Microsoft has dumped hundreds of millions of dollars – maybe billions, even – into Kinect. Initial research, the first version that launched for the Xbox 360, and then its inclusion with the Xbox One and the additional research and development that went alongside with it.
They left even more money on the table by forcing early adopters to pay for the product, losing millions of sales to Sony thanks to a higher price point caused by an undesirable product.
Then, last May, Microsoft announced that they’d be releasing a Kinectless Xbox One to coincide with their June 9 E3 show.
Now, in 2015, will Microsoft even mention the device?
Microsoft is in a weird spot right now. They’re ramping down one device while they begin to talk about another – the HoloLens. It’s not ready for primetime quite yet, but it’s clear the device will eventually figure largely into Microsoft’s efforts.
And they’re really, really ramping down. When the Xbox One released, it was tough to navigate without the Kinect. I still have my Kinect hooked up, and I love it. I love telling my Xbox to do things. It listens and accurately responds to my commands. It’s indispensable to my Xbox One experience. It’s still, bar-none, the best Skype experience available, too, with a 1080p camera and the ability to track the speaker.
But I couldn’t, in good faith, recommend anyone spend the extra $100 or more just to get the voice commands.
2014’s Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved was a great game. It showed off the best Kinect has to offer by providing a fun, unique experience that simply wouldn’t work on any other console or device. It was also the last gasp of a barely breathing peripheral. When Microsoft announced the decision to release an Xbox One without the peripheral, employees of Harmonix, the studio behind the game, tweeted things like, “Oh, great. Super great.” They seemed to have been caught by surprise as much as consumers. Sure, we’d all assumed it would happen eventually, but the suddenness caught people off-guard – it was one of the first big shots from Phil Spencer re-positioning the Xbox One as a gaming console.
This year, Harmonix has moved back to their bread and butter, Rock Band, and fan-favorite Rare is no longer making new versions of Kinect Sports. They haven’t announced a project yet, but it doesn’t appear to have anything to do with Kinect from what little we know. With the percentage of the Xbox One user base that owns a Kinect rapidly shrinking, and the percentage actually using the device even lower, there’s no draw to develop. Sure, you might have an innovative game idea, but where can you go with it? Witcher 3 developer CD Projekt Red said recently that only the fact that they could bring their game to PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC allowed them to make the game as grand as it is. When companies see multiplatform games as necessity, why would they develop for a shrinking part of a single one?
Things start to get truly grim for the device when you watch any of the Xbox One feature demonstrations shown by Major Nelson lately. In April, Xbox Live’s Major Nelson posted the video above showing users how to connect and take advantage of the Xbox One digital TV tuner. As Major Nelson takes us through the steps, not once does he or his colleague talk to the system, instead using the controller to do the work. It’s there, connected, in the background, but it’s barely acknowledged. Microsoft isn’t even promoting the device anywhere.
When the news first hit, we predicted the death of the Kinect. Microsoft still sells the device both included with the Xbox One and as a stand-alone device, but it seems likely that one or more of the inevitable fall Xbox One special edition consoles will eschew the peripheral completely. Eventually we might even see Microsoft drop the Kinect version entirely, selling it only as a separate peripheral.
The Kinect is not a well-liked piece of hardware, but it’s sad to see it die. They packed a lot of neat stuff into the device, and if Microsoft could’ve forced the device to catch on like they wanted it to, game development for the peripheral would’ve fueled further research for its many capabilities. It’s on the way out, though, and even Microsoft seems to agree.