When Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One there was a lot of derision on the part of the core gamers. Blocking used games, an always online connection being required, manditory check-ins, mandatory Kinect functionality and of course the price point.
Since then, one by one, Microsoft has changed course making it a more consumer and, more specifically, console gamer friendly console. Used games are now OK with the caveat being that despite a mandatory install for each game, the disc must still be in the console to use it. They also did away with the online requirement. No longer will we need to check in as some sort of probationary case making sure the game we are playing wasn’t in our possession through ill-gotten means.
We don’t need your Kinect control
On a recent NeoGAF poll asking what it would take to get the community to change their mind about Xbox One, a resounding majority of those that took part cited the mandatory Kinect and the price-point as the final obstacle. The logic being that many gamers don’t want the Kinect in the first place and since the Kinect sensor is driving the price up to $499.99 in the US (more in Europe and the UK) they would rather opt out of Xbox One gaming for the foreseeable future.
That brings us to this week when during an IGN hosted “AMA” (Ask Microsoft Anything) Chief Xbox One Platform Architect, Mark Whitten confirmed that the Kinect would no longer be mandatory for Xbox One to function as a games console. “Like online, the console will still function if Kinect isn’t plugged in, although you won’t be able to use any feature or experience that explicitly uses the sensor.”
Highlighting the advantages to keeping the Kinect functional Whitten said “Xbox One is designed to work with Kinect plugged in. It makes gaming better in many ways – from the ability to say “Xbox On” and get right to your personalized homescreen, to the ability to control your TV through voice, Smartglass and more. Kinect allows you to search for your content, instantly move between games and your personalized dash and more with just your voice. Kinect helps you pick up and play by automatically knowing which controller you have in your hands. No more need to interrupt your friends game or navigate through multiple UI screens to sign in and tell the system which controller you are holding. It will even bind the controller to the console if its currently unbound – no searching for special buttons! Of course – these are just a few of the system wide benefits of having Kinect. Games use Kinect in a variety of amazing ways from adding voice to control your squad mates to adding lean and other simple controls beyond the controller to full immersive gameplay.”
Hey, Whitten, leave those kids alone
So now many gamers have once again gotten what they wanted. They can leave the Kinect in the box and enjoy games how they have always enjoyed games. Which begs the question since the Kinect is driving the cost up to a far less competetive $499.99 versus the PlayStaion 4’s $399.99, and the Kinect is no longer required for the Xbox One to play games, one has to wonder why Microsoft isn’t just offering the Kinect as a peripheral similar to the current iteration for Xbox 360.
For the record, while I have no intention of using the Kinect for games, I am looking forward to using it for voice commands, and general UI functionality when using the media applications on the Xbox One. That said, I game on a budget and the Xbox One would be sitting under my TV a lot sooner at a $399.99 price-point than at it’s current one of $499.99. Like most gamers, I am in it for the games, and the bells and whistles are just that, extra features that you will either use or not use but make the experience stand out from a vanilla piece of equipment.
I have no doubt that Microsoft bet big on Kinect and including it in every box ensures parity between every user’s intended experience, but now that only extends to what is in the box. What good do Kinect-based features do when some games–if not most–won’t even be using them? The features that Whitten has outlined in his response just don’t sound convincing enough that it needs to be included and doing so comes at the cost of potential customers who don’t see any benefit to including something in the box that just isn’t going to get used.
A Gyromite sandwhich
I had the Nintendo Entertainment System which came bundled with R.O.B. The Robot which could be used with the pack-in game, Gyromite. I used it once. When I found out I could play the game without it, R.O.B. went in a box never to be seen again. I imagine this was the case for many others because not only did Nintendo stop making games for the peripheral–Stack-Up was the only other game that supported it–they also started shipping the console without it but kept the much more popular (and all around functional) Zapper light gun, used for games like Duck Hunt, Gumshoe, Freedom Force and many others. If enough people don’t use Kinect I imagine it going the same way as R.O.B., and it could cease to be packaged with the Xbox One in the future.
Why not get out ahead of this and offer consumers an option for a Kinect-less Xbox One at a lower price-point? You can still offer the “premium” version with Kinect at $499.99 but the cheaper bundle will allow people to enjoy the basic functionality of the console–playing Xbox One controller based games–at a lower price. Before anyone compares my suggestion to releasing two versions of the Xbox 360 with and without hard drives, the difference is that the Xbox 360 eventually required the storage to run properly, something a Kinect will not ever do. Not unless a game is designed to make full use of the Kinect features and that game is unplayable without it–much like an online multiplayer game like Titanfall is useless without an internet connection. In that case, the gamer that opted out of purchasing the Kinect included version of the console won’t be able to play that game.
Something tells me though… that gamer won’t mind one bit.