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Why Kinect-free Xbox One is playing catch-ups with PS4

Wednesday, 14 May 2014 07:49 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Xbox One now costs the same as PS4, Xbox Live is turning into PlayStation Plus, And Kinect has just been handed a death sentence: Microsoft is clearly shitting itself in the face of Sony’s onslaught, and about time, too.

xbox_one

There’s a strange sort of myth surrounding the last generation of consoles, established and perpetuated by Microsoft and its fanboys (as opposed to mere fans). The myth is that the Xbox 360 completely dominated the PlayStation 3.

“When Microsoft first announced the Xbox One it did so from a state of hubris. It took a good look at the games industry from its own perspective and dreamed a bold dream of the future to come; a future where Xbox fanboys would embrace with open arms whatever came to them with the Xbox brand slathered across it.”

It’s a story that fits well with the Xbox 360′s dudebro-friendly marketing and culture, and appeals to the Call of Duty crowd – the massive user base that chimes in once or twice a year for Activision’s latest shooter, Madden, and maybe one or two other games. But it’s simply not true.

In fact, globally, PS3 and Xbox 360 sales are close to even, and both companies made a lot of money from their machines. Even in North America, the Xbox’s traditional stomping ground, the PS3 is not that far behind, and in Europe, it’s in the lead. Let’s not even start on Japan, which was an absolute write-off for Microsoft last generation.

Sure, the PS3 was definitely trailing to begin with, but it’s caught up. Xbox Live is, without a doubt, the more successful multiplayer platform of the big two – mostly thanks to Call of Duty, Halo and other heavy-hitters – but that’s changing, and PlayStation is now such an important platform that Activision is striking sweetheart deals with Sony for Destiny, a game (franchise?) it has backed to be its next big thing. Xbox 360 is not a triumphant, unchallenged champion; it’s one favourite in a two horse race.

It’s okay to pretend otherwise. If you want to make out that either platform (or even one of Nintendo’s) is winning by a country mile you are welcome to do so. Console wars are half the fun of the gaming community, apparently. Your rampant Sony or Microsoft fanboyism can be annoying, but it (mostly) isn’t consequential.

But when Microsoft starts to believe its own hype? Yeah. That’s dangerous.

xbox_one_ui

When Microsoft first announced the Xbox One it did so from a state of hubris. It took a good look at the games industry from its own perspective (North America dominant, well-off, highly connected) and dreamed a bold dream of the future to come; a future where Xbox fanboys would embrace with open arms whatever came to them with the Xbox brand slathered across it.

“Microsoft got the shock of its life when you stood up and said no, waving a newspaper at its nose.”

You didn’t, of course; you fought back. Who knows whether that was the right thing? Some of Microsoft’s ideas seemed pretty tasty, actually, and many of them will work their way back in even more palatable forms. But Microsoft got the shock of its life when you stood up and said no, waving a newspaper at its nose.

The company slunk off like a spanked puppy and came back with a much more traditional console, which you accepted – but not the way Microsoft had hoped. Instead of becoming the overnight sales sensation everyone hoped for, the Xbox One continues to trail the PS4 sales-wise, even in the US.

Some of this is just the changing face of the industry. We’ve all lived through enough console launches now that we don’t expect a new box to revolutionise our lives, and the business of triple-A games is getting leaner, harder and more hit-oriented. Sales will be slower to build than in previous generations, even though the audience has grown.

And then some of it is Microsoft’s fault. The higher price tag did Sony a massive favour, but more importantly, the bad taste of all that digital stuff Microsoft shouted at reveal lingers on, so much so that the online vitriol has a new flavour. Ask anyone who spends time managing a gaming community or social outlet and you’ll hear that the Xbox haters are much more vocal than ever before. Internet comment threads don’t always correlate to sales figures, but the sheer poison out there is working against the Xbox One’s chances. That kind of reputation takes a long time to dispel – after all, we’ve just discussed the persistent myth that the PS3 is a flop.

So Microsoft’s got to shift, fast, and it’s doing a good job. It spun on its heel over all that unpopular DRM stuff. It’s brought its Games with Gold and Xbox Live schemes more in line with Sony’s excellent offerings. By dropping the price to match the PS4 it has a chance to swing back and go neck-and-neck with Sony again – maybe even overtake, if it can bang out a few exclusives and win back its populous but offended fanbase.

