Starting June 9, consumers will be able to purchase an Xbox One for $399.99. That's the exact same price as the PlayStation 4, for those keeping count.
The Xbox One is currently priced at $499.99. It will stay at that price until the company announces an official drop. The difference between the $500 and $400 units? The cheaper one comes without a Kinect.
Microsoft has finally listened to consumer feedback regarding the once-mandatory piece of gaming hardware. The company has made a new Xbox One unit available without the Kinect, it has priced the system appropriately and, as I'm about to discuss, it has delivered the first killing blow on their motion-based gaming hardware.
This is the true beginning of the end for the Kinect, folks. It's all downhill from here, so brace yourselves accordingly.
Creating a Forced Install Base
Let's drop any pre-existing notions of preference here. We're treating the Kinect specifically as a peripheral. We're not imbuing it with judgement. The Kinect is a camera and microphone based input for the Xbox platforms. For this piece, let's completely ignore its negative and positive qualities.
The fact of the matter is that Microsoft was creating a large install base of Kinect 2.0s with the Xbox One. It designed the hardware to include it, it built the Xbox One's UI with the Kinect in mind and they forced all Xbox One owners to also be Kinect owners by buying the console.
You buy an Xbox One, you get a Kinect. Simple as that. For every million Xbox Ones sold, there would be one million Kinect owners in the audience.
I personally believe that this is also why Microsoft had initially planned to force users to keep the Kinect plugged in while using their consoles. Making them keep it plugged in meant that every single Xbox One gamer was not only a Kinect owner, but also a Kinect user.
Now that the Kinect is an optional component, one that increases the console's cost by $100, I imagine the installation base growth will drop drastically.
Removing the Drive for Development
With a stalled install base that could potentially never see the same pace of growth again, Microsoft has essentially removed a big drive for Kinect game development.
When the purchase of an Xbox One made buying a Kinect mandatory, Microsoft was able to move among potential Kinect game developers with an assurance that every single gamer who owned an Xbox One also owned a Kinect. It basically had a way to convince developers that this peripheral would absolutely be in use.
Now? That bragging right is gone. Let's assume that Microsoft has sold something like five million Xbox Ones worldwide. Those five million consoles are the only ones guaranteed to include a Kinect owner. The more attractive price point will likely push future owners towards skipping the Kinect, and that means developers will have an even smaller audience to make games for.
Look at the Wii U for proof. The install base on the console is so low that publishers like Ubisoft, EA and Activision have let support wain or disappear. They have no reason to risk spending money making games for the machine because the install base simply isn't big enough for them.
That problem will translate to the Kinect, a device that was already sorely lacking developer support beyond dancing games.
What's a Peripheral Without Games?
Which brings us to the bigger problem, and what will inevitably force the end of the Kinect.
Without games, the Kinect is essentially useless. Not many consumers will buy an Xbox One and a Kinect to simply play a slightly better version of Just Dance. They can get an adequate edition on the Xbox 360 for far less expense.
Microsoft has lost that "dev Kinect game for our huge install base" card, so any potentially interesting games from less than rich developers are also less likely to happen. The gamers out there who like odd and offbeat games could have viewed the Kinect as a way to get in on that type of fun, but that niche genre will likely evaporate.
In fact, unless Microsoft sponsors the extra content or makes the games themselves, I'd wager that we'll see nothing more than dancing and fitness games for the Kinect from here on out. Developers simply don't have a reason to make anything else, and gamers who aren't interested in those genres will likely see the Kinect as another useless peripheral.
I can't see myself digging out a Kinect (or the funds for one) to play too much in the near future, can you?
The Developers Left in a Lurch
There's another set of gaming industry types who are hurt by this decision. There are developers currently making games for the Xbox One's Kinect 2.0, and they're absolutely going to feel the hurt of dropping the input from the device.
There's that episodic Kinect game from SWERY called D4 that will certainly lose some mustard thanks to this news. There's also the work of Harmonix, the makers of Dance Central, that's set to enjoy some frustration.
In fact, some Harmonix developers working on Fantasia: Music Evolved for the Xbox One (a Kinect-based game) expressed disappointment on Twitter following the news.
John Drake, Director of Publishing & PR at Harmonix, offered this:
Oh, great. Super great.
— johntdrake (@johntdrake) May 13, 2014
While Harmonix Publicist Nick Chester dropped this:
— Nick Chester (@nickchester) May 13, 2014
Followed by this:
Now Kinect designers have to work extra hard to innovate and make solid software. Good thing we were already doing that!
— Nick Chester (@nickchester) May 13, 2014
Think they're happy that the install base is done for? Probably not.
So, Microsoft now has a console that doesn't include the Kinect at a much, much more attractive price point. Developers have less of a reason to create games for the soon-to-be-narrowed installation base. Gamers will, in turn, have less games to choose from that could drive peripheral sales. The developers currently working on games for the Kinect? They feel burned.
Microsoft, whether intentionally or not, has initiated the recipe for a dying platform. Without developers and gamers, the Kinect has nowhere to go but down. This is the beginning of the end, as much as I hate that hyperbole, and I don't see Microsoft recovering the hardware in any way.
Make no mistake, this was a tough decision for the company. What does it say about how the Xbox One and Kinect have been performing that Microsoft felt it needed to nix the exclusive peripheral in favor of getting users to pick up a cheaper unit? It doesn't spell good news, I'll tell you that.
Instead, the good news for gamers comes from the fact that the Xbox One itself will likely do better from here on out. As its performance improves, expect the quality of games and deals to get better as the race between Sony and Microsoft gets a lot closer.
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