In the month leading up to E3 2014, Microsoft made an announcement many expected them to make much earlier in the year — not just because their Xbox One was trailing the PS4 in sales, but because an overwhelming number of gamers have been requesting it. They removed the Kinect from the Xbox One box, and never looked back.
It was another major move from Microsoft in less than a year, and yet again it seemed to alienate the company’s console from a certain subset of gamers. Gamers who, for all intents and purposes, bought into Microsoft’s line and were willing to accept Kinect as part of a larger plan.
Not only that, though, this decision to remove Kinect also alienated some developers who, like those aforementioned gamers, bought into the utility of the motion control device and were actually creating experiences specifically geared towards its functionality. Now those folks were left in the cold.
Amidst all that, Xbox Head Phil Spencer claims that the Kinect will not be left in the cold — not by his company, not by gamers, and not by developers. He believes that support for the device will only continue to get stronger, and Microsoft in the mean time will help improve the technology that supports Kinect.
“We see millions and millions of people using Kinect today. We’ve had over a billion voice commands used. The use of Kinect in people’s homes is incredibly high. And because people are continuing to use it, it’s an area we’re going to continue to invest, in terms of making the experience better. And I think that makes building games in that environment even better. Consumers love the device; they love the experience. They’ll buy it. They’ll either buy it at launch when they buy their console, or they’ll be able to buy it after the $399 console; they’ll pick it up and add it on later. And we’ll continue to make sure that experience is great.”
Spencer clearly sees the Kinect as an essential piece of the Microsoft ecosystem, but he likes the idea of giving gamers a choice. However, we don’t necessarily see it that way.
Since the Kinect 2.0‘s initial unveiling many were eager to see how a more precise and more dynamic motion control device might work. They didn’t, however, expect it would be a requirement. And once Microsoft announced that Kinect would ship with every Xbox One many gamers began to change their tune — even more so when it initially sounded like the device needed to be plugged in at all times for the console to operate.
Whether or not that was initially in Microsoft’s plans is unclear, but they announced later that Kinect would not be a requirement for Xbox One use. In fact, gamers could unplug the device completely.
And now that the Xbox One ships (at a lower price) without the Kinect, many consider this the death knell for motion controls. Aside from a brief mention of Dance Central and Fantasia: Music Evolved, Kinect was nowhere to be found at Microsoft’s E3 2014 Press Conference, and on the show floor we barely saw it.
So, how can Spencer believe that support for the device will grow while their public support is waning? If it means the Xbox One will be able to sell more units than it initially was going to this year then that certainly gives Microsoft more creative freedom, but there’s no guarantee that will go towards Kinect.
“I know this console has to win first and foremost with the gaming community out there, the gaming fans, the gaming customer. Winning with the gaming customer, focusing on Xbox Live as a long-term differentiator, and the entertainment experiences are incredibly important to our long-term success, but you have to sequence the focus in such a way that the core customer for your box understands what you’re about.”
Personally, I think the device’s voice functionality for menu navigation is excellent…when it works. Switching between apps, firing up my cable service, and turning on and off the Xbox One with just my voice is now an essential part of my routine. But when it comes to games I could take the Kinect or leave it.
Ultimately, we’ll have to wait and see how Microsoft repositions Kinect, if at all, in the coming year, but right now it seems like, despite Spencer’s claims, the company is trying to distance itself from the peripheral. Move a few extra million Xbox Ones, though, and then maybe we’ll start hearing about Kinect again.
Do you think Microsoft should move away from Kinect support? Did the recent unbundling of Xbox One and Kinect change your interest in the console?
Follow Anthony on Twitter @ANTaormina