The only way it could drop that price was to give Kinect the boot, through. Since that same fanbase has never wanted motion controls or shouting, it must have been an easy decision to make.

xbox_one_controller

So why didn’t it make it sooner? There are a couple of reasons. The first and most obvious is that the man who championed Kinect, who pushed for the console to be built with the sensor in mind from day one, has left the company. Without Don Mattrick, the Xbox executive team is searching for a new direction – and until it finds one, “more of the stuff that made us successful in the past” is a pretty safe bet. Expect core games, core games and more core games; it won’t work forever, but it only needs to work until Microsoft works out its next big thing.

Which it will, because here comes the other reason Kinect lasted as long as it did: the market for core games isn’t growing. Oh, it’s not shrinking, but it’s definitely not showing the kind of massive growth that the industry exhibited before the global financial crisis, and over past generations. Games are getting more and more expensive to produce, and the hits are getting further and further apart. Publishers now need sales of three, four, five million sales to satisfy shareholders, and there just aren’t enough of us to ensure that this happens predictably.

“Games are written in a language not everybody speaks, and with the rise of competing entertainment – yes, smart devices, but also PC games and non-traditional media – the lure of control pad games is fading.”

The problem is we’re reaching saturation point. Yes, most kids grow up nowadays using the Internet, computers and smart devices – but that doesn’t necessarily mean they grow up using a controller. You forget, sometimes, how hard using a controller really is, but count the buttons on it sometime. Ask your grandpa, or your mailman, or even your eight year old cousin to play a game and watch them run around in circles staring at the ceiling. See how they don’t automatically know which key is the trigger, or jump, or accelerate. Watch how they try to open doors you know don’t open.

Games are written in a language not everybody speaks, and with the rise of competing entertainment – yes, smart devices, but also PC games and non-traditional media – the lure of control pad games is fading. The pleasures of gaming – exploring virtual worlds, completing mechanical challenges, problem solving, progressing – are available everywhere, in much more accessible forms.

Gaming is big business, and nobody’s arguing that it’s not. But in terms of traditional, triple-A releases it’s also at risk of staling – of hitting a peak instead of growing onwards to that future we all imagine where everyone is a hardcore gamer.

Kinect was an attempted solution to that, and if it ever worked as advertised and anticipated (see: Marvel’s holotables, finger tracking and all), it might have been the solution. It probably won’t be, now that Microsoft has taken a big old dump in front of any developer working on games and technology for it. What incentive do our heroes have to keep pushing the boundaries in a market that rewards conservatism – when even Microsoft abandons its bold push for a controller-free future?

I’m glad the Xbox One will be affordable to a greater number of people. I’m glad core gamers will feel they’re getting their money’s worth now that Microsoft isn’t necessarily pouring resources into a peripheral they aren’t interested in. But I’m sad to see Xbox, a brand that meant standing up against the industry’s old guard, playing it “safe” by dropping investment in gaming’s future.

Main image credit

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28 Comments

  1. adge_uk

    Whilst Microsoft have done the right thing here (one could argue the only thing) they are now so far from their original design that it’s got to sting. Whereas the PS4 was designed as a pure gaming system and a lot of the investments in hardware (faster ram, gpu etc) underpin their strategic direction.

    The X-Box one hardware took a broader view to design encompassing hdmi in (to own the living room) and kinect support (to capture the long lost Wii audience – unaware they have since left for smartphone shores).

    Whilst each policy change made during the short life-cycle of the Xbox One (DRM, Kinect, Media services not behind paywall, Games with gold) brings it closer to the PS4′s vision, they are still left with a hardware legacy with design decisions (3 operating systems, resources reserved for kinect) that will ensure a technical disparity between it and the PS4.

    It was a gamble, it didn’t pay off, now they need to be focused on the actual real task of making it a games console – but not without this albatross of poor decisions round their neck for the next X years.

    #1 10 months ago
  2. mistermogul

    Brenna +1

    A point that should also be noted with the 360′s sales vs PS3′s is how many of the 80 million 360′s were bought by people who had RROD? Many people bought anywhere between 1-8 360′s due to failure and many of them were out of warranty.

    The problem was so bad that my guess is there were probably about 40 million actual unique customers for those 80 million sales and that could even be generous!

    #2 10 months ago
  3. Hcw87

    @2

    That’s some massive exageration right there. I’ve owned only 2 X360′s since its release, and the second one is working fine still.

    Also you’re forgetting the fact that YLOD was a thing for PS3 aswell.

    #3 10 months ago
  4. mistermogul

    @Hcw87 – Yeah YLOD was an issue but not on the scale of RROD.

    It may be an exaggeration, I was only estimating, but it’s not an exaggeration to say lots of people had 3, 4, 5 or 6 Xbox 360′s due to overheating. That fact would make a big difference to the actual sales of 360.

    I had 2 360′s myself so consider myself quite lucky!

