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Xbox One Price Drop: Good or Bad for Microsoft?

Devin-Pitts Rogers – Microsoft Writer

Microsoft made big news this week in deciding to uncouple the Kinect from the Xbox One, bringing the console down to the same price as the PlayStation 4 sans the peripheral. Many on the consumer end have argued away from the usefulness of the device, ever since it was announced the two would be bundled at the $499 price point around this time last year. There’s something to be said about “sticking to your guns”, but I don’t think that phrase is as applicable here, nor is it entirely fair to argue the Xbox One is better off without Kinect either.

What Microsoft has is a device that originally toted the notion of motion controls in the wake of a Wii-dominated early console cycle. However, conventional game design finds motion controls difficult to integrate into the core of a game without feeling gimmicky, and thus the original Kinect was relegated to a series of in-game voice commands and the annual Just Dance entry. Coming forth with a new Kinect, Microsoft showed us all some of the ways the camera and voice controls would be integrated into the user interface. Turning on a TV with the voice commands is pretty cool; I personally lost my remote for a two-week span, as I neglected to look for it because of my setup.

The shortfall of the Kinect leading up to the Xbox One and its initial earnings came from in-game implementation. Ignoring the early adopters who buy consoles at launch regardless of price, $500 for an Xbox One is a pretty steep investment, given the combination of the graphical power of the PS4, presence of indie titles, and the perceived value of Kinect. Microsoft’s narrative last year was that the Kinect would be a game changer, and that the way it’s used in conjunction with the Xbox One would provide its owners with an experience unable to be found anywhere else. But in terms of gameplay, it was never really communicated with us how that would come to be. Ryse and Dead Rising 3 brought voice commands over the threshold into the new console space, as Just Dance crossed over with Just Dance 2014. Microsoft for the most part, has still yet to show us first party games that figure out other ways to use the technology. The use that has me intrigued the most has been Xbox Fitness. While not always consistent, the technology uses Eulerian Video Magnification, which in the case of the Xbox One allows it to read minute and specific fluctuations in face color that are usually tied to heartbeat. Simply put, the Xbox One in some cases can detect your heart-rate. It’s technology like this that can be modified for other games. I can only speculate why larger developers decided not to use the Kinect for other features. Maybe Microsoft held a specific vision the developers couldn’t accommodate. Perhaps developers have an idea for their games on Xbox, and the Kinect isn’t part of that.

My purchase of the Kinect was admittedly an investment in that hardware. There’s not much out there in the name of must haves right now, but there’s no guarantee things will stay that way. Sure, more developers than before will design games for the newest Xbox without Kinect; I don’t blame them, as there will now be a significant portion of the audience with no camera/microphone. But if we hear more often about projects like Fru, then I look forward to the ideas that come out of indies once Microsoft is ready to allow their Xbox One consoles to become dev kits. All we need are the right people who want to make a proof of concept. With more interest in creation than ROI, I’d say that’s the best bet.

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Jarrett McMackin – Sony Writer

This is indeed a double edged sword that Xbox is playing with. On one hand, this feels like another head-scratching moment from Microsoft. In the same vein of the whiplash of its great DRM debacle post-E3 2013, the Xbox One crew has abandoned another portion of its original vision. The one-in-every-box approach to the Kinect 2.0 camera was all part of the plan to create a 100% attachment rate for users & developers to believe it was a worthy and useful peripheral. Even something as basic as marketing the system’s innovative voice control is now lost on any everyday buyer that doesn’t realize the functionality only lives through the use of the camera.

On the other hand, creating a $399 SKU for the system goes a long way in leveling the playing field of the next-gen console price war. The move also admits a cold, hard fact: the inclusion of the Kinect was not a system-selling gameplan. Microsoft was wise to see an error in its ways of determining a $100 markup on their initial model justified the camera as an essential component. Their original decision was a costly risk that the company can now put behind itself and learn from. By now making the camera optional and the price of the system competitive, the Xbox One could find itself riding a great deal of momentum heading into the 2014 holiday season.

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Jason Kwon – Microsoft Editor

When I first heard that Microsoft would be dropping the price of the Xbox One and taking the Kinect out of the box, I was stunned. Seriously, I thought Microsoft letting go of the Kinect would be the last thing it did, as the company has repeatedly stated that the Kienct is an integral part of the Xbox One experience. But looking back on it now, I guess I really shouldn’t have been shocked that this happened. Microsoft has seemingly back pedaled on every stance it took with the Xbox One. The always online rule, DRM policies, and indie self-publishing have all been viewpoints that Microsoft has reversed, illustrating a lack of conviction in all of its choices with the console.

But at the end of the day, this price drop is beneficial to consumers, and that’s all that really matters. It brings the Xbox One on par with the PS4 in terms of a price point, and price can always be a huge factor when people are deciding which console to buy. Sure, we can laugh and point at Microsoft all day and make fun of its constant back pedaling from an industry standpoint, but the company is proving that it can exhibit a level of flexibility and versatility needed to adapt to the public temperature. While it’s easy to say, “Can’t you ever make a right choice Microsoft?” it’s better to eventually make the right choice than to doggedly cling onto a sinking ship. Then again, the most preferable way would probably be to make the right choice from the beginning, but hey, that can be pretty hard sometimes right?

I believe the only truly negative impact this has is on developers making Kinect-specific games. The install base just wasn’t there on the original Xbox 360 to justify putting serious time and resources into making a truly outstanding Kinect experience. When the Kinect came with every Xbox One console, it made more business sense to make good games specifically developed for the Kinect, knowing that every Xbox One owner would have the ability to buy and play the game. But now, it’s again diminished to a potentially irrelevant accessory that the majority of Xbox One owners will probably never have. I believe that all hopes of the Kinect being a legitimate cornerstone in Microsoft’s gaming strategy is all but gone now.

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Tim Gruver – Nintendo Writer

My, how the times flies. It seems like it was just a little over a year ago that the Xbox One and Kinect were inescapable, as we’ll recall from Phil Harrison’s quote “Xbox One is Kinect.” Today, that statement is more of a dream than a reality. While I can never attest to liking the notion of full-body motion tracking or voice commands, I’ve long thought of the Kinect as something more dedicated to an entertainment console than a gaming one. To most players, and maybe even Microsoft, the Kinect always seemed like a medium for Skype and streaming than it did for creating immersive gameplay mechanics. While it’s long been a fantastic idea too experimental to be unconditionally merchandized, to me it’s just been what it’s always seemed: an add-on.

Maybe it’s all the more comical to see what criticisms that move has brought. The mentality of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” that has followed the Xbox One is no more unfounded than now, when the company’s finally given gamers exactly what they’ve wanted. While the Kinect still seems like it has a lot of work to do, it still has its own console package available for the people that want it. It’s true that its detachment marginalizes its importance some, but I’d rather have consumer options than a consistent vision that opposed them.

Regardless of the Xbox’s change of management or its fierce competition with the PS4, I’m nothing but happy with the move, as someone who has been long interested in the Xbox One’s lineup of new IPs like Quantum Break and Sunset Overdrive alongside Halo and Gears. At the same time, I can’t help but think that leveling the playing field between Xbox and PlayStation is only half the battle. For now it seems the systems are more equal than ever in a time where third parties are still the majority of what new-generation systems offer, and I’ll still be hard-pressed beyond a coin toss to decide what I want to play Batman: Arkham Knight or Star Wars: Battlefront on. We’ve already seen both Sony and Microsoft pitch their hardware. Let’s let E3 be the platform to pitch their software and see what they can do.

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