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Why the Kinect-less Xbox One signals the death of Microsoft's grand console ambitions

Hayden Dingman | May 15, 2014
On Tuesday, Microsoft finally, truly smothered its dreams for the Xbox One. Lofty ambitions and powerful technology, all laid to rest at the feet of indifferent gamers, sacrificial lambs slaughtered in an attempt to fix the horribly broken narrative surrounding Microsoft's next-gen gaming console.

But that's not to say navigating the console with a gamepad is preferable. Why? Because Microsoft built everything around Kinect. Navigating the Xbox One's UI with a gamepad is a gigantic pain, just like navigating Microsoft's Metro interface with a mouse and keyboard is a pain—these are setups designed for very specific use conditions (Kinect and touchscreens, respectively) that most users flat out rejected.

Pulling the Kinect out of the Xbox One is a necessary move, undoubtedly, but it has all the grace of a rabid monkey disarming a bomb. At this point, Microsoft is left with Frankenstein of a console, pieced together from the putrid remains of an old Xbox 360 carcass and the shining vision-on-a-hill of what the Xbox One was intended to be.

Sowing the seeds of destruction
Let's leave aside all questions of whether the PlayStation 4 is more powerful than the Xbox One. Let's leave out technical considerations of DDR5 versus DDR3 RAM, sub-1080p resolutions, and the like. Not because I don't find those topics interesting—I certainly do, from an academic standpoint.

But the Xbox One's problem has always been one of narrative. And unfortunately for Microsoft, the narrative of Xbox-One-minus-Kinect isn't necessarily better than before. Were you really holding off on the Xbox One because of the Kinect? Undoubtedly some of you were, and I hope you have a fantastic time with your new console.

There's a bigger story, though, in Microsoft's backtracking.

Microsoft flubbed the reveal last May. It set up a press conference that was watched mostly by the core gaming crowd, only to ignore most talk about games and focus on the Xbox One's role as an "all-in-one entertainment device."

Then the Xbox One cratered at E3. This was the big moment—a chance to show off the grand future of the Xbox. It turned out every horrific rumor we'd heard was true: Always online; no used games or rentals; a mandatory Kinect; very little focus on independent developers.

And to top it all off, that $500 slap-in-the-face price tag, $100 more than the PlayStation 4's.

But Microsoft had reasons for it all. The online component was essential because Microsoft planned to use its server network to handle off-site computations for games. You couldn't sell your used games, but you could share them with family and play games without the disc in the drive. Kinect, as I've said, was hardwired into every single aspect of the system from navigation to the Xbox One's planned video features and games. This was the vision of the Xbox One. This was, according to Microsoft, the future of games.

What's more, everyone expected Sony to follow suit. But Sony didn't toe the line. Instead, it spent E3 focusing on a strong lineup of games (including a number of anticipated independent titles) and highlighting its offline capabilities.

 

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