    #4 10 months ago
  5. KAP

    @2&3

    I have to agree with @mistermogul on this, I work for a game retailer here in the UK and I’ve witnessed many 360 gamers who has purchased many consoles, a good few has even stated there on there 5th, 6th one. It might sound over the top but I can attest to that statement. Regardless though, PS3 came out a year after 360 and still caught up but doesn’t actually mean much.

    The most important thing you need to take away is both Sony & Microsoft is both bending over backwards to please the consumer and thats a good thing for all gamers. It’s fantastic to see, actually,

    #5 10 months ago
  6. zoopdeloop

    @3
    failure rates
    xbox360 – 54.2 percent (36.4 percent reported buying a second console)
    ps3 – 14.7 percent (13.4 reports of a second purchase)
    these are estimates but still there’s a world of difference

    #6 10 months ago
  7. fihar

    That article you guys had on what Harmonix had to say about a Kinect-less One says it all doesn’t it?

    I still think that this is too much of a knee-jerk reaction to be honest.
    Why not introduce it in steps? First you try to court us with the new, generous Live.
    Give it a year, if that still doesn’t work, then you introduce a Kinect-less One.

    More importantly, you won’t seem as desperate as you do now.

    I mean, they can’t even be bothered to wait until at least Fantasia came out to do this.

    #7 10 months ago
  8. zoopdeloop

    @KAP
    +1
    competition is always good :)

    #8 10 months ago
  9. CycloneFox

    In my opinion, the changes Microsoft brings now are great for the gamers, which is good.
    But at the same time, in equalizing the services, the benefits of Sonys platforms are being stamped out. Both next gen consoles cost the same, but the PS4 has better hardware for gaming performance and a faster blu-ray player (shorter installation time periods) and gives more freedom with the hard-drive. Both subscription models give out 5 games for all 3/2 platforms now, but PS Plus is still cheaper and the games are younger and have to have a higher meta score. And the biggest difference is still the amount of first party developers on sonys side, the support for third party developers and indi-developers and the support from Japanese developers which is the most important point for me personally.

    In the generation of PS3/Xbox360, the PS3 mostly performed (slightly) weaker with multi-platform titles, which was most likely a factor for a lot of core gamers. But at the same time the PS3 had those huge first party games that were specializing on the PS3s very unique hardware specs and performed extraordinary well. I was even more stunned from some PS3 visuals than from everything, I’ve seen on my PC. This in-continuity was a result of the mentioned PS3s unique hardware. But those differences where most like “I could swear, that on the Xbox360 the contrast looks better and there are slightly more bushes in the background” and there was this big advancement of Xbox360s shared memory which gave more room for cross-game voice chat. But now the differences are that the games actually run better on the PS4 with twice as much frames per second and/or twice as much pixels rendered. There are actually numbers stating that the PS4 is actually performing far better with a comparable hardware. The PS4 is actually installing games/patches in the background in some minutes while the Xbox One still has installation times we are used to from the PC and the PS3 for years now. The differences are not that subtle as they were with the PS3 and Xbox360, where there was still enough compensation from the first party stuff or the Japanese stuff or free games, etc.

    @mistermogul: Some years ago, I would have said, that point is stupid as those are just exceptions. But now after actually seeing, that most of the Xbox360 owners actually bought more than one Xbox360s it’s totally legit.

    #9 10 months ago
  10. CycloneFox

    @Hcw87: You are totally destroying your own point by stating, that you actually bought a second Xbox360, yourself which lays you in the average of what mistermogul said.
    I bought one big fat PS3, played about a hunderd games on and that is still running and playing Tales of Symphonia Chronicles at the moment and will run Persona 5 next year.
    Even my fat old PS2 is still running since 2003.

    #10 10 months ago
  11. dazedonthemoon

    @Hcw87
    Also agree with mogul. Number isn’t too far off. I’m on my 4th Xbox. All RROD issues. Still have my 6 year old PS3, that has had disk reading issues in the past and magically fixed itself. Seriously don’t know what happened. Had to insert disks in multiple times for it too read. Problem lasted a year and then like magic, works perfect every time for about 2 years now. So Sony has got waaaaay more trust in big investments like consoles than M$. I’ve given them soooo much money and was a huge reason for me picking up a PS4 over XBOne.

    #11 10 months ago
  12. Hcw87

    @6

    What kind of estimation is that? Your own, or do you have some facts backing it up?

    @10

    Only having to replace the console once in 9 years is pretty much perfect in todays standards, so i got lucky. Both the first 360′s/PS3 fats had some serious problems that got fixed in the later revisions (Falcon chip and the PS3 Slim).

