Feature: Microsoft’s U-turn: Is it the end for Kinect?

Categories Console Monster, Features

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013. The day that Microsoft undertook the biggest backtrack in gaming history. Following a lot of critical feedback of the Xbox One’s DRM policies, the company dropped the 24 hour Internet check-in requirement and the restriction on pre-owned games.

While the news didn’t come as much of a surprise, it was a dramatic change that showed Microsoft was willing to listen to their consumers.

Almost a year on, Microsoft has made its second U-turn with the news that, from June 2014, the Xbox One will be available without Kinect for the first time. As a result, £80 has been knocked off the price tag since it first launched less than six months ago.

Once again, this was inevitable. The motion sensing technology has been the subject of mixed opinions from gamers and the price of the console (with Kinect) has been blamed for the lack of sales (at the last count, the Xbox One was almost two million sales behind Sony’s PlayStation 4).

The news comes as a kick in the teeth for early adopters, who were told time and time again that the Xbox One would never be available without Kinect. For example, in August 2013, Phil Harrison, corporate vice president of Microsoft Europe, told CVG: “Xbox One is Kinect. They are not separate systems. An Xbox One has chips, it has memory, it has Blu-ray, it has Kinect, it has a controller. These are all part of the platform ecosystem.”

Harmonix, the team behind the highly successful Dance Central, were the first to react, with publicist Nick Chester tweeting: “Now Kinect designers have to work extra hard to innovate and make solid software. Good thing we were already doing that!”

This was followed by a statement from the developer, in which they said that “tightly-crafted motion games can be great, genre-defining interactive experiences” and that they are “eager to prove it again with Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved this fall on both Xbox One and Xbox 360”.

While Harmonix are fully backing Kinect, the fact that it will no longer come as standard may discourage support from other developers. From the off, Microsoft strongly encouraged developers to get behind the device, with many of them happily obliging. Now, that incentive may be lost.

But how can Microsoft reassure gamers that Kinect is the way forward? It’s worth noting that Kinect 2.0 has proven to be a lot more reliable in comparison to its predecessor. While it’s by no means perfect, the voice commands to turn on and navigate the console are particularly useful. If these were more accessible and universal across all apps, this would encourage more gamers to utilise Kinect’s features.

Furthermore, Microsoft has promised an E3 conference full of games on June 9th (the day the Kinect-less Xbox One goes on sale). A number of promising-looking Kinect titles that appeal to the hardcore audience could save the peripheral from its ultimate demise.

On the whole, Microsoft made yet another bold decision, this time to remove Kinect from the Xbox One bundle. This is likely to pay off in the short term, as the inevitable increase in sales will firmly put the console back in the race.

However, in the long run, Microsoft will need to pull something else out of the bag to truly reaffirm their position on the market. Without Kinect, the Xbox One is more or less a bog-standard games console that is on par (if not, slightly lower) with Sony’s PlayStation 4. Kinect was the stand out feature that the Xbox’s biggest rival lacked.

With Kinect being released as a standalone device in the Autumn, it’s clearly evident that Microsoft hasn’t given up on the device entirely. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if Microsoft were to (once again) attempt to reassure gamers that Kinect is a great piece of technology, and their E3 press conference next month would be the perfect time to showcase it.

University of Lincoln Journalism graduate David Wriglesworth is a Social Media Manager at tgi MEDIA in Darlington and is the founder of What’s On Darlington – a community hub for the town of Darlington.