While watching Microsoft's E3 presentation I couldn't help but think of Sony's E3 2006 presentation. They unveiled the Sixaxis controller that year shortly after Nintendo had showcased the Wii Remote, which had totally stunned the gaming community. Everyone saw the Sixaxis as a knock-off and a knee-jerk reaction to what Nintendo had just revealed.
Microsoft's announcement of the avatar system reminded me of this because it so clearly was an attempt to match Nintendo's Miis. The sad part is, Microsoft's reaction was not knee-jerk, but feels just as thoughtless and poorly planned as if it was.
The avatars lack the simple charm which makes the Miis so attractive as well as the killer app to truly showcase their utility. Various trivia games do not make these avatars any more appealing and neither does the prospect of purchasing these shallow games in order to take use of this "great" new avatar system.
Wii Sports so clearly demonstrated the potential of Miis and the Wii Remote that they could not be argued with. The game was simple and it was free (technically), and it allowed you to play as yourself, mere minutes after unpacking your system. Without an application like this, I don’t see how Microsoft expects people to truly attach themselves to their avatars.
The avatar announcement along with the interface redesign was an obvious attempt at taking some of that Blue Ocean market share away from Nintendo. Microsoft missed the boat though. That crowd is not interested in spending 30 minutes making an avatar look just like them, and they are not interested in playing meaningless trivia games with said avatar either. This crowd wants a meaningful experience that looks fun and easy; they can't be bothered with complexities that get in the way of unadulterated fun.
I think avatars will prove more devastating than beneficial for Microsoft because they are alienating their current consumer, all while not truly appealing to their intended new market. Their core consumer doesn't want an interface redesign and they sure as hell don't want avatars. Just today on G4, hosts of their E3 show were already expressing their dislike of the avatar system and expressed how "childish" they thought it was. These opinions are straight from the horse's mouth. If you aren’t attracting the non-gamer market with avatars and you aren't appealing to the core gamers, who are you appealing to?
Microsoft would've been better suited releasing a second console that more closely followed the Wii's example in an attempt to pull in the Blue Ocean crowd. All they have done now is pissed off their core consumer and demonstrated to the non-gamer that after two years they still can't figure out how to rip Nintendo off properly.
I don't think this will destroy Microsoft, I just think that avatars will never see a useful application and will never truly compete with Nintendo's Miis. Given all of the announcements at the press conference, there are enough games with at least timed exclusives coming to the system that they will be just fine in the battle with the PS3. But don't expect them to navigate the waves of the Blue Ocean until next generation when they can really build a suitable vessel for the trip.