Molyneux warns Microsoft: Don't overpromise on HoloLens

Fable designer reminded of Kinect, says "I don't think it was particularly loved by Microsoft"

If while watching the HoloLens presentation you were reminded of the old Kinect unveiling as Microsoft scanned in objects and made Kinect look like it was flawless, you weren't alone. In fact, former Microsoft executive and current 22Cans boss Peter Molyneux had been thinking the same thing. Molyneux worked closely with the Kinect team during the early days of the motion camera (remember Project Milo?) and he kindly reminisced with about it after seeing the HoloLens unveiling.

It's worth noting that Molyneux also has the perspective of someone who was privvy to early versions of the HoloLens technology as far back as two years ago. The sense we got is that HoloLens is the natural evolution of Kinect; it's what Kinect was always meant to be.

"I did see the early versions of HoloLens and played around with a few things on it. It was very, very early days in the technology. It is, I have to say a magical experience, seeing these objects in the real world. The problem I think is to make it feel like it is in the real world and not projected into your eye. I think it's, for me, more exciting than even VR but it shares a similar problem as VR does and that is: what is the application going to be?" he began.

"It did remind me of [Kinect]. You kind of want to scream 'don't over promise these things'...My fear is that when you actually put the device on you're not as blown away as you should be"

He continued, "For me, some of the stage demos they had were magical as they were building drones on stage and you start to think back to your Kinect days and how exhausting that would be to move your arm around and tap with your fingers. And this is the problem with VR - the applications that we think are going to be great on it quite often are exhausting or very challenging. My hope is that their concept video doesn't over promise what the technology can deliver. Because the actual experience of seeing a 3D object projected into the world is a magical one."

Similar to how Microsoft positioned Kinect, Molyneux fears that Microsoft may be overhyping its new holographic technology - and as he would fully admit, Molyneux is no stranger to promising the world. Microsoft can't make that mistake again with HoloLens.

"It did remind me of [Kinect]. You kind of want to scream 'don't over promise these things.' The thing about the concept videos is they feel so seamless and it just looks like everything's working and actually, as we found with Kinect, it works all fine if you've got the perfect environment and the perfect distance away and you're the right shape human being. But it's very challenging if any of those things don't come together perfectly," he noted. "The technology that they are showing with HoloGlass is amazing. If you just took a couple parts of that demo and said you could look at a TV screen on any surface, I'd be pretty impressed, but they took it so far into the future. You had Minecraft spinning off into the entire geometry of the room. How they get that geometry they didn't quite say.

"My hope is it's been two years since I've seen the technology and it was awesome tech 2 years ago so maybe they solved a lot of those problems and that video they showed is going to be a reality and a reality that works seamlessly as opposed to one that works in a predefined environment. It's almost as if they kind of oversold it to me, you know the motorbike and going around - and the motorbike just looked perfect. It made me feel as a consumer like 'Oh my God, it's going to be incredible.' My fear is that when you actually put the device on you're not as blown away as you should be."

The other question in Molyneux's mind is just how much support HoloLens will receive over the long haul. If it can't escape Kinect's shadow, that's not a good thing at all for Microsoft.

"The only pressure point is how much dedication Microsoft has and how long they stand behind augmented reality. They stood behind Kinect for a while but it wasn't a loved device. It wasn't loved by the community and I don't think it was particularly loved by Microsoft," he told us. "They really need to just double down on the super talented people they inspire to use it. What Facebook did was they bought Oculus Rift and got everyone involved and invested in it. And they've gone quiet since then and my hope is that they come out with something that defines it. Microsoft needs to do the same."

Indeed, software is the key to any new hardware platform, and for Molyneux it sort of boggles the mind that the hardware manufacturers don't invest more in ensuring platform-defining software is ready to demonstrate the potential of the new system. This, above all, is what Microsoft has to do to make HoloLens a success.