    #12 10 months ago
  13. zoopdeloop

    @6
    google the numbers and failure rates they’re all over

    #13 10 months ago
  14. lop78

    I completely understand this decision and as a business it makes total since, but I still can’t help being disappointed by the decision. If the kinect (or ps4 camera for that matter) comes with every console the install base is huge and developers may create something truly amazing for it, imagine an rpg where you read your dialog to the npc’s to progress the story or better yet imagine skyrim, talking to and guard that gets mad at the way you audibly respond to his question and tries to arrest you, or thinks that you stole something because of your increased heart rate and your voice cracked or whatever. A horror game that recognizes your heart rate and facial expressions that can literally see the fear on your face and knows the right time to have the monster pop up behind you. Or just that it can see that you’ve fallen asleep and is smart enough to shut itself off to save electricity. I don’t have my head so far in the clouds to have expected any of this would have happened, but now that cameras aren’t a package deal, there’s no chance that it will ever happen this generation….and quite frankly that’s a little sad.

    #14 10 months ago
  15. gomersoul

    Good read, feel sorry for the early adopters though

    #15 10 months ago
  16. zoopdeloop

    @13 Edit
    reffering to @12

    #16 10 months ago
  17. Telepathic.Geometry

    Nice write up Brenna.

    I feel the same way. I have no love or need for the Kinect at all, but it was the only distinguishing feature, and some unique crazy games may well have come from it scanning or pulses and fingers and whatnot…

    #17 10 months ago
  18. jonnymelamet

    @lop78 I completely agree with you.

    I believe that the internet gaming community ruined the Xbox One in a way. I have a Kinect and I love it. However, due to their constant complaining and lambasting of a device that most people haven’t even tested for themselves, gaming lost the only thing leading to innovation in a market that is becoming staler every day.

    I was looking forward to games like the one that you described, but alas I fear that will not come this generation.

    I am pre-empting peoples counter-arguments here, so please bear with these as I understand that there is room for me to be wrong in this regard:

    1: Resolution is not innovation. Once games reach a point where complex games do not need to sacrifice assets in order to maintain high resolutions and frames per second then I will call it innovative. However both systems don’t currently possess the hardware capabilities for this to work.

    Also, I personally believe the best games are the ones that play with with a good story. It could be 8-bit for all I care as long as it handles well and the story makes sense. (This is personal opinion)

    2: Virtual Reality. Despite there being many well respected developers who are jumping on bard VR, there is a fundamental flaw. The best games are always going to be First Person games. This means that the mechanics for most of these games are already mappers out in a sense (move your head to look around, lean in a certain direction to go in that direction, use motion controller to control your hands).

    Yes, VR can take you places without you having to leave the house, but some things can only be experienced by getting out of your comfort zone.

    I thoroughly believe the VR has a place…outside the games industry. I just think that Augmented reality offers more choice for gametypes in comparison as an Augmented Reality game could be mapped around a real city and you can still see the people you are interacting with.

    Thank you for reading this mini ranticle.

    Have a pleasant day.

    #18 10 months ago
  19. orakaa

    @14 : Yeah, that would be great…….. except that neither the first Kinect, nor the new one could have brought that.

    Microsoft spent HUGE amounts of money in Kinect over the years… and couldn’t bring a SINGLE “killer app” on it that wasn’t a casual, limited game. The truth is that interactivity with such a device is way too limited to be exclusive: you’d need a controller, so their initial promess of “no controller needed” has never worked. And even with a controller, the reactivity of those devices remain too limited to be efficient enough to do what you suggest.

    With the amount of money poured into Kinect, if they COULD have created a decent first party (or even third party) game that could have SHOWCASED Kinect’s possibilities, they would have done it. But they haven’t. It was a deadend. They should have dropped this a LONG time ago.

    Innovation is good, when it’s going in the right direction. The whole initial DRM of Xbox One was limiting customers options, it was not a real progress. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the case for Kinect either (not in terms of potential, but effectiveness).

    #19 10 months ago
  20. orakaa

    They had 4 years, since Kinect’s launch (with the time spent in preparation/production of the device), with a marketing budget of $500 MILLIONS (just for marketing).

    If they really could have made games that could appeal to customers/gamers, they would have. It’s just like when they decided to force Kinect with Xbox One: they said that it would be great, etc. but they couldn’t SHOWCASE/DEMONSTRATE why or give us games woring with it taking advantage of such an overpriced gadget.

    RISE was supposed to be Kinect exclusive, until it was revamped. They had friggin’ Star Wars turned into a giant buggy unresponsive… dance game??!!

