Never say never. Ever since the announcement of the Xbox One, Microsoft have been insistent that Kinect is a crucial part of the consoles infrastructure and philosophy, to the point of bundling it with every system and not having the console work without it. Over half a year after launch and Microsoft are reversing that necessity with a new, Kinect-less model launching in June for the same price as a PlayStation 4. But why have Microsoft chosen to do this, and why now? And what does this mean for consumers and developers?
This is the second major time in the last year or so where Microsoft has done a U-turn regarding Xbox One features: last year the company announced they weren’t going ahead with the planned always online, 24-hour DRM checkup system – to the rejoice of many. Now the Kinect opponents probably feel their complaining has given them another victory; that the online cries of ‘Kinect is rubbish and pointless’ have been heard and listened to. But it’s more than that.
The restrictions announced on the Xbox One originally didn’t just get gamers writing thinkpieces (or angry comments) on the internet. The larger media was spreading the word about the heavy DRM in a world where even Apple allows you to do what you want with your purchases, consumers losing their basic rights, the end of physical gaming software and therefore brick-and-mortar game shops and of course the paranoia that Microsoft spying on us. This kind of negativity wasn’t just going to exist in the background for Microsoft, it was threatening to badly hurt their public image, and more importantly – sales.
The ‘s’ word is the reasoning behind their latest decision. It’s been roughly since months since the two heavyweights of this console generation launched (sorry, Wii U) and its clear for all to see that Sony is taking the lead. Despite the very well-received Microsoft exclusive Titanfall, the PlayStation 4 is cheaper, doesn’t come with a camera a lot of people don’t want to use (which makes it cheaper), big name games achieve the superior 1080p visual output on PS4 and Sony are riding a lot of goodwill at the moment. Microsoft thinks it can kill all the birds with one stone. Cut Kinect, make the console cheaper, free up the dedicated power to go towards graphics and ride the wave of “look at us giving you what you want” (or more, “look at no longer giving you what you don’t want” in some people’s eyes).
Will this work? Who knows. For consumers we now get more choice, we can now choose to have our Xbox with or without the Kinect camera. With the consoles at the same prices the decision to get a PS4 may not be so black and white. But perhaps that’s more of a problem than good. The Xbox One was built around Kinect and, like it or not, that was one of its big selling points. The whole user interface was built around face/gesture recognition and voice commands and as such, works very well and gives the Xbox something different the PlayStation hasn’t got.
Whilst Kinect on 360 got a bad rep for poor licensed games such as Star Wars Kinect and DragonBall Z for Kinect being lazy, boring tie-ins with unresponsive controls, being a mandatory (and much more powerful) part and parcel of the Xbox One made developers take it more seriously. Just as Kinect set the Xbox One apart from its main competitor, Kinect features on the Xbox One versions of games could make those versions the superior ones to get if Kinect carried on being mandatory. Now it’s optional for consumers, developers are likely going to implement Kinect features less and less.
The reason many people hate Kinect, in one neat little gif.
But what about games already in development that heavily feature Kinect? The developers of Zumba Fitness echo the statements written above about matching the price point of the PS4, but losing the uniqueness of the Xbox One in the process. The studio admitted they feel they have had the “the rug pulled from beneath” in regards to sales opportunities. Furthermore, if Microsoft releases a patch that allows exisiting Xbox One models bundled with Kinect to operate without the camera, that could see a lot of people selling off or packing up the accessory. That would further reduce the percentage of Xbox One users with Kinect, a number that from last November until the upcoming June, stood at one hundred. How far will that number drop? And will the sales climb high enough to make sacrificing one of the consoles main features worth it? We’ll find out in due time.
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