E3's not even for another month and already the biggest announcement might have been made: Microsoft is releasing an Xbox One consolewithout the pack-in Kinect albatross around its neck.
"Beginning on June 9th, in all markets where Xbox One is sold, we will offer Xbox One starting at $399," wrote Xbox head Phil Spencer in a blog post on Xbox.com. "This is a new console option that does not include Kinect."
Cue explosions. Cue cheers. Cue Microsoft finally completing the massive, unprecedented 180-degree turn on policy it started after last year's E3 disaster.
Xbox One members will also start receiving Games with Gold in June — Microsoft's two-free-games-per-month service that has heretofore been an Xbox 360 exclusive. In June, Xbox One users will be able to download Max: The Curse of Brotherhood and Halo: Spartan Assault for free.
And, as tipped yesterday, Microsoft confirmed that all streaming media applications will be lifted from behind the Xbox Live Gold paywall. That's right — you can now use Hulu Plus, Netflix, HBO Go, and the like through your Xbox without having to pay Microsoft's Xbox Live Gold toll. Internet Explorer and Skype will also be free to use. This constitutes an entire rethinking of what Xbox Live Gold means nowadays, and brings the service in line with what Sony offers.
Suddenly this console generation is a lot more interesting. It's simultaneously shocking and not-at-all-surprising to see Microsoft backpedal on the Kinect. After months of lagging behind the PlayStation 4 in sales, the Xbox One needed a Hail Mary to make it a competitive platform. Sony's PlayStation 4 has been dealing out lumps to the Xbox since E3 last year, and the Kinect tacking $100 onto the Xbox's price point (plus all the fears about privacy and the stigma against the Kinect) have made Microsoft's console a tougher sell than Sony's.
But Microsoft has slowly-but-surely changed every single thing people hate about the Xbox One in response to consumer feedback.
Even still, I'm a little surprised to see an Xbox One without Kinect. Last year Microsoft stood up on stage at E3 and presented a vision. It was a vision nobody really wanted, and a vision a lot of people thought was absolutely crazy, but it was still a concrete, solid vision. Research went into this. Time went into this. Money went into this. Microsoft knew exactly what it wanted to do with the Xbox One.
And now none of that exists. No online-only. No digital rentals. And with no Kinect, that means Microsoft now considers everything from "Xbox On" verbal commands to all those next-gen Kinect experiences to be purely optional.
What a difference a year makes. I'm sure we'll hear more about this at E3 next month — the fact Microsoft didn't save these announcements until its press conference in June is already shocking.
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