    They had their chance and they either were too stupid to do it or rather this device couldn’t deliver what they envisionned

    #20 10 months ago
  21. super3001

    author hates ms. should not be writing for game news website.

    go work at opm or sixthaxis

    #21 10 months ago
  22. Brenna Hillier

    @super3001 *eye roll*

    #22 10 months ago
  23. OmegaSlayer

    Microsoft built a trap, now they’re throwing it away and they’ll finally fall into it.

    The Kinect, like it or not, was the thing XB1 did and PS4 didn’t do.
    By dropping it, MS sacrificed their diversity.
    Microsoft is in Emergency plan B, or maybe Emergency plan C.

    Emergency plan A was removing the DRM, and you can call plan B the mega discounted bundle with Titanfall.
    This is plan C.

    Point is that eventually this gen will last 5 years and MS spent almost a year retconning stuff instead of planning a future.
    They don’t know the extent of what they’re doing and they’re taking actions dictated by fear, actions that are so sudden and without real ground behind them.
    I say so because they didn’t even contact a developer to make them aware of their SKU revision.

    #23 10 months ago
  24. Mr Sparkle

    There are still no games on the Xbox One that will make me purchase one. Make it 150$ and i’m still not on board.

    #24 10 months ago
  25. Joe Musashi

    Another good read, thank you. VG247 seem to be having a push on this type of content and it’s very welcome. Some of the terminology and imagery is a little bit baiting but, hey, internet.

    “That kind of reputation takes a long time to dispel – after all, we’ve just discussed the persistent myth that the PS3 is a flop.”

    I think the problem Microsoft face is one of perception. Perception doesn’t (and often isn’t) based on reality or facts, but it’s incredibly potent. They were perceived to dominate the previous generation. They were percieved to have committed consumer crime with the RROD saga. The X1 is perceived to be the weaker machine. The announcement and initial talk of the X1 was percieved to be a big backward step for Microsoft.

    Right now, the current perception, whether factual or not, works against Microsoft. Doing a number of things right can often make no dent at all against the perception of your efforts after you did one thing wrong. That’s simply how it is. But that’s the situation that Sony had to face last gen and Microsoft appear to be facing this gen.

    Phil Spencer, more than anything, is a symbol. He is symbolic of change. Of improvement. Out with the damaging old, in with the optimistic, empathatic new. Let’s wear a few t-shirts with indie logos on them to really get that point across. It’s the J Allard transformation all over again.

    Until yesterday, I’d not seen a single statement from Phil Spencer that wasn’t vacuous PR waffle. “We love games too!”. Talk but little walk. So yesterday marks a turning point. (though I can’t help feeling that this was the expression on Spencer’s face when he hit “SEND” on his email. Time will tell.) At this time, it’s far to early to be lavishing messianic platitudes on Spencer’s gestures though. That said, the fact that some of the true believers already are shows just how effective symbolic change is over actual change.

    Personally, I still think Microsoft have considerable work to do to get their mainstream perception where they want it. But they’re hungry and consumers are seeing the benefit.

    As for Kinect, it’s not dead. But those mourning the fact it’s no longer a mandatory part of the system because it reduces the chances for ‘developers to find a really good use for it’ clearly haven’t been paying attention over the last two generations. Camera and motion-controlled games have had years to revolutionise and to embed themselves as an integral part of the gaming landscape. That hasn’t happened. They will remain a pleasing distraction. Gaming garnish if you will, but they’re not ever likely to be the main course.

    Great. Now I’m hungry.

    Can someone pass me some Doritos and Mountain Dew?

    JM

    #25 10 months ago
  26. bradk825

    The change is good for those who already own an Xbox One but have several friends who don’t yet, and are more likely to buy it now and play with them.

    What has two thumbs and fits that description? This guy.

    As mentioned though, it’s sad to see a play-it-safe model coming from Microsoft. Who knows what comes next though? They definitely need to boost the install base to earn the right to reinvest in a new idea. Still a great time to be a gamer.

    #26 10 months ago
  27. dazedonthemoon

    @super3001
    And this is coming from pretty much the biggest Xbox troll left on this website. Even Erth has been pretty decent lately.

    #27 10 months ago
  28. ddtd

    @jonnymelamet MS ruined the Kinect, not people complaing abiut it online. They needed to prove why it was mandatory to have one by launching a amazing Kinect game with the system so the device had more purpose than being a glorified navigation tool for the UI. They failed to do that and they failed to show why it’s relevant.

    I like the idea of the Kinect andi think a team with a passion to make something innovative and fun with it could have sold people on why they should have one, but now it’s going to be up to Microsoft’s own studios to do that becausea third party Feb is probably not going to spend the time or resources until microsoft can convince people to buya Kinect on their own.

    #28 10 months ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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