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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.

Microsoft blinked. It took less than a week for Mattrick and Co. to strip out the always-online component and the used game restrictions--and, in the process, to put a bullet in the family sharing and disc-less play plans. The much-touted cloud computing system was derailed because developers could no longer count on an Internet connection. Games like Forza Motorsport 5, which were planned as always-online titles, suddenly needed to rethink that approach.

Loose ends and broken dreams
And with it went the Xbox One. What we're left with now hardly resembles Microsoft's vision, and that's not a good thing.

There are loose ends all over the place—holes where planned features were ripped out wholesale. They've tried to turn the Xbox One into an Xbox 360 with better graphics, but the Xbox One was never intended to be an Xbox 360 with better graphics. It was intended to be...well, whatever Microsoft thought it was making with the Xbox One. "The savior of your living room," or whatever—the idol to which your entire entertainment center must bow down before powering on.

Consoles change. Go take a look at the original Blades interface for the Xbox 360 compared to the Metro-style interface we ended up with at the end of the console's lifecycle. Look at Perfect Dark Zero versus the best of last year's crop of 360 games.

Narratives are harder to shift, though. Sony never recovered from its broken narrative in the last console generation. Sony came into the PlayStation 3 era arrogant, riding high on the PlayStation 2. Pricing its successor at $600 killed all of goodwill Sony enjoyed, and the Xbox 360 became the de facto standard for eight years, leaving the PlayStation 3 as "that console you use for Naughty Dog games."

There's a specter haunting Redmond. The Xbox One's ghost will never go away. Even now, there are millions of early Xbox One adopters stuck with a high-priced peripheral they may not want. There are developers out there making Kinect games who suddenly realize Microsoft considers them disposable again. (Sorry, Harmonix.) There are untold others who still think the Xbox One has an always-online requirement, or who heard through the grapevine that the PlayStation 4 is the console to get. And why not? Sony gave you exactly the console it intended.

Could this last, monumental reversal be enough to put the Xbox One on people's radar? With a couple of great games in the barrel, sure. E3 will be Microsoft's proving grounds once again.

But there's no vision here. Don't mistake this for anything except a desperate attempt by Microsoft to put out the fire—a fire it started by dousing itself in kerosene and all but handing Sony a match.

 

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