Update 3rd Sept: Shortly after I made this post, I got a nice email from someone running the Kinect Galleries campaign telling me they took the problems very seriously and were working to make sure they didn’t happen again – from the comments on this post, it sounds like that’s happened! I also went to the galleries again, this time with an appointment, and found the staff to be much more helpful.
As for the Kinect itself, it’s certainly fun – just like an arcade game or the old PS2 Eyetoy games – but I experienced some worrying problems with navigating menus and the response time in games. At £130, I am not convinced that it’s great value for money given that you can buy a Wii bundle for the same price; time will tell though.
Yesterday, I went down to Covent Garden to check out the new Apple Store there (the largest in the world). About 300 people were queuing to pick up the iPhone 4, which is pretty astonishing given that it’s been out for a month now, but non-iPhone buyers could bypass the queue and go straight inside.
As we walked in to cheers and high-fives from a receiving line of Apple employees (who were mostly there to keep up the spirits of the iPhone queuers), we saw three floors of Apple products, all displayed with exceeding taste and set out in perfect proportion. MacBooks and iPads were set up just so, and if the crowds weren’t there, I think it’d be a very nice environment to test and buy Apple stuff. If you weren’t sure what you wanted, scores of staff were circulating in distinctive bright blue shirts were there to help.
The Covent Garden Apple Store, then, isn’t really much different from any other Apple Store in the rest of the world – it’s just bigger, and will print a proportionately bigger pile of cash.
On the way to Bloomsbury Square Garden, we passed by a nondescript building on Russell Street bearing some ‘KINECT GALLERIES’ banners. They didn’t look particularly Xbox 360-like, so I wasn’t sure if they had anything to do with the Microsoft Xbox 360 Kinect addon, but a nice man at the door asked if we wanted to have a go on the new Kinect experience, so that confirmed things (for anyone walking right by him, at least).
Inside, we were drawn into a pretty large gallery space, all white bare walls with the occasional big screen TV and poster declaring how we do so much stuff with our bodies (e.g. our big toe holds half of our weight when walking, apparently). I didn’t immediately see any tell-tale signs of Kinect consoles around, so we walked down a long, long, long corridor to emerge into a strange basement divided up into three fake living rooms.
In each living room was a genuine Xbox Kinect setup – finally, what we were looking for! A couple of the rooms had one or two people having a go on various Kinect demos, like dancing or Kinect Sports, with various friends/parents/partners observing at a distance. We hung around a couple of the setups for five minutes, trying to catch the eye of the Kinect staffers, but they were busy chatting amongst themselves and surfing Wikipedia, and were definitely ignoring us (as seen below).
Eventually one of the demo rooms became free and I spent 30 seconds trying to navigate the menus of a dance game. A young staffer rapidly zoomed over and asked me if I’d made a booking; since this was the first time anyone had ever mentioned bookings, I said no. She told me that unfortunately people could only play if they had booked, and while they obviously had a no-show on this demo room, the next people might turn up soon, so I couldn’t play. Not even for a minute. But if I went upstairs reception, maybe I could make a booking there?
So we went all the way back along the long corridor, went upstairs, went to the reception that we’d walked past on the way in (not that there was anything or anyone telling us to stop by it) and unsuccessfully waited a couple of minutes for someone to become free to talk to us. In any case, I saw that the entire day was booked up, so the whole visit was pointless.
When we left, feeling pretty annoyed about Kinect and everything to do with it, we politely told the door guy about our troubles. He suggested that we try a go on the public demo unit in the main gallery; we told him that it didn’t look very public to us, and in any case it was very occupied by a couple of families. Oh well.
There are so many things wrong with the ‘KINECT GALLERIES’ experience that it’s pointless to mention them all. Microsoft clearly has no idea how to run a good show, they clearly have no-one who particularly cares (since it’d be easy to send in a mystery shopper or just spring a surprise visit) and god knows that the Kinect needs a good show.
The fact is, our experience was just fucking awful. I don’t swear on this blog a lot, but there you go – it was that bad. Sure, I’ve seen worse campaigns, but probably not ones that cost this much or are so important. You wonder if they even realised they’d opened up almost at the same time as the multimillion pound Apple Store right around the corner; an unfair comparison, I know, but an inevitable one.
I was given a postcard inviting me to ‘Come and play or book a place online’ for the KINECT GALLERIES on the way out, but I feel sufficiently pissed off at the whole experience that I’m not sure whether I want to go. Good one, Microsoft – and I say this as someone who likes the 360.
(Actually, I just checked out the Facebook page for booking a place online, and it is equally awful since it requires you to have or sign up for a Windows/Xbox Live ID before you get to do or see anything useful.)