With the PlayStation's Eyetoy proving to be a surprising success story, the Xbox has decided to get in on some webcam action with the Live Vision. It's a capable webcam, letting you video chat (provided you have Xbox Live Gold membership), send pictures and map yourself into games.
But there's something slightly peculiar about the idea. Unlike Eyetoy, Vision launched without a killer game to use it with. Instead, Microsoft has given us a PC-style webcam for a games console, lit the fuse and then run away.
Playing, say, Command and Conquer 3 with three faces in the corners of the screen is interesting – but it adds nowhere near as much to the gaming experience as being able to talk into your Xbox joypad headset.
Communication-wise, you pick up a hell of a lot more from talking than you do from a 640x480 webcam picture that goes very jerky if your connection goes on the fritz. There's a reason video calls have yet to take off.
It's also tricky to decide where to put it. Next to the console? Next to you? Put it anywhere where you won't trip over it, and chances are your video avatar will look rubbish – just another far-away bloke on a sofa.
Dearth of games
Taking a snap of yourself and mapping it onto your avatar's face in Rainbow Six: Vegas multiplayer is much more fun – it's actually surprising that they got away with that one without some sort of tabloid-news outrage – but thus far, the range of games that let you use the Vision camera for this is pretty limited. There's three of them at the time of writing – Rainbow Six:Vegas, World Series of Poker, and Tiger Woods.
And that's really the problem: if there was a super-smart game built around the technology, this would be great. As it is, Vision feels like it's part of Microsoft's masterplan to turn Xbox into an unstoppable computing and entertainment behemoth and, sometimes, you just wish they would get on with making games.
If Sony can come up with something as odd and superb as Eye of Judgement – the upcoming PS3 game where you aim the EyeToy camera at a board game, which then springs to life on your TV screen as you play it – then surely Microsoft's game studios can come up with something interesting?
And on that day, we'll dust off our office Vision cameras. Until then, we'll settle for having new gamer pics, and keep the camera itself tucked away in its box.