Last week Microsoft announced a Kinect-free version of the Xbox One for a hundred dollars less. Why last week? I don’t know, they couldn’t wait for E3?
At any rate, why now is (sort of) not important. What matters is that it drastically undercuts Microsoft’s position on the Kinect as a piece of hardware.
From the word go Kinect has been touted as the heart of the Xbox One. From the early rumours that the Xbone wouldn’t work without Kinect, to the confirmation that it wouldn’t, to the clarification that it would, the Kinect has been at the centre of Xbox One. Early privacy concerns and discussion of whether the Kinect could catch you doing stuff you’d rather not have it catch you doing emerged and were mostly rebuffed at some point probably maybe (I’m still not quite sure because of the mixed messages sent out). But all throughout the Kinect has always been a part of the Xbox One package.
Microsoft pushed Kinect as an integral part of the Xbox One experience.
And now, all of a sudden, it’s not.
Microsoft is releasing the Xbox One into the wild without its happy add-on. No more will new buyers be able to yell at the screen and mostly have it do what they tell it. Oh no, they’ll be reduced to using buttons. How passé.
Okay, nobody’s being forced to buy a Kinect-less Xbox One. Buyers will still be able to purchase the original Xbox One + Kinect package for the original price. They’ll also have the option to buy the Xbox One sans Kinect for a hundred bucks less, ensuring unaware mums and dads will be confused when little Timmy cries that they bought him the wrong Xbox.
I actually think it’s a fantastic idea that the Xbone is being offered without Kinect for a lower price. Options are great, and they always benefit the consumer. A hundred bucks is a lot of money for some people, and the new package is very welcome. I probably wouldn’t buy one without a Kinect, since I think the voice features are pretty swell (even if half of them don’t work in my country yet). But I appreciate the ability to choose. Well done on that, Microsoft.
But I’m worried about the message this sends about the peripheral’s necessity.
And let’s get this straight – the Kinect is a peripheral.
From the get go, Kinect has been a part of Xbox One. Marketing for the Xbox One has revolved disproportionately around the features Kinect offers the end-user. It’s all been about TV and Kinect. Now the Kinect has suddenly become “unnecessary”, how will that affect Xbox One’s marketing? How will that affect users who have one? How will that affect developers and publishers?
Having the Kinect relegated to an identified peripheral (it was always a peripheral, just never called one) leaves Xbone marketing in a tough spot. Sure, the new console can rely on a lower price, and the Kinect can be marketed as a great thing. But what does the console itself have to offer? Up until lately, not a whole lot. Few launch games, no killer exclusives, worse game performance. It can do TV and multimedia well, but why get an Xbox One when you can get a dedicated multimedia box for cheaper? Without Kinect’s gimmicks, the Xbox One just isn’t a very attractive package right now.
I suspect that with E3 around the corner, and the Halo 5 “announcement” last week, Microsoft will be able to point at some decent games and point at the Xbox One and go “hmm?” very loudly at buyers. But Halo’s still a year and a half away, and E3 hasn’t happened yet. This week feels a bit premature for this announcement, but whatever. I’m sure Microsoft PR have a strategy in mind.
But how does it hit consumers? Well, some may just feel upset and lied to. Early adopters who don’t use the Kinect much may feel ripped off. I’m sure most probably feel okay with it, getting plenty out of the Kinect functionality. But it’s still a bit of a dirty trick on Microsoft’s part to emphasise how important the Kinect is and then doing a backflip. I wouldn’t blame someone for feeling deceived by the marketing line.
The biggest middle finger, though, is to those developers creating games for and with the Kinect in mind. Kinect only games are rare, to say the least, but they are happening. So if a part of the Xbox One userbase doesn’t have Kinect, those games automatically are locked off from part of the market. And in a performance-driven market like games, developers who don’t get sales will lose out. Why should developers specialise in Kinect if not everyone will have it? Why should developers include Kinect features at all? What’s the point in wasting time and money on small gimmicks that few ever use or enjoy now that it isn’t necessary to differentiate themselves from the competitor’s platform? It’s a nasty surprise for developers planning to use the Kinect, and I hope it doesn’t damage any games or developers.
Why mislead consumers for so long on Kinect’s centrality? Why not ship a day one console without Kinect like Sony did with the PS4 and its camera?
It’s all to do with install bases, I expect. Get as many people with the peripheral as possible from as soon as possible. Show people its capabilities. Differentiate from the competition. And get people owning it. Those in the future will feel left out for not having one, presumably, and opt for the peripheral. Widen the initial install base for the Kinect and future sales are much easier.
Let’s get this straight – Microsoft is not abandoning the Kinect. There will still be games that have Kinect “features”. Navigation will be enhanced. Added functionality will increase. The Kinect is not useless. In fact, it’s a pretty fantastic piece of tech. The option to buy the console without the peripheral is a great choice.
It’s just another mixed message, though, and one that doesn’t enhance the Xbox One’s image. It’s already coming second in The Console War™ – the Xbox One doesn’t need any more hits against it.
Hopefully the Kinect-free option will boost sales. It might. It could. But, in the long run, I think this decision will hurt Microsoft in the future.
It looks bad from a PR point of view, it sends a mixed message, and it splits the base. And those are never good things to do.