Firmly establishing itself as the Edward Heath of consoles, the Xbox One has pulled another U-Turn.
It launched as a pricy package deal with a fancy Kinect 2.0 in every box, this mandatory accessory factoring into the design philosophy of the console and influencing its interface. Just recently though, the deal was altered and Microsoft have announced a new cheaper Xbox One with no Kinect included. This has the clever knock-on effect of lowering the systems price to the same as the PS4’s, which certainly levels the playing field. It’s a decision with obvious benefits for a lot of consumers, but it’s worth exploring some of the consequences and implications of this decision.
A knee-jerk, and perhaps cynical, response is to criticise Microsoft for backing down. You may not have agreed with their vision, but the Xbox One embodied a clear philosophy. Design decisions were meaningful and were emblematic of a grander vision that very much included Kinect. They were committed to this always online system that provided everything you (apparently) needed. This led to interesting policies, like game sharing for example, though had clear problems. At this point there is no vision driving the Xbox One, bar the idea of learning from mistakes. It’s turned from a somewhat progressive project to a reactive one and many may complain about the company bowing to peer pressure. It gives the impression that they don’t know what they are doing and makes you lose faith in their decision making power.
This line of thought is understandable, but somewhat depressing. I understand complaints about what the U-turns could imply, it does make the company look directionless and it does give the impression that they are out of touch. However, it takes a degree of intelligence and humility to admit to your mistakes and to try and make things right. As much as there is some respect to be had for sticking to your guns, sticking to the wrong guns is rather foolish. Being committed to doing the wrong thing still means you are doing the wrong thing and surely that shouldn’t be celebrated? These U-turns have put the console into the place so many wanted and they have removed a lot of the complaints with their strategy. Yes they backed down, but that seemed like the right move to take, they should get points for trying something different and some respect perhaps for learning from past errors.
For the future of their platform, this move is a good thing as it is no longer prohibitively expensive. The Xbox One is in a good place right now and the decision between that and PS4 has become a lot harder. The price is the same and dissuading factors like needing Gold to view Netflix and the like have been taken away. There will still be arguments about frame rates and resolutions, but that has been very minimal stuff so far. Being at the same price puts both consoles in the best place for us consumers; it puts the focus on the games. All Microsoft need is a killer slate of releases.
With relative parity, Microsoft and Sony can no longer rely on outside features to win over consumers. Sony has a bit of a lead already, which shouldn’t be understated, but all it takes is the right games to make somebody buy a system. What both manufacturers need to do is impress us with a line up, leverage their first party studios and secure some third partyexclusives. Sony perhaps have the leg up here, I would argue that the first party developers there are stronger. However, in the near future Microsoft is looking pretty good. Sunset Overdrive looks really awesome and they have a couple of known exclusives they could really showcase at E3. Quantum Break could be a big deal for them and crazy people like me (who adore Deadly Premonition) will consider buying the platform if D4 lives up to its promise. Combine this with a bit of a tease for Halo and a show of the new Gears we’ve been hearing about, then you have a good looking line up. These latter games may not excite all of us (especially more Gears) and may be a way off, but those are popular franchises. Gears of War: Judgement didn’t take off, but it seemed so inconsequential – market something as the next proper Gears and the story will probably be very different.
At this point I own just a PS4 and I’m very happy with that decision. When it comes to exclusives I generally prefer Sony’s output and as a huge Souls series fan the rumour of From Software making their next title for PS4 only (with the director of Demon’s Souls and Dark 1 behind the wheel) makes me so excited. But, all it will take is a decent slate of games coming to the Xbox One to convince me to buy that as well. It’s now a bit cheaper, I didn’t want a Kinect and I don’t feel pressured into buying Gold. I loved my 360 and in previous articles I’ve admitted to being a big Halo person, so it seems possible that Microsoft can win me over and I will be in that happy position of having both platforms.
The one casualty in all of this is the Kinect. I didn’t want the Kinect and now it seems Microsoft don’t either. It has seemed like an albatross around their neck for a while now, but all they needed to do was show it as worthwhile. The excuse for lacklustre Kinect support in the past was that not everybody had one. You can’t go all in on Kinect because you are then dividing your market. By shipping it with every console they took this away, every Xbox One owner also had a Kinect. This meant that they could meaningfully implement Kinect features into every game. They haven’t shown much worth of it yet, but it’s a powerful piece of kit that I’m sure could be utilised in cool ways. It’s actually somewhat disappointing that Microsoft never made it make sense. They seemed so committed to it by putting it in the package, but then they never really utilised it. This makes dropping it unsurprising and another admission that perhaps poor decisions were made.
I can’t help but imagine a world where Microsoft had managed to really double down on Kinect. If they had shown it to be as worthwhile and game changing as they wanted it to be, then the package would have made sense. The price difference would be less of an issue because you would understand why it was there. You were getting something more for that money and you were getting something unique. Now both consoles are overtly similar, the only real difference being interface and exclusives (and some difference in specs). If Microsoft had played their cards better, they could have pushed the Xbox One a lot more at that higher price. All they needed to do was make Kinect worthwhile. Of course, this is easier said than done, but somebody there must have thought it was worth something otherwise why would they have forced it into every box?
Recent decisions have put Microsoft in a better place. All they need is a nice suite of games and they become a serious player. This is better for us and them, they make more money and we get more games (hopefully good ones too). However, though I think they have made the right decision considering the circumstances, I still keep thinking that Microsoft could have been more successful if they had shown us why we need Kinect.