Molyneux commented, "The bizarre thing is a huge amount of effort and time and money goes into researching the tech, like the Kinect tech and scanning the bodies, and there's always this one line that hardware manufacturers - whether it be Microsoft or anyone else - say and that's 'we can't wait to see what happens when it gets into the hands of developers.' Now if Apple had said that when they introduced the iPhone, I don't think we'd ever end up with the iPhone! What really should happen is that they put a similar amount of money into researching just awesome real world applications that you'll really use and that work robustly and smoothly and delightfully.

"The traditional way hardware manufacturers deal with the problem is to give it to developers at an incredibly low cost but I suspect with Kinect and some of the Sony hardware, someone goes into the studio, it's shown off to the developers and then it sits in a corner gathering dust"

"They should spend as much money doing that rather than just on hardware tech and saying, 'Okay developers, we'll leave it to you.' If you look at the cases where technology has worked well - touch is one of those, and Wii Sports and motion control; Nintendo didn't introduce motion control until they had Wii Sports. You weren't just playing a few demos. I just hope that for the Holo stuff that they really choose an application and make that sing. That is what transforms a piece of tech from awe inspiring gadget that you try a few times and show off to friends into something that you use as part of your life, and that's really what we want technology to be. And that requires just an awesome amount of design to be put into the software, not just the hardware."

It's almost a chicken or the egg scenario, but what Microsoft must do is convince devlopers that there will be a genuine HoloLens market. "If they can persuade me as a developer that the market is there, it's big enough, it's not going to be a few thousand headsets, it's going to be a few million headsets, then the development talent will move over I think," Molyneux remarked.

That's easier said than done, though, especially when you have to justify a project to management. "As a personal thing, purely as a personal interest, I'm there. I'd be first in the queue to ask for a Holo set, I'd love to play and experiment around with it. I'd love to see how the technology has advanced from when I saw it first. You can think of all sorts of gimmicks, easily. You and I could probably write 20 things down which would be funny and amusing and that would be fascinating as a developer to focus on. But the problem that always comes is: how do you make money out of it? At the moment there's no release date, there's no ship out quantity, you have no idea what you're writing code for is going to sell ten or ten thousand or ten million. It's rare that you get anybody who's super talented to get involved because they just can't justify it in terms of the amount of time they invest in it," Molyneux continued.

"You've got to remember that if you are building characters and they are going to be three dimensional like holograms then the resolution of those characters and the smoothness of the animation needs to be just spot on. And that's expensive. Thereby hangs the problem. The traditional way hardware manufacturers deal with the problem is to give it to developers at an incredibly low cost but I suspect with Kinect and some of the Sony hardware, someone goes into the studio, it's shown off to the developers and then it sits in a corner gathering dust. And that's not what you want with this new tech. You need super smart people to develop applications for it."

Ultimately, Microsoft needs to throw its weight behind HoloLens and incentivize highly talented game makers to jump on board, Molyneux said: "What they should do is they should say come to us with a proposal and we'll make sure you're super profitable before you even finish. That's what they should do to try and attract the attention of developers, because the problem for development talent is there's so much stuff going on. There's all the VR stuff, there's all the Sony stuff, there's all the cloud stuff, there's all the touch stuff, there's this relentless march of new hardware from mobile manufacturers, and it takes probably three years to make something that's super quality with a new piece of technology like augmented reality. And in that time God knows what's going to happen in mobile, God knows what's going to happen with VR, so there is a problem."

Skepticism aside, Molyneux remains fascinated and interested in the HoloLens tech and its potential for gaming. "You have to tip your hat to Microsoft; it's a bold step and they didn't have to do that," he said and added jokingly, "The only thing is I'm not going to want to have a hat rack of VR helmets that I've got to switch in and switch out."

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Latest comments (21)

Adam Jordan Community Management/Moderation 7 years ago
Yes Microsoft, listen to the master of overpromising.

