What is 51 weeks?
That’s the question in our game of Jeopardy. The answer: This is how long it took for Microsoft to confirm that they have no marketing strategy for the Xbox One and concede defeat in the next-gen console war. May 21, 2013, Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One to the world. The console announced that day had already morphed from the always online device it was rumored to be prior to its announcement. Two weeks later, at E3 2013, the messaging out of Redmond changed some more; users will be able to play preowned games and the packed-in Kinect will not be mandatory to use the console but will be included in every box. While it was not going to be mandatory it was strongly hinted that Kinect is fundamental to the Xbox One experience thus justifying it’s $499 price point, 100 dollars more than Playstation 4.
Yesterday, all of that changed…again. Yesterday, Xbox head Phil Spencer, announced that the Kinect, deemed to be an integral part of the Xbox One experience, the same Kinect that was going to completely change your experience both as a gamer and as a purveyor of living room entertainment, will be an optional peripheral starting in June. The benefit to removing the piece of tech will be a $100 decrease in the price of the console to $399. This move makes it the same price as the more technically capable PS4. In concert with this announcement was the news that the Games with Gold program will also be making the move to Microsoft’s premier console starting with Halo:Spartan Assault and Max: The Curse of the Brotherhood. Like the Playstation Plus model that it’s duplicating, games will be available to you as long as your Xbox Live Gold subscription is valid (Currently users own their GwG downloads). Additionally, non-gaming/entertainment apps like Netflix and Hulu Plus, do not require an XBL Gold subscription to use. When these announcements were made, many people across the internet rejoiced. The push for making gamers play poorly made motion controlled games is finally over. I am not one of those people.
Yes, I realize that price is an important factor for many consumers and for many I think this pricing will make the Xbox One more attractive. One of the myriad problems I have with this move is, “What about the 5 million gamers worldwide that were excited for what a future full of voice controls could mean?”. You read that correctly, in the 5 months of recordable data, almost 5 million Xbox Ones have been sold. This is roughly 60% better than the Xbox 360, year-to-date and by far Microsoft’s most successful console launch. While the subtraction of Kinect isn’t necessarily the death-nail for the peripheral, the fact that they haven’t announced pricing for the console bundle with it, or the price of the Kinect sold separately, doesn’t bode well.
We’re just six months into the life cycle of the console and the console is doing exceedingly well, in a vacuum. Why did Microsoft feel the need to concede failure so definitively…and so soon? What type of messaging are they sending out to the world? Can you really trust a company that succumbs to pressure from the community the way that Microsoft has so recently? What if the powers that be had been this quick to react when they released the original Xbox with only an ethernet port and not coupled with a 56K modem that was the dominant technology of the time? Multiplayer gaming would not be what it is today without Xbox Live and Xbox Live would not be what it was, and still is, without standardizing every Xbox console to work only with a broadband connection. This provided the consumer with a quality expectation and guaranteed that developers could design an Xbox game with multiplayer in mind because every Xbox owner would have the ability to have the same high quality experience.
It’s Not All Bad….
I’m not completely negative here. There are still a few things that we don’t know. We don’t know how much the “bundled” Xbox One will cost, nor do we know the price of the Kinect sold separately. Say they release the bundled Xbox One for $449 with a digital copy of Titanfall or Forza Motorsports 5 while also moving apps to the front of the pay wall. Would that have been enough to make the Xbox One an appealing choice? Let’s also say that the Kinect sold separately is $79, does that make a bundled Xbox One at $450 with a game, more attractive than Kinect-less one at $400? Personally, I think the console priced this aggressively coupled with the Games with Gold program and the destruction of the pay wall would have been all that was needed to achieve the desire results.
If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery Sony must be absolutely blushing this week! Virtually everything that Microsoft is doing they “borrowed” from Sony. Xbox’s used game policy? Sony did it first. Xbox’s handling of app services? Sony’s. X1’s free and discounted games program? You guessed it; directly from Sony. Xbox’s new price point? Ibid. Recently it was noted that the controller light bar that has caused much consternation for Playstation 4 users was added to work with the recently announced Project Morpheus. Often were there cries to have the light toggled off or have the controller redesigned to omit them. Instead, Sony remained steadfast, and silent. They had a plan and they stuck to it. They had conviction and a vision. They’ve only recently decided to share it with us. Why couldn’t Microsoft do the same? Why couldn’t the Microsoft of today be the same company that had the foresight and fortitude to weather the storm during the launch of their initial console?
What does the exclusion of Kinect mean for developers? Will we see the game that expertly marries motion and conventional control schemes? That prospect seems less likely now. How do we differentiate these current consoles from each other? More importantly, how do we differentiate them from last gen? Yes, they’re both technically more powerful than its respective counterpart but that’s it. To me, the Kinect was the most next-gen(y) thing about this new generation. Its applications, from a gaming and a casual prospective was the one place where you could easily see innovations taking place. Now that’s gone and all we’ve got is stuff that’s pretty but stagnant.
Microsoft’s marketing messaging has been more temperamental than the internet critics they’re trying to placate. Will there be a tangible message that consumers and early adopters can understand? I guess we’ll find out at E3.