What message does Xbox One’s ‘Dis-Kinect’ really send?

kinect-game-over-1024x576We reported earlier in the week on the fact that Microsoft have decided to make the Xbox One available without the Kinect 2.0 sensor / camera. The move has been widely regarded as a choice made to make the Xbox One more competitive with Sony’s Playstation 4, which has been outselling the Xbox One since launch.

We’ve been pondering this news in the TwinStick offices and debating what kind of a message this decision really sends.

On the one hand, there is the clever marketing of this move – which has been well-received and surprisingly mis-reported by a number of news outlets. There has been a shift in price, which looks like it will benefit future customers. Reports have claimed that this will give the Xbox One a chance to really compete with the PS4 because will now be available at the same price-point, £349 / $399.

On the face of it, this is absolutely true. However, dig a little deeper behind the headlines and think about what has actually happened here. A number of sites have reported on the ‘Xbox One Price Cut‘, lauding the move as a great one for the industry at large. Even huge websites like American giant CNET have run articles informing readers of the ‘Price Cut’. This implies that Xbox are doing consumers a huge favour by ‘cutting the price’ of their machine.

This isn’t what’s happening.

Have Microsoft betrayed their existing customers?

Actually, Microsoft are ‘removing $100 of unnecessary equipment’. That isn’t a price cut. That’s just offering a different SKU. The machine isn’t any cheaper, they just no longer force you to buy the Kinect sensor. It’s fantastic for Microsoft that everyone is happy to throw around the phrase ‘price cut’, but they are not really helping out future customers. They may no longer be standing in their own way by force-selling a voice command / camera unit, but they only people they are looking to serve here are themselves.

Sounds harsh? Well, lets look at the further implications of the ‘Price Cut’. Moving forward, it’s safe to assume that Microsoft are assuming customers will be buying the Kinect-less machines (otherwise, why make the move at all). This is great for the industry from their point of view. A cheaper SKU means more sales in the long run, gone are the negative comparisons to Sony’s machine. Great news all round.

Unless of course you happen to be one of the four and a half million customers who already shelled out the extra $100 for a Kinect camera they may now hardly ever use. How are they supposed to feel? ‘Written off’ springs to mind.

Microsoft are looking at that 4.5 million already installed user-base and saying to them – ‘right guys, you’ve pretty much gotten all you will out of that Kinect sensor.’ Think about it. From here on in, what possible reason would Microsoft have to further develop the usage of the Kinect? They are already assuming their future customers won’t use it, so why support it?

Contrast this with Sony’s approach of removing the camera from their bundle well before launch, giving the customers the choice to adopt. The result is that Sony’s Playstation Eye camera has become a really popular additional item, much more popular than anticipated (largely thanks to Twitch connectivity and people’s desire to broadcast themselves playing games). Sony can’t get enough of their cameras to consumers.

Optional extra. This marketing model has worked much better than even Sony anticipated.

It doesn’t end there for Microsoft. Think about software developers. Are they likely to develop games that make use of the Kinect, knowing that – at most – the will reach around 4.5 million customers (and let’s be honest, the number of active Kinect users is likely to be much smaller – and whatever the game developer was making would need to appeal to ALL gamers for it to reach anywhere near that number)? Of course not. This means that Kinect gaming is pretty much dead in the water, less than a year into the console’s life cycle.

Worse still, what if you are a developer half way through your development cycle – planning on making use of voice controls or movement sensors in your game?  That was fine to do when Microsoft told us that the Xbox One ‘won’t work without Kinect.’ – it was even fine to do when they said ‘ok, it will work now, but every machine comes bundled with Kinect hardware’ – at least developers could guarantee that everyone would have the necessary equipment.

One of the last Kinect games we'll see?
One of the last Kinect games we’ll see?

But no, now developers will have to accept that the Kinect, more than likely, will not be available to their customers. Thus, development will have to cease, change direction or they will have to further reduce sales projections.

The final nail in the Kinect coffin came when it was announced that Microsoft would start freeing up more processing power for games developers to use. Power that used to be directed at the Kinect sensor will be freed up to allow Xbox one graphics, resolution and framerate to run on par with PS4. Not better. Just the same.

Conversely, the PS Eye camera can run, broadcast you and your gameplay, etc. all without affecting the performance of your machine. We have a situation developing where, in the next few year, the PS Eye will continue enhancing the social experience of your gaming whereas the use of the Kinect camera could actually have a perceptibly negative effect on the quality of your games.

The worst thing is, Xbox One sales are actually strong. Much stronger than the 360 – just not AS strong as the PS4. Microsoft are now sacrificing customers, developers and innovation to bring their directionless console inline with the PS4. When you have two virtually identical consoles on the market, there is little beyond brand loyalty to bring people to your console.

As was well publicised at the time, brand loyalty towards the Xbox brand took a big hit when the next-gen consoles were announced. Microsoft has done all they can to reverse decisions and win customers back. But they seem to have timed things all wrong. This move should have been made either much earlier or they should have stuck to their vision.

How many more U-turns can the Xbox One handle?

Let’s face facts,  the most brand loyal people out there are the 4.5 million customers who already spent the extra $100 to support the Xbox One, despite it being a more expensive, less powerful machine. Those are the self-same customers that Microsoft are now sacrificing by removing the Kinect sensor.

We always said this console generation would be the battle of the exclusives, Xbox is going to need a plethora of must-have exclusives announced soon for them to remain in this war. Hopefully, that’s exactly what we’ll see at e3, past indiscretions will be forgotten and the early adopters will just be happy to have secured their console as the exclusives roll in…

The fact that Microsoft have already announced this means they must be more than happy to just write-off their sales in May and start again from June onwards. For Microsoft, the battle starts now and we wish them well, but that’s not much solace to the millions of customers stuck with their new age, Kinect 2.0 paper weight.


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