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Controller Freak

Chad Sapieha leads you deep into the world of games, covering gaming trends

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A chat with Microsoft Principal Researcher Bill Buxton, Part II Add to ...

Then at a certain point people like me-parents-start to say: How can I get involved? And to its credit, the Wii demonstrated that there could be a different kind of gaming for the rest of us: gaming for non-hardcore gamers. It's changed the nature of the living room, and it's changed the way gaming fits into the family structure.

Things like Kinect are just the start of this transformation of video games and how they fit in. You can't talk about something like Kinect in isolation as just the technology. You needed the games, you needed them to be in the living room, you needed the big screens to motivate the games' move to the living room, you needed the game content to be visually engaging so that other people in the family who weren't hardcore gamers would still be engaged in the activity.

Microsoft's depiction of a family enjoying Kinect in their living room.

Would you care to prophesize the future of motion-based technology?

I can see the game pad and other physical devices being used in conjunction with Kinect. And that opens the door for new types of games. I'll give you an example. You and I are hardcore gamers playing a traditional game, like hockey. Other people around us could be interacting not with controllers but with Kinect. They could be characters in the audience initiating a wave. Or, being a true Canadian, I could throw an octopus onto the ice to just screw up your game. You could be the crowd as opposed to the hockey team. There's a range of possibilities that I think game developers are going to start to see.

I also think the Kinect technology will move from the living room. We'll perfect it, get the economies of scale to push the price down and build up our experience with it. It comes back to what you said at the beginning of our talk, about creative uses of technology. My whole history has been making technologies that support people doing creative things like industrial design, filmmaking, 3-D animation, and especially music and audio. And what's fascinating is that everything from those "artsy-fartsy," not-so-serious, creative things-all of these technologies turn out to have a massive impact on mainstream applications.

To take Kinect, I can imagine that when you walk through Toronto the ads on bus shelters will be digital displays. You'll be able to interact with them via gestures as you walk toward them. I think that when you're on the subway and you see those big ads on the platform, they will be digital and detect your presence and you will be able to interact with them using something like Kinect. Like the switch at the supermarket opening the door, Kinect will be the technology that opens up the window for you to interact with ads. That sort of thing is pretty much inevitable.

So it will be another case of gamers leading the way, being the early adopters, driving down the price, and opening the door for the technology to find its way to other applications.

That's absolutely right. It's also true for what I've done in the past with digital musical instruments. Multi-touch devices began life as an electronic drum. That's why my group built the first publicly announced multi-touch device. It was a drum. That's all we were trying to make. And then it took on this whole other life 26 years later.

There's one other thing about what you just said that's really important and adds weight to games and recreational and creative uses of computers-the so-called "non-serious" things. They set expectations. When you're using technology that behaves in a way that delivers a fantastic experience in your "non-serious" digital activities and then walk into your workplace where you're doing "serious" stuff, it's like getting a bucket of cold water thrown over you.

The history of technology evolution has been that creative things that are loose and free and deliver a great experience push expectations and moves into the mainstream of technology. The physical technology we see in gaming right now will grow cost effective, but far more important is the body of experience of the people who use these things to great pleasure and a high quality of experience. Those expectations are going to be transferred over and applied to the workplace. That's where expectations will lead and technology will have to follow.

Part three of my interview with Bill Buxton will come later this week.

Follow me on Twitter: @ chadsapieha

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