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Tuesday May 13, 2014 7:23 pm

Why Microsoft unbundling Kinect is a broken promise to all Xbox One owners

Xbox One Kinect

As we mentioned earlier, Microsoft has decided to do an about-face, now offering the Xbox One without Kinect for $399. The move continues Microsoft's seemingly cowardly backtracking trend that it's been doing with the Xbox One for about a year now. While many see this simply as a price drop and a way to get the Xbox One without an accessory that they may now want, for all intents and purposes, this kills Kinect dead. Right where it stands.

Allow me to explain. When the original Kinect launched for the Xbox 360, there was a lot of hype and excitement surrounding its release. For the first time, you could use your body as the controller for a new type of gaming experience. It was cool, and about as novel as the original Wii. It was a toy and a gimmick, and soon many folks stopped playing Kinect games, and none really took off at retail. However, Microsoft was getting good data and feedback for what we realized the "real" Kinect would be. The one that launched with the next Microsoft console.

Xbox one without kinect $399

Enter the Xbox One reveal. The new, much better Kinect is bundled in with all consoles. This is an important fact. For Kinect to be accepted by the developer community, it had to be in the hands of every Xbox One owner. If it was a separate add-on, it would get much, much less developer support since only a subset of Xbox One owners would have one. What would you rather sell--a game that 100% of Xbox One owners can play, or a game that only 60% of them are able to play (unless they buy an extra $100 accessory)?

Since the Xbox One launched back in November 2013, every customer received the new Kinect. Microsoft removed the requirement that the accessory be plugged into the console at all times, letting people choose to leave them unplugged in the game closet if they wanted to. However, if a game was released with a really cool Kinect integration, they'd have one they could easily hook up. The Xbox One (and PlayStation 4, for that matter) launched without being fully baked. Kinect a year from launch would be much better than Kinect at launch.

This is a broken promise to Xbox One early adopters. If you bought an Xbox One, you were told that it would always be included in the box, and therefore you could expect that Kinect integration would grow and the experience would get cooler as time went on and more developers got on board. If everyone who owned an Xbox One also owned a Kinect, then any Xbox One game could include that advanced functionality that relies on the sensor. Now? That promise is out the window. No developer of a major title will work too hard on any unique Kinect integration if only a portion of the audience will be able to use the feature in the first place.

Sure, Microsoft will continue working on making Kinect voice control more accurate--but that wasn't the big promise of Kinect. The promise was new and exciting gaming experiences that you wouldn't find on any other console because Nintendo has missed the boat this generation and Sony decided to make the new PlayStation Eye an optional add-on instead of a pack-in like the Kinect.

Microsoft wants to paint this as a decision that's based on choice--they're giving gamers the choice to pay for Kinect or not. I don't buy it. The original story is that Kinect was as integral to the console as the controller was, and there's no controller-less Xbox One bundle out there for gamers who want to save money by going with a third-party controller.  This is about Microsoft trying to save face in the sales war (despite the fact that the Xbox One is performing way better than the Xbox 360 did when it launched!) Rather than sticking with its decision and selling a console that provides a unique experience for all, we end up with a bait and switch that simply makes the Xbox One a worse--not better--buying decision.

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