Earlier this week, Microsoft made a bold move in the next-gen wars and announced that beginning June 9th, customers will be able to purchase an Xbox One sans the Kinect for $399 — the same price as the Playstation 4, effectively doing a lot of backpedaling, eliminating a significant selling point for their new system, and laughing in the faces of their early-adopters, all in one fell swoop.
|Feels like something's missing, doesn't it? Photo credit: Amazon.com listing|
Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox at Microsoft, claims that the move was in response to what consumers asked for. And yes, that's partly true.
Except, it's not.
This is, as I said, Microsoft backpedaling. This is Microsoft trying to save face (again) in response to the crushing defeat handed to them by Sony. Yeah, they're listening to consumers, but they're not really listening to consumers. What they're doing is spying on the other camp, trying to steal secrets to get back in the race (more on that in a minute). Had they really listened to the consumers, this 180 wouldn't be happening halfway through the Xbox One's first year. It would have happened alongside the move away from their infamous digital-only position.
But by following through with this decision, Microsoft has subconsciously told us a few key things. First, and possibly most importantly, they're telling us that they don't have faith in their product.
Look, the Xbox One may not be doing as well as the Playstation 4, but it's still doing pretty damn well. It's already outsold the total number of Wii U's sold (a console that is into its second year), and it's selling at a faster rate than its insanely popular predecessor. With 5 million units shipped, and over 4 million units sold, that's nothing to be ashamed of, even in the face of Sony's 7 million PS4s.
Microsoft spent all of E3 2013 telling us how "cool" and "essential" Kinect 2.0 was to the Xbox One experience. "You can do things with Kinect that aren't possible on other consoles," they said. "This is the future of not only gaming, but of your living room," they boasted. I mean, we all remember how much of their presentation was dedicated to Kinect and TV last year.
And these ideas (among others that got the axe) were scoffed at by almost everyone. How could shoddy motion controls and voice commands ever be integral to my gaming experience? Halfway into the first year of its life, the Xbox One has yet to give us a compelling reason to own the revamped Kinect, and now we may never see one. By severing one of the core features of their new console, Microsoft has told us that they never believed in their product in the first place. This is evidenced by Spencer himself, who mentions that they're looking into bringing Kinect-like voice commands to chat headsets, basically saying, "We knew the Kinect was unnecessary from the start, but we decided to force it down your throats anyway."
But never fear! Microsoft is still trying to reassure gamers that "the best Xbox One is Xbox One with Kinect plugged in." And what are they doing to bolster that proclamation? Bragging about how the Xbox One should be able to go toe-to-toe with the Playstation 4 now that Kinect is out of the picture.
The things that Microsoft exec Yusuf Mehdi mentions in that article (as well as in the one IGN links to) are incredibly telling. The fact that they're already talking to developers about using resources originally confined to the Kinect is an ominous sentiment. One of the biggest complaints we've seen from developers is that they just can't quite get the same power out of the Xbox One as they can from the PS4. Microsoft is willing to undercut the defining element of their new console to possibly level the playing field with their competitor (note that this hasn't really been a priority for them before, as the Playstation 3 was always a little more powerful than the Xbox 360). Faith in their own products? Not at Microsoft, it seems.
Which brings me to the second thing the newly Kinect-less Xbox One tells us about Microsoft: they care more about money than they do about their fans.
All of these moves towards a Kinect-free system essentially amount to Microsoft shitting on the Xbox One's early adopters. As has already been mentioned, Microsoft made it a huge deal to underline how important Kinect 2.0 is to the overall Xbox One experience, and the people they managed to reach with that questionable press reveal at E3 last year believed in this product. Microsoft had already innovated the way we game and interact with our friends while gaming, why couldn't they also completely change the overall gaming-as-entertainment experience?
I mean, the new Kinect was a significant selling point — the selling point for the system. Gamers were promised that this would be the future of gaming and this would be what differentiates Xbox from the competition. It was one of the most interesting and useful new features of next-gen consoles by far. Fans — like the ones I've encountered as gaming employee — bought into that, believed in that, and their hopes have been reduced to nothing more than a fossil from a more promising time.
Support will virtually drop to almost nil in response to this move away from Kinect. Truthfully, that's mostly wild speculation on my part, but if the industry's track record is anything to go by (the Move, the original Kinect, most Wii games, half of the Wii U's library...), I can feel at least semi-confident in that statement. So now the system has been decapitated, eliminating the most convincing reason to buy an Xbox One over a Playstation 4, leaving early adopters in the dust, while Microsoft speeds away with bags of cash, maniacal laughter fading into the distance.
And I get it, I really do. Companies need to make money. Their products need to make profits. I could get behind the idea of "this is what the market wants", except the market already spoke. A year ago at E3. And (thank God), Microsoft, reluctantly, half-listened. But it was only in response to "I'm buying a PS4 and not an X1 now!" and not in response to, "This is what I want out of a Microsoft gaming system."
And all of these changes just seem to confirm that Microsoft never believed in the Kinect in the first place. It hasn't even been a year yet, and they've already made the decision to nearly halt all support for the accessory? That doesn't say, "We believe in our product! You will love it!" to me. That screams, "We're desperate for your money and approval!" Which is the fundamental issue I'm trying to get at here:
Microsoft is only willing to listen when it comes to profit.
They only correct their mistakes after the fact. It's akin to an abusive relationship. 180's like the move away from Kinect and the adoption of an online policy identical to Sony's are like Microsoft saying, "Baby, come back! I've changed! I won't hurt you anymore, I swear!" And fans and gamers alike and responding with, "No! We've had enough of your fees and bullshit! We're finally gonna call that cute girl we ignored all through high school. She was a little awkward and chubby at first, but she knows how to treat us right!"
It's only been seven months, stand your ground Microsoft. Nintendo (bless them) haven't abandoned the Wii U or its GamePad in the wake of abysmal sales and colossal losses. Consumers have already voted with their wallets. Why not stick it out and give us a reason to make the switch? Show some faith, some gusto. You've reduced the One to a PS4 clone, and nearly everybody already has a PS4.You've virtually eliminated support for the feature your fans bought the system for in the first place, so what reason do consumers have now for deciding to purchase an Xbox One over a Playstation 4? I'll give you a hint: not much.