It finally happened. After a long and arduous road plagued with back tracking of previous statements and apologies, Microsoft is putting Kinect in the back seat, so to speak. With the recent price drop announced coming on a Kinect-less Xbox One, we can only wonder what the future holds for the much PR maligned peripheral.
Since the Xbox One’s inception, Microsoft has been trying to market a centralized entertainment unit for the living room. Hence the One in Xbox One. How would they do this? Accessibility. This new console would need to be easily accessible to a wider audience, not just hardcore gamers, but people that were casual and possibly even non-gamers. To accomplish this monumental feat they needed this next console to be able to be used quickly and easily by all. Enter Kinect 2.0.
With advanced voice recognition and gesture control the most non tech-savvy person would be able to use this machine successfully. Now with that in place, add in HDMI in support for cable boxes, a slew of entertainment apps with more along the way courtesy of similar app development architecture for Windows 8 and Xbox One and a Blu-ray player This machine was ready for the masses. This shift to a centralized entertainment unit was a long time coming for Microsoft. Many forget Microsoft pioneered having apps such as Netflix on a console.
The Xbox 360 had it long before any other platform did. The 360 and Microsoft in general also drew in larger crowds of consumers than Sony, for example, with its superior online experience and much coveted exclusives like Gears of War and Halo. Bigger franchises than any of Sony’s combined. Microsoft had a large portion of the hardcore crowd and was on the cusp of drawing in an untapped demographic for consoles as well. The vision for the Xbox One was realized and set in motion.
Any great product needs two things for it to deeply penetrate the collective conscious: great features and great marketing. Just ask Apple. While the Xbox One has impressive features that its competitors don’t, the message that was delivered at E3 in June of last year had left much to be desired and they been stumbling since. Even now, those same announcements that were made almost a year ago still resonate with that same crowd Microsoft, ironically, is trying to attract; the casual and non-gamers. Announcements of always-on DRM and the console not being able to work without the Kinect left a bad taste in that collective conscious. The damage had been done.
After those statements were rescinded and reversed, Microsoft never seemed to be able to fully get that crowd back. All the while, hardcore gamers felt alienated by this talk of entertainment options, but not much in the gaming department. After all, this is a video game console. Where were the games?! Topping off all this is the recent Microsoft management structural shake up.
Which takes us to present times. The Xbox One is ready to play hardball while also taking a page from Sony’s playbook. Price point parity with the PS4, a revamped Games for Gold program much in the same vain as PlayStation Plus and the removing of apps such as Netflix and Hulu Plus from behind the Xbox Live pay wall.
It’s fitting and in many ways unfortunate where we are at right now with the Kinect. The price cut means so much without any words. One of the biggest problems in selling the original Kinect was the fact that not many people felt there was a need for it. When the need was almost non existent, so were developers willing to incorporate it with their games. That was supposed to change with the Xbox One. By including it with every console, as a developer you knew the consumer would have one. Why not incorporate it and produce something the competition would have trouble replicating? Last generation the 360 was on the cutting edge of online offerings and destroyed a competing console with better hardware. This generation the Xbox One finds itself in a similar position, but without the advantages of last gen.
The PS4 is more powerful and has all those offerings… minus a powerful peripheral like a Kinect, but if the console is $399 now why bother with it at all. The Xbox One without Kinect is a neutered console. It becomes just another console. Sure the Kinect isn’t perfect, what cutting edge tech is, but the fact of the matter is part of what makes the Xbox One that “One” in all entertainment unit is the accessibility. We are barely six months out from the release of next gen consoles and Microsoft has already gone back, again, on a core component of the console. Maybe this could be much ado about nothing. The PlayStation Camera has been selling like crazy as a separate component to the PS4, so that may also be telling to the wants and needs of consumers. Still, I can’t help but think that Microsoft, in an attempt to regain footing now, has forgone a cutting edge approach much like they did with discontinuing an always-on DRM future.
The optimist in me thinks with these big changes, the Xbox One will begin to gain back that market share it lost and really begin to compete with the PS4. The pessimist in me thinks this is just another blunder in a long line of them that will ultimately lead to Microsoft chasing Sony all generation long. It’s definitely much too early to tell, but these changes could very well be indicators. All I know is navigating that whole interface controller free, albeit being clunky at times, is awesome and definitely feels next gen.
I can only hope more next gen experiences are on the way.