Microsoft announced on Tuesday that it will sell the Xbox One without the Kinect for $399, starting on June 9. The price cut levels the playing field and drops the Xbox One’s sticker price to the same level as Sony’s PS4. It also eliminates one of the biggest criticisms of the Xbox One – that the Kinect was a hit-or-miss accessory that Microsoft forced everyone to buy alongside the Xbox One.
This is all great news for customers! We get the option to buy a cheaper console and we don’t have to worry about whether or not Kinect is watching us.
It’s also a good move for Microsoft. It becomes competitive with Sony and the PS4, which has sold nearly twice as well as the Xbox One. It also earns brownie points with customers who were burnt with the (almost entirely useless) Xbox 360 version of the Kinect.
Microsoft also announced that it will no longer require an Xbox Live Gold subscription (MSRP: $60/year) to access media apps like Netflix, Hulu and YouTube. Requiring Xbox Live Gold to access these apps never made sense; you’d basically have to pay twice to stream Netflix on your console. This is why, for casual gamers or people just looking for a media server, the PlayStation 3 made so much more sense than the Xbox 360.
A Brief History of Flip-Flopping
But behind both of these moves – along with an overhaul of its Games With Gold program – is panic. It’s the same panic we saw last summer, after Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One with awesome new features that would change the world of gaming. You’d no longer need to use the discs for games you bought. You could share your gaming libraries with your friends and family. Kinect would be a vital component and a game-changer.
But fans didn’t like that. They didn’t like that the Kinect was always watching them. They didn’t like that they had to always be connected to Xbox Live. They didn’t like that there might be restrictions on how they could re-sell or share their discs. Microsoft tried to assuage these concerns, but Sony publicly embarrassed Microsoft at E3, so Microsoft pulled a complete 180 ONE WEEK LATER. Microsoft got rid of every innovative feature of the Xbox One and made its new console a more powerful Xbox 360.
Then, in August, Microsoft said the Xbox One no longer required the Kinect to function. That was the Kinect’s first death blow. Requiring Kinect was the only way the accessory would ever catch on. Telling publishers they didn’t need to use it, or letting customers not plug it in meant it would never fulfill the vision the company had for it.
No True Vision
Everything Microsoft has done with the Xbox One has aimed to turn it into the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 4. Adding battery level notifications (how was that not there from day one?). Making friends lists not a complete disaster. Adding Twitch. Adding friend notifications. Possibly adding Xbox 360 emulation.
Microsoft doesn’t know what it’s doing with the Xbox One, and it’s embarrassing. It’s now flip-flopped on every important decision it’s made about the console, and has basically turned its console into the PS4 and Xbox Live Gold into a lesser version of PlayStation Plus.
We’re still incredibly early in the console cycle – Microsoft and Sony’s next consoles (if there even ARE more consoles in the works) won’t come for at least half a decade. That means there’s plenty of time for Microsoft to make up any ground it’s lost to Sony. Being down a couple million consoles is nothing when you consider that the Xbox 360 has sold nearly 80 million units – and that number is from September.
But the Xbox One is now a console without a vision. I think Microsoft wants to innovate, but is scared to actually pull the trigger. So instead, it rests on its laurels and copies things that have been proven effective – the stuff that works on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 4. It’s not a bad idea, but it’s certainly not a good one, either.