No...I'm not at all bitter about Molyneux's methods
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Mark Hughes Software Developer, 4J Studios7 years ago
This could be an article on "The Onion" :)
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Bradford Hinkle Associate Product Manager, Spicy Horse Games 7 years ago
Why didnt microsoft throw its support at kinect? Well, its potential was novel at best. The Kinect promised a kind of cool way to interact with video games, thats pretty much it.
The promise of Hololense is a fundamentally new way to live. Imagine having freedom of movement while you work instead of being tethered to a desk for 8 - 12 hours every day. I want this because it could provide a drastically better quality of life. Minecraft and its potential for video games is just icing on the cake.
So which one is more appealing in the eyes of microsoft and the public?
There is no doubt in my mind that the support will be there and frankly, I am ok with the overpromise of version 1, so long as it gets people dreaming.
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Show all comments (21)
Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.7 years ago
Peter wrote the book on over-promising and he just sent MS a free copy.
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Thomas Dolby Project Manager / Lead Programmer, Ai Solve7 years ago
While he's absolutely right, I couldn't help but laugh when I saw this on the front page. It's good advice but it's hard to take seriously given the mouth it's coming from.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany7 years ago
MS is doing the opposite of the other headset devices it seems. Morpheus and Occulus want you to immerse yourself into the game, while this product seems to aim for you to take the game to the real world (to say it somehow).

I'm not so sure either...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Alfonso Sexto on 23rd January 2015 3:04pm

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Petter Solberg Freelance Writer & Artist, 7 years ago
I think one of the (many) problems with Kinect is that it was launched for Xbox primarily. Perhaps it should have launched on Windows first and let the community play around with it for a few years. As an Xbox product It seemed like too much of a compromise hardware-wise. That said, I've had some pretty fun Kinect moments. Often it performs better than many people give it credit for, just because their bodies don't always act like expected. If you observe the way people tend to wave their arms around trying to steer their virtual car it's no wonder Kinect's tiny brain can't make sense of the movements.

Anyway, hopefully this new project will succeed for being developed as a standalone project rather than an accessory. A broken Kinect in most cases won't break the XBOX, but this time they need to actually make it work. On its own.

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Petter Solberg on 23rd January 2015 7:40pm

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Jordan Lund Columnist 7 years ago
This tech reminds me of a less intrusive IllumiRoom. Remember that one? A projector at the back of the room woukd scan your living environment and project a graphical overlay extending the television into the room.

With a helmet mount, no projection is necessary and it allows them to build in empty space.

I still don't think it will catch on until people can manipulate the virtual objects Minority Report style...
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Christian Roth Mediapsychologist 7 years ago
brlilliant, had to stop at the headline, it's just too funny :)

on a more serious note: I met some VR guys that complemented on the nice marketing video but warned me about the disillusioning reality of HoloLens
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 7 years ago

Pretty sure Illumiroom was canned in favor of this
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Barry Conway Xbox One Cert Regional Coordinator, HCL Technologies7 years ago
Outside of Minecraft snippets HoloLens didn't strike me as being targeted at the average gamer, at least not until much further down the line once its achieved some market penetration elsewhere and the cost has substaintially reduced. For me this is a device geared more towards education, science, design, research and development fields which could include games development. As such I agree with the article sentiment that it needs a killer app much in the same way any new type of technology does, such as the iPad did at launch at perhaps kinect still needs. I just see these apps arriving from companies such as Adobe more so than an Activision or say Ubisoft.
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Marty Howe Director, Figurehead Studios7 years ago
Can someone explain how the HoloLens would work with video games? Like, give an example?

I'm thinking inventory management for an RPG, but I don't really see how this suits games, if someone has some ideas? I mean action games, not Minecraft, like shooting, jumping, running, crouching etc
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Andre Kling David 3D Artist, Social Point SL7 years ago
I can imagine a awesome micro machine game with this tech.
I would imagine you can project virtual screens around you, so it could act like a occlus too
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Bradford Hinkle Associate Product Manager, Spicy Horse Games 7 years ago
Board games initially would be pretty easy I would think. Voice commands would be simpler and easier to get working. "Knight to c4" etc...
From the tech demo I saw you could use your finger as a pointer. So something mechanically like duck hunt or even fruit ninja might be a good and simple way to showcase that tech.
I guess the key is what do you want to show? Projected screens on surfaces? Potentially anything we have already. Voice commands? I still think board games is a good place to start. Spacial interaction with objects in your room is where it sounds tricky. Even the minecraft concept vid had a very neat room with lots of right angles.
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Marty Howe Director, Figurehead Studios7 years ago
Thanks Andre and Bradford, some good answers, with proper thought.

