E3: Microsoft stays silent as a mime on Kinect pricing


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Updated 7:33 am, June 15: Microsoft won’t say how much it will charge for Kinect, but retailer Gamestop is: $149.99, via pre-order.

Updated 2:55 pm, June 15: A Microsoft spokesman said the GameStop price is ‘speculation,’ intended to attract pre-orders.


Microsoft, in a double-barreled media blitz Sunday night and Monday morning, was eager to tell the world every detail about its newest game technology, Kinect -- everything, that is, except the price.

Kinect is designed to connect to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 game console and let players navigate and play games without a game controller or remote control. Kinect consists of three sensors -- a depth sensor, a camera and a microphone -- on a motorized device the size of a giant candy bar.

Microsoft, at a press conference held a day before the opening of the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, highlighted several demos showing how the device can recognize faces, read hand and body gestures and understand a dozen or so verbal commands such as ‘pause,’ ‘stop’ and ‘play music.’ Instead of using a remote control, users can navigate through menus by using their hands in a way similar to the way character Tony Stark swiveled through virtual screens in ‘Iron Man 2.’

So far, so good. The flow of information, however, stopped short of naming a price for Kinect, which is slated for launch this year.

Turns out Microsoft is in an awkward position here. On the one hand, its video game unit, headed by video game veteran Don Mattrick, is under orders from Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer to be profitable -- or at least not hemorrhage money the way it did in the early years.

On the other hand, Microsoft wants average consumers and families to buy in.


The problem is that the cost of Kinect will come on top of the cost of an Xbox 360, which is currently priced at $200 to $300. The Wii, in contrast, is $200 and includes a Wii remote and the Wii Sports suite of mini-games. It doesn’t take a math genius to guess which system a cash-strapped consumer will choose.

But Microsoft is hoping to change the equation by offering sweeteners -- it announced a multi-year deal to be the exclusive console provider of live, on-demand games broadcast by ESPN. Subscribers of its Xbox Live Gold online game service will have access to 3,500 live sports events at no additional cost.

The missing variable is what Microsoft will charge for Kinect. To keep costs down, perhaps Microsoft will spend less money to promote that bit of information than it has spent unveiling Kinect’s other features.

-- Alex Pham