Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Microsoft Disconnects Xbox One and Kinect, Drops the Price by $100, and That's a Bad Thing

Microsoft finally did what the gaming community asked it to do since E3 last year, and have removed Kinect from the Xbox One system bundle, and dropped the price by $100. While this doesn't begin until June 9th, it's happening.

Phil Spencer came out and announced it all in video form (also announcing that media streaming apps are no longer locked behind the Xbox Live Gold paywall). The June 9th date is a prominent one - being the first day of E3, and Microsoft's press conference - and removing the Kinect from the bundle to drop the price was the last thing that needed to be done.

The Kinect is a vital selling tool of the system. It's also a development tool for the system. While I am not a fan of the Kinect and what it does - I would go as far as saying "I hate the Kinect" - it's important to the experience of what the system is. I hate the voice control aspect, and my initial issues during my limited time of using the system - unresponsive, unrecognized commands, unable to focus on me, the only person in front of it - are shared by others in the industry (Note: for the record, no, I do not own an Xbox One. There's not a game on the system that I want to play, and it's something I simply cannot afford at this point. It's just a matter of when I will own one.)

That's John Drake, director of publishing and PR at Harmonix. He doesn't sound thrilled. At all.

It is important to the original vision of what the Xbox One was, and that was completely different than what the system is now. The Xbox One at E3 2013 and the Xbox One that launched back in November are two completely different systems. The Xbox One that you are currently looking at is the Xbox One-Eighty. Stop scoffing, stop your eye rolling, and put your keyboard down; I don't care how much you hate the name, it's exactly what the Xbox One is. A complete reversal of what the system was going to do, and today only helps to solidify that name.

If you haven't watched the video, I pulled two choice quotes I want you to read.

"Clearly, if you use Xbox One with Kinect, you have the best experience." - Yusuf Mehdi

Then why falter from the model you set out with back in November? If it's the best experience, then make it the experience for the system. Stop giving in to the demand that is the gaming community that doesn't know what they want. The community loves to hate change, and we saw that during E3 last year. It was to the point that Don Mattrick sent out a pathetic letter to the industry, reversing the goals of the Xbox One not two fucking weeks after E3, and quit a week and a half later. I don't blame the man for quitting; he helped botch the launch and adoption of the system. Don Mattrick was the wrong choice to lead Xbox.

"There are people out there that want to make the choice when they want to make it." - Phil Spencer

Microsoft, again, is allowing the gaming community make their choices for them. I'm all for companies listening to their customers for ideas on what to do, but when you have them force your hand to change a gaming system into a completely different unit two weeks after announcement, that's bad. Microsoft isn't confident in their own system, and they refuse to put their foot down. Family Share was to be huge. While there are parts of the system that I don't agree with (and their delivery on the announcement of the service could have been far better), it could've been massive; just ask Steam. Where they got too greedy is in demanding a persistent internet connection to play your game, even if you had the physical disc in the system. This should have been your safety net. "No internet? No problem. Just pop in the disc," and problem solved.

Spencer's quote is the antithesis of the "faster horses" line:

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” - Unknown (no, it wasn't Henry Ford)

Let's put this in terms the gaming industry can understand: if a console developer came up to you and asked you "what do you want in your next-gen console?", you would have responded "faster and better visuals." Don't lie, because that's what you want. What you should be asking for is a stronger ecosystem between multiple devices. More flexibility with what you purchase. An easy way to share your games with friends. The ability to rent games digitally directly to your system. These were pipe dreams not five years ago, and the Big Three are just throwing these kind of features at us.

Sadly, this was a thing.
Microsoft had a vision for the future of console gaming. While not perfect, it was a vision, and they, honestly, were the only one actively trying. Nintendo is still struggling to make "the next Wii", while Sony is riding the coattails of yesteryear with a system that truly lives up to the name of "PlayStation 4". The original Xbox One was to make people rethink their view of a console. Not just gamers, but developers. The Kinect being packaged in with each and every Xbox One was a guarantee not only to gamers - "you will have this accessory, and if you ever come across a feature that requires it, you can use it" - but to developers as well - "every owner will have this accessory, so feel free to develop for it without fear of adoption rates".

Think back to the Xbox 360's launch. It had two models: one with and one without a hard drive. Digital distribution was still in it's infancy, and Microsoft didn't anticipate game sizes getting larger than a 100 MBs; just look at the pathetic format sizes of the Memory Units. A lot of big name release games - The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Fallout 3, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare - all had "Storage Required" warning on their label at some point during their history, as the developers couldn't guarantee that someone had, at minimum, a 20 GB hard drive attached to their unit.

Expect a lot more of these unnecessary
warning labels in the next-gen.
Removing the Kinect from the Xbox One was the wrong move, regardless of how badly Microsoft thinks the system is doing. Sure, it's trailing the PS4 by several million units, and it's yet to surpass the Wii U, but were just six months into the next-generation. There's no need to get this drastic; it might have worked for the 3DS, but they had Zelda and StarFox, two killer IPs, released just after the price drop. You don't have Halo out yet. You don't have Gears out yet. Bethesda hasn't launched a next-gen title yet. There's no killer app outside of Titanfall, and even that can't push systems, even with it being given away. We're still in the first year, and the libraries across both the Xbox One and PS4 are still pathetic. Microsoft should have come out swinging at E3, announcing a revamped Family Share plan, digital library, and a shit load of games. If there wasn't movement on the system after the holidays, then drop the price, but the Kinect is half of the Xbox One.

You've told us this from Day One that your system and Kinect went hand in hand. You pushed passed people asking for a "dis-Kinected" Xbox One (thanks, Joystiq) to lower the price, but you only slipped a tiny bit by removing the requirement for the Xbox to function with the Kinect plugged in. Now, developers are pissed because their plans for Kinect integration are lost; how can they guarantee that the Kinect functionality of their game, or a full-on Kinect game, will have any adoption beyond the units already sold? Sales will surely get a rise, but this is a temporary solution to a present problem what would've been solved on it's own over time.

The Xbox One is no longer the vision that Microsoft had a year ago. I only hope that in three weeks time, Microsoft will throw out a bevy of announcements about the system and it's capabilities, making it something worthwhile. It's nothing more now than an underpowered PlayStation 4 at this point. This was the last thing that needed to be done, and it only hurts Microsoft's image even further that they can't stick to their original plan, and are letting the community dictate what they are allowed to do as a company.

Simply put: now you fucked up.