Kinect not required: Xbox One now just like Playstation 4, but worse

Quick recap: Sony and Microsoft launched their next generation consoles late last year. The Playstation 4 is outpacing Microsoft’s Xbox One by millions and that gap is widening, partly because the Xbox One is $100 more expensive than the Playstation 4. So Microsoft just announced a version without Kinect to match the Playstation 4 in price.

I like my Playstation 4 and am planning to purchase an Xbox One. I still am, with Kinect, but less enthusiastically now.

Microsoft presented a vision where all your media consumption is done on one device in the living room and controlled seamlessly with voice. A vision where developers will create cool things for Kinect because they know every Xbox One would have one. This vision is now in grave danger.

Let’s safely assume the majority of Xbox Ones sold will be without Kinect. Will Microsoft keep doing the hard work of improving the Xbox One’s voice controls? Will Microsoft keep doing the painful work of trying to on-board media partners outside the US so the Xbox can truly be that One device? Will developers invest in creating new and exciting ways to play games?

The Xbox One used to be differentiated, even forward thinking — the Xbox One’s reviewed better at launch — now it’s just like the Playstation 4 but noticeably worse; weaker graphics performance, architecture that’s more difficult for developers to work with, an uglier form factor and an interface not designed for controllers.

For anyone who’s tried navigating Xbox One without Kinect, you already know the sad truth: it’s a mess. Microsoft is thankfully aware of this issue, and is working on a fix. “We do want to find ways to give you some of those shortcuts and make some of the things that we have with Kinect easier with the controller,” Mehdi said. “You can expect to see us do a bunch of things over the coming months to make the experience easier and easier, even if you don’t have a Kinect.” — Engagdget

Microsoft is trying to get out of a negative spiral, but the harder it kicks the deeper it seems to be sinking into quicksand.

It’s hard to tell what Microsoft should have done. Sony ran the perfect play with the Playstation 4. Hindsight is 20/20, but here are two other strategies Microsoft could have employed:

  1. Design a console for $300 retail and then bundle in the Kinect anyway for $400. Or even $350 to be aggressive. Perception is reality and it’s already labelled as weaker; it might as well have cheaper silicone. Not counting Kinect, the current Xbox One actually costs about the same as the Playstation 4 to manufacture which is inexcusable for Microsoft.
  2. Launch one year later with a materially more powerful console plus Kinect at $500 retail. Announce in 2013 alongside the Playstation 4 to let gamers know why they should wait. When it does finally launch, make sure it is with killer games and killer apps geared specifically for the Kinect. Microsoft had rushed the Xbox One simply to make the 2013 holiday season which no doubt played a part in its struggles; so why not take the extra time to polish things.

I know what Microsoft will say about the second strategy; that increasingly, people don’t care about incremental graphic fidelity. That may be true for the masses, but it’s not true for hardcore gamers who care whether a game is 900P or 1080P. These are the consumers who buy the first 20 million units of a next generation console even when those consoles don’t have many games. They are the ones that determine success or failure; the influencers the masses turn to for advice. Microsoft did a bad job of communicating with this crucial segment.

So far, Sony has outclassed Microsoft in this round of the console wars.

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