The Magic Test

“People are willing to pay for magic.”

That’s what my friend Brian replied when I told him that no one in Microsoft’s target audience would purchase an Xbox plus Kinect for a minimum price of $300 when they either A) own a Wii already, or, B) can purchase a Wii (with MotionPlus, Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort) for just $200. Brian, as I frequently must admit, is a perceptive fellow.

People are indeed very willing to pay for magic. They have lined up around the block to pay $500 minimum for a slice of magical iGoodness from Apple. They lined up to watch Avatar in 3D (multiple times.) And they — that is, we — will continue to line up for the products and services that dazzle us, recession or no.

So, if you want to know who “won” E3, perhaps one way to figure that out is to apply a magic test to the products that were unveiled there.

Sony’s Move

By essentially copying the Wiimote’s nunchuck, Sony forfeited one of the few ways it might have differentiated the Move from the Wiimote w/ MotionPlus. Furthermore, the Move games I played exhibited noticeable lag, despite frequent assertions from booth attendees that the Move is lag-free. Lastly, there was nothing in the Move 1st party content portfolio that particularly stood out for me (Ubisoft’s Child of Eden was thoroughly intriguing… but also multi-platform.)

Verdict: magic tricks lose their luster after we’ve seen them too many times. This trick is getting old.

Microsoft’s Kinect

I’ve been waiting a long time for someone to make camera-based games that actually work. And there’s no question that controlling your media center with your voice and a wave of the hand is a magical experience, in theory. (How many people spend a small fortune on a universal remote? Now imagine that, minus the remote, plus a system that recognizes you on sight, and you’re starting to appreciate the possibilities.) Interestingly, pre-orders have made Kinect the #1 best-seller in the video game category on Amazon.com for the past six days; a clear signal that many people have bought into the initial hype. And finally, I will personally attest to having witnessed many people (usually women) positively cooing with pleasure while watching Kinect demos at E3. (Mostly Ubisoft’s fitness offering and Harmonix’s delightful Dance Central.)

That might or might not be enough. Nobody wants a universal remote that doesn’t work when you’re sitting. Being a Jedi loses some of its appeal when you’re paralyzed from the waist down. Noticeable lag isn’t a deal-breaker, but it certainly reduces the total potential number of magical experiences. And it’s still unclear how a party game works when anyone who walks into the party room can accidentally break the experience.

Verdict: very possibly magical… as long as you’re not sitting down, not in a crowded room, and not hardcore.

Nintendo’s 3DS

You turn it on and play games in 3D. No glasses. No excuses. It just works. Today, you get Kid Icarus dodging lasers in 3D. Tomorrow, it’s a safe bet you’ll get Mario hopping into your face.

Now that’s unadulterated magic.

The Magic Test, in summary

If you’ve seen it before, it’s probably not magic. If it doesn’t work the way you feel that it should (or doesn’t work in “normal circumstances”) then it’s probably not magic. But if it’s novel, fun, and just works, then you just might have magic on your hands. This test can be applied to game development, not just hardware development.

Don’t take my word for it. Just think about any performance given by the world’s greatest magician.

No, not Houdini. Steve Jobs, of course!

4 Responses to The Magic Test

  1. Brian is indeed magical. I imagine I’d be one of those women “cooing”—Watch the subtle sexism, D. Would you have used the same word for excited men?—over the necessity of standing, especially if I had modern offspring. Members of that cohort seem to be in danger of extinction by lardbuttitis.

    The average American often can’t get away from sitting while working, eating, studying, eating, driving, eating, watching movies, eating, etc. So the real question is, how many other activities are we forced to do while sitting down?

    Cheers,
    C.

  2. http://kotaku.com/5569093/the-day-kinectimals-works

    “I can’t tell if cooing at the tiger cub while you do this is detected by the Kinect or if it is just detected by the people around you who surely must think you are a sap.”
    -Stephen Totilo

    I hereby nominate ‘cooing’ as the primary adjective to describe Kinect ‘magical’ moments in any future article.

    Danc.

  3. LOL Danc :-)

    Regarding “subtle sexism”, all I can say is that Eve proofread this article before I published it. She got her masters in communication studies from one of the most socially and politically liberal programs in the country, so if this didn’t trigger her alarm I’m inclined to call the word fair game in this context. I will ask her to defend her proofreading skills when she returns home, however! ;-)

  4. WRT Lag: The magic starts to break when people perceive the technology. This could be noticable lag, “You just have to calibrate it first”, “Please don’t Sit/stand/turn around while using magic” etc.

    Your analogy works though. It’s not magic when we see strings on the levitating girl (whoops! person!) or when the magician says “pick any card” but then adds “oh wait, you picked the wrong one it’s not going to work…”

    As for people paying for magic, well only until it’s free. (Very different use of the magic analogy here:
    http://www.kimpallister.com/2007/07/what-should-world-of-warcraft-and-david.html )

    WRT to the 3DS. Yes cool, but not without it’s flaws. Single-viewer only (I’ve watched my kid playing his DS with six other kids trying to look over his shoulder or from the side. Does not work with 3DS. Also, there’s a convergence/view distance problem which they solved by making the user twiddle a slider (per app?). It’s a cool product, but not sure it’s magic.

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