Jan 062011

New World Notes calls our attention to Avatar Kinect, which basically brings graphical chat rooms to the XBox Live platform.

This is indeed a powerful development. The Kinect has been selling like hotcakes (8 million of them in sixty days), and as a result, there’s now a pretty substantial install base that could get into this.

It’s clear to see the potential for sales of virtual goods and the like; right now, they offer scenes in which you can conduct your chats, but over time, adding in the features to make those into virtual apartments is not at all hard to picture. Add in robust enough objects to buy and the ability to customize your space, and you start getting something that feels like, well, Metaplace.com or Second Life with voice chat and kinesthetic controls. But for now, it’s more like IMVU or Lively, probably, and we shall see how it goes.

One thing that is interesting is that Live is centered on avatars that are pseudonymous but strongly identifiable; there’s an intrinsic extant reputation system there that this system will effectively plug into and leverage. This may reduce the amount of prurient chatrooms and the like (which something like the Kinect surely invites!). It is also telling how little the video centers on technology and how much it centers on women.

Given the connectivity, I cannot help but ponder why avatars as an intermediating technology, rather than video chat.

  • Avatars intermediate; this lets you put all participants in one environment, rather than stitching together disparate couches and living rooms
  • There may well be plans to leverage the pseudonymity into synchronous social game experiences
  • The avatars do allow for a more radical expression of personality that video would, essentially making for a richer profile; I can’t have my weird pet from Limbo cavorting around me in a video call, but I could here.

All in all, an interesting development; I look forward to trying it out.

  12 Responses to “Avatar Kinect”

  1. They actually have had video chat for a while, which works both with other Kinect users as well as with others via the MSN Messenger network. See http://windowsteamblog.com/windows_live/b/windowslive/archive/2010/11/04/video-kinect-brings-messenger-video-chat-to-the-xbox-360.aspx

  2. Pretty awesome! It seems to require such an exaggeration of expressions and body movements that it would be somewhat unpractical but still a fun idea. I hope they bring it beyond a simple graphical chatroom (imvu) experience into something more like a virtual world but the chances seem slim.

  3. Lysle, I was concerned about the exaggeration of body movements too, but that may be for the sake of demonstration, and not a strictly technical limitation. If there is a limitation, it’s probably on the 360’s end at that. Some of the stuff that people have been doing with hacked kinect drivers for the PC would seem to indicated that it should be able to deal with real time motion capture of much more subtle effects. It’s not a profession mo-cap kit, but, well here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PtxfRpCBHE&feature=player_embedded

  4. I’m curious why you think people would avoid being prurient with each other, surely one of the most popular uses of any communications technology. Anyway I think on any platform capable of both video chat, and “map you onto an avatar” chat, the video chat is going to dominate. Your real friends are far more visually attractive than those Xbox avatars are. At least my friends are, your mileage may vary! 😀

  5. The problem with video chat is that it shows you as you are, which is not always what you want to present to the world. Your friends (your real friends, anyway) could care less what you look like, but for meeting the world at large? An intermediary that’s more economical than hiring a professional costume, makeup and lighting crew is quite welcome.

    The same goes for typing vs. voice chat. Second Life already HAS integrated voice chat, but few people use it and it’s banned on many private lots. Typing is an entirely different pace and flow of communication, and it’s one that doesn’t penalize people with accents, regional dialects, or just unattractive speaking voices.

    And agreement with Dr. Cat. Anytime you have a new technology, prurient interest helps drive early adoption. The consoles’ paranoia about embracing mature content is one of the things retarding their growth.

  6. I agree, Raph. I saw this yesterday and I’m getting excited. The very fact that a company as large as Microsoft even *cares* about facial expressions on avatars is a big milestone.

    Imagine this does stick – what does that mean for gaming? When I play Fallout, does that mean wasteland citizens might react to me differently if I’m smiling or frowning? In multiplayer games, will we come to expect this technology and not trust our dungeon-raiding group-mates as much if they’re not on voice and facial recog?

  7. i would be surprised if MS allows the rise of “netmeeting 2.0” in terms of “user generated imagery” being tossed through their pipes. Xbox is “still” considered a “toy” and not a “telephone”. So as for what MS will do with the technology…other than market/sell -licensed avatars and environments – ex. a hogwarts “room” etc.. thats about it. I sence a slow move to what Sony offers via Home, but these are “product” features… not “new products” or markets.

  8. @Yukon Sam, actually… as an alternate hypothesis, given the still extreme bias against video games, a wide armed adoption of mature content could be very very counter-productive. Kids are still driving a lot of purchasing decisions with regard to console sales. Alienating parents when adults are still leery of the value of gaming in general is probably not the best idea. This maybe won’t be an issue anymore in about 10-20 years, but I’m not sure we’re there yet.

  9. I don’t know, Eolirin. You may have a valid point regarding what drives console sales; I’m not that familiar with the market. I do know that I’ve been avoiding virtual worlds and games that embrace epic bloodbaths of hacking and slashing but turn squeamish at the faintest hint of sensuality. I’m not opposed to a fun little genocidal romp against the orcs, but there’s got to be some balance of the essential life force against the ubiquitous death force.

  10. I think the avatar kinect is a great way to open the xbox to areas of entertainment that it was not present in before. Bringing back the chatroom to the living can be a big opp for Microsoft to move virtual goods. I believe they saw the potential of Sony Playstation Home and they are trying to build something like that but in a way that people will actually use. What I really wonder is does MS have anything planned between Avatar Kinect and Windows Phone 7?

  11. >I cannot help but ponder why avatars as an intermediating technology, rather than video chat.

    Well, they had video chat fairly early in Xbox360’s life, both as stand-alone and within games like Uno.

    Add to that the fact that Uno had matching with strangers and, well, the answer to your pondering is: “Avatars can be forced to keep their pants on”


    Also of note, they had some degree of the ‘virtual meetup’ with the Mystery Science Theater-styled avatar movie watching parties. Not as free form as this, but avatars could do some number of moves (throw popcorn at screen, etc).


  12. An impressive share, I just given this onto a colleague. And she in fact bought me breakfast because I found it for her..

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