Wednesday, May 14, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

So Kinect-less Xbox One is official, and Xbox’s Games with Gold is more aligned with Playstation Plus.

With Kinect touted as such an integral piece of hardware to the Xbox One experience, and a hell of a lot of room for improvement, to me, it’s genuinely surprising to see Microsoft make a retail effort to separate Kinect from the Xbox One system so soon. From the NSA and Snowden days to the 7 million confirmed PS4s in households compared to a hard-to-nail-down 5 million, Microsoft had every reason to cut Kinect out of the box, selling a new SKU for $399.

It was a strange timing for the announcement however. For Microsoft to reveal news about major competitive shifts in aligning itself with the Playstation 4, it seemed as if such announcements would be more appropriate for E3. And the mere fact that the new SKU will be available on June 9th, the day of their press conference, it’s hard to imagine that they won’t remind consumers anyway. If I hadn’t known that the $399 model would be available day & date with the Microsoft press conference, my first assumption would be that they intended to avoid bursting the bubble of any Kinect focused software.

I was a proud supporter of Microsoft shipping every Xbox One with a Kinect because that meant the developers had free range to support its functionality without worrying how high the device’s attach rate is with the system. D4, while smartly and strangely also supporting a traditional control scheme, is fronted as a Kinect game. Harmonix’s Fantasia: Music Evolved will soon be walled behind whatever price Microsoft decides that a standalone Kinect would cost, and they’re not too happy about that.

But regardless the unfortunate sacrifices, consumers ultimately won yesterday. Microsoft’s decision in launching the new model on June 9th might indicate that they’re hoping for a spike in sales reacting to whatever games they showcase at E3. Sony greatly benefitted to their price and policy announcements at last year’s E3 with a 2:1 ration in preorders compared to the Xbox One, these factors probably influenced the decision to release it on press conference day.

In addition to “giving consumers more choices”, Microsoft has taken the idea of Games with Gold, combined them with the new Deals with Gold, and is now bringing the service to Xbox One in addition to 360. While the notion of the service closely aligning itself with Playstation Plus, I’m more excited at the idea that Xbox One games will become available for free as well. As I mentioned in my Dust: An Elysian Tale review, the service on the 360 brought too many old games, many in which weren’t necessarily relevant. Bringing it to Xbox One gives the opportunity for fresher games to be available for free, or at least a significant discount we hope.

Microsoft is making dramatic changes, changes in which are swift and brave enough to keep them in the competitive console space. If these are the announcements we’re treated to now, who knows what they’ll announce at E3?  

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