouldn’t be as much of an impetus for consumers to find one key title. I don’t mean to debase the Move and Kinect, but if you buy a 26-inch HDTV, you’re not going to get a $100 monthly HDTV-DVR cable package to accompany it-you sling on the indoor antenna and pull in some serviceable content. In many cases, you’re getting material that is just as good (a 720p program is a 720p program), but you’ve got to be thankful for the engaging material given the price you paid for the platform.

There’s also the prickly topic of the fractured installed base. Even though the Kinect has sold like hotcakes since it released in November, any smart developer is going to hedge their bets when it comes to creating titles for these platforms. Companies have been burned by the Wii, selling tens of thousands of hardcore-focused games on a platform with an installed base in the tens of millions. Even if a developer has a can’t-miss idea of a game that will work with Kinect or Move, it behooves them to hedge their bets and put more resources into creating an experience that appeals to the larger audience. Sometimes it works (like with Resident Evil), and sometimes it doesn’t (like with Harry Potter on Kinect). As the installed base for each of the motion controllers grow, we’ll likely see the resources shift to creating more finely tuned motion-controlled experiences, but given the fact that we’re less than six months into both platforms’ lifespans, I’d say the developers are off to a good start.

Sure, there is a chance that these platforms could have a ground-breaking title that sells the experience in the same way that Halo launched the Xbox into legitimacy-the Kinect has a slate of Japanese games with exceptional pedigrees due later in the year, while No More Heroes’ HD update could be another hardcore favorite for the Move. In some ways, the platforms already have already made great strides in carving out strong marketplace niches (the Move with FPS games and the Kinect with fitness games). It’s also entirely possible that a triple-A developer will take a stand and create a can’t-miss product for one of these platforms, much like how Nintendo is doing with the Wii MotionPlus-exclusive The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. You might also be able to score an even better deal than the already low launch prices. However, the longer you wait, the bigger the pile of quality products you’ll have to contend with when you hook up the camera. They may not be “killer apps,” but you’ll regret missing them.

Dave Rudden has purchased every major portable and console since the Sega Dreamcast on launch day, but he decided to wait on the Move and Kinect. He might try to buy a makeshift PlayStation Eye and Move controller bundle from his local GameStop’s used accessory stock, since the two platforms have another commonality-their pack-in games are bland.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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