But, its 2015, who wants to play a board game? Who wants to point their finger in the air, and say a voice command. It's like Kinect all over again, a 'novelty' gadget that kinda works.

I really wish the video games industry, would come back to just being about fun games.
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Chris Payne Managing Director & Founder, Quantum Soup Studios7 years ago
My problem with HoloLens, as with Kinect, is that mostly you don't WANT to make grand Minority-Report-style gestures to do simple things like moving pictures or 3D objects. It would be exhausting. I can see the case for board games (which, by the way, are a growing market: but not for day-to-day productivity.
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 7 years ago
Marty, board and card games are extremely popular. So popular that UbiSoft thinks they can get away with charging double the cost of the physicsl game (on sale) for their hasbro gane lineup. Magic is an annualized best seller, uno was a 360 packin, and they're huge in mobile. launch title. Yes, it's a big genre. Whether people want to play on HoloLens is another question, but the base market is there
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Bradford Hinkle Associate Product Manager, Spicy Horse Games 7 years ago
@ Marty

I could see your point if this device were just about games. But it really is much bigger than that because of the potential for untethered and desk-free computing.

For games, Microsoft just has to get the ball rolling with some simple proof of concept stuff that focuses on the core features... Make a 3D floating version of minesweeper and project solitare on my wall while giving me intuitive hand gestures. Show us devs how to project minecraft into a living room and give us good documentation with the apis. Alot of the innovation will come from the game devs... or so I predict.

Also, i love board games. I'ld be all over all over a Hololens version of Warhammer 40k tabletop complete with animated 3D models and explosions. No more tape measures for me!
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Bradford Hinkle Associate Product Manager, Spicy Horse Games 7 years ago
@ Chris
I could put on my skeptical hat. But I will wait until we see more live tech demos. For now, Iím dreaming big.

As far as sweeping gestures for productivity, it would be a hard sell to people used to mouse and keyboard and there will be valid questions comparing the efficiency of one vs. the other. But, I think Microsoft is thinking very long term here. There is an entire generation of kids right now who are growing up on touch-screen devices. Especially here in asia where very few people own a desktop.

So yes I think sweeping Minority Style gestures coupled with intelligent voice recognition is the direction we are headed in. Also, I dont think it would be as exhausting as you imagine.

1) It is intuitive.
We evolved with fingers to absorb information in a tactile way.
2) Siri
Voice Recognition is getting better although it still needs work.
3) Moving a skype window to the refrigerator isnít exactly cardio
If you grew up with this tech and were moving most the day, like your body is meant to do, then it wouldn't be so intimidating. I openly welcome tech that helps me lead a non-sedentary lifestyle.

In other words, Microsoft is very clever here. Minecraft exclusivity = a whole new generation of early adopters who can potentially grow up being used to these grand gestures and wonít tire easily because they spent half their life at a desk.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Bradford Hinkle on 28th January 2015 9:52am

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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee7 years ago
Liek I said before, its not really Microsoft who are in danger of overhyping it right now, its everyone else.
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Iain McNulty Person doing things 7 years ago
Possibly controversial opinion here, but I am looking forward to Hololens more than the Oculus Rift. I'm a big fan of the potential for AR, and although I am not convinced that gesture control is perfected yet by a long mile, at the same time I also want to be able to use Hololens for it's non-game potential. Being able to stream a video to Hololens (placed in my vision where an AR marker on my wall could be) would negate the need for an actual display on that wall ... Potentially. Plus, since it does not take up the entirety of the users vision it would allow myself to multitask in a way beyond that which Google Glass barely scratched the surface of.

With all the above said, I am fully prepared to eat my words in the coming years should it not reach it's potential ;)
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