It sure didn't take long for Microsoft to abandon the next gen of its must-have peripheral for Xbox One, the Kinect. And it may end up being the smartest move they've made in years.
Redmond announced that starting June 9, they'll offer a dis-Kinected One for the low, low price of $399. That's a Franklin less than the original bundle, and brings the One in line with the price of a 500GB PlayStation 4.
The fact that they did it is not all that surprising — the move gives them all sorts of flexibility in future bundles and lets them sell the Kinect for whatever they want. What is surprising is that they've done it so soon after the console's launch last fall.
Maybe that has something to do with the fact that the PS4 has helped bring in $9.5 billion for Sony in the last fiscal year. Even though the Japanese company lost some $78 million because of the console's launch, they expect to sell something in the neighborhood of 17 million PS3s and PS4s by March 2015. The fourth gen of PlayStation has outsold the One four months in a row.
Microsoft has been struggling, despite having a bona fide hit in Titanfall driving its increasing software sales (they're up for PS4, too, mind you). U.S. game industry sales are up 17 percent, NPD reported, but Sony is still reaping the benefits.
Microsoft's solution: Decouple the Kinect and the One, and hope that drives sales.
Lewis Ward, an analyst for gaming research firm IDC, said this is a great move for Microsoft in the short term, but may not matter in the end.
"This change will be enough to push the Xbox One installed base higher than PS4 in the U.S. and Canada in 2015 rather than 2016," he told GamesIndustry International. "It kind of reminds me of Microsoft's evolution on Windows and IE. The initial design needs some serious help (i.e., last summer's DRM 'Xbox 180') and then improves to the point of being a serious contender (this Kinect unbundling) and then vies for market share dominance (although I continue to believe PS4 will have the largest global installed base of any console at the end of 2016)."
That may end up being the case, but we'll have to check back in 2015 after Halo 5: Guardians is released. That franchise has always been the heart and soul of the Xbox, so a good barometer of where that console stands depends on that exclusive title.
Moreover, the unbundling signals that Microsoft has admitted it doesn't need Kinect to power its machine, a feature touted ad nauseam in the run-up to launch. Given recent reports that 74 percent of core U.S. gamers still prefer physical discs to digital downloads when buying their video games, it seems the public may not yet be prepared for some trends. Perhaps a dedicated Kinect console is one of them.
Given that my own Kinect is covered in a fine layer of dust, I'm not in any position to say losing the peripheral for a $100 discount is the wrong move. In fact, that's enough to buy a copy of Titanfall and even the bulk of an annual Xbox Live membership needed to play it — which was probably the price point they were aiming for all along. Your move, Sony.
— Joshua Gillin writes about video games for tbt*. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.