Much of the attention toward Microsoft's Kinect has centered quite naturally on its applications for motion-controlled gaming. Equally pivotal, however, in the company's strategy for the device is its potential to add a new layer of interactivity and engagement to the entire home entertainment experience.
That's something research has been telling Microsoft that consumers want, Craig Davison of the company's Xbox Live marketing tells Gamasutra.
Its connected Xbox Live platform gives it sheaves of data on the ways console owners use content and the best ways to offer it to them:
"We saw a 6 times increase just by changing the way we notify you that your friend is watching a live Xbox Live sport... as opposed to hoping you’re going to go discover that feature on your own," Davison explains.
Xbox Live's user base is now "in the neighborhood of 25 million right now, on the far side of 25 million," he says. "In terms of engagement stats, we don’t really release a lot of specifics, but I can tell you this: Over the past year, we’ve seen our usage for entertainment apps nearly double -- and that’s across the board, all of Zune, Netflix, all of that."
More and more first time users are heading directly for entertainment experiences on the consoles and spending "significant amounts of time" using services like Netflix, Zune and Last.fm, he continues.
"We’re also seeing some pretty interesting trends around [Xbox Live] Party [Mode]. We’re seeing more people use Party Mode in an entertainment app instead of historically where it’s been most utilized -- within a gaming app -- as well."
These trends have told Microsoft that people actively want to consume more of their entertainment through the Xbox 360, says Davison. What remains to be seen is whether they're interested in the added layer of interactivity Kinect provides: voice and gesture control for navigation and interface.
"We want to basically change the ways that you’ll be interacting with all of it. Will it stick? We’re pretty confident it will, if the beta data that we’re seeing coming back is any indication," he says. "And then of course we’d love to calibrate and standardize as much as we can around the features that are really popping, no matter what it is."
By "calibrate", Davison means the company's instant access to user behavior and macro view on what kinds of Kinect features people are using and which ones they're using less, to tailor the experience for optimal simplicity and fun. "It’s about removing barriers as simplistic as a remote control and creating an environment that’s far easier to get into," he says.
"The fundamental objective was to make all experiences fun," he adds. "They’re sort of a like a dedication to a gaming ethic; which is, while there may not be some principles of gaming like a competitive element to it, there will be this element of fun. Even if it’s as simple as waving to the screen right now and just navigating the hub. We’ve seen people spend, in our focus groups, a lot of time just doing this... 'Oh my gosh! This is so much fun! Look at this.'"