Three months ago, Microsoft told the world they weren’t getting rid of Kinect. Earlier this week, Microsoft announced they were releasing a Kinect-less Xbox One in June for $399, putting it in direct price competition with the Playstation 4. There’s no question that this is a much smarter move on Microsoft’s part, but I couldn’t help but laugh a bit about the positions each console finds themselves in at this juncture. What (mostly) amazes me though, is how Microsoft could’ve been as tone deaf as they were in the first place. Let’s travel back in time a bit to see how Microsoft shot themselves in the foot when if they simply paid attention to the industry, they’d probably be neck and neck with Sony’s PS4 sales.
It’s no secret Sony took the video game industry by storm with the original Playstation. Between the original Playstation and its successor, the Playstation 2, Sony sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 270 million some odd consoles over the entire lifespan of both systems. Riding on the finest of white horses, Sony showed up to E3 to tell everybody they were releasing a brand new system called, naturally, the Playstation 3. It would be Blu-ray enabled, with built in hard drives, and retail at either five or six hundred dollars apiece. Presumably, the Sony execs were under the impression that the brand of Sony was strong enough and that the system itself had enough value to justify that price point. They were wrong. As it turns out, there wasn’t enough within the first year of the system (you’re going to see this sentence again with respect to the Kinect on XBox One) to justify the premium price, especially since their competitor was selling a system that seemed to be doing much more for a cool one to three hundred dollar price lower.
The Xbox 360 released a full year earlier and enjoyed a pretty steady lead over the Playstation 3 until almost the end of last gen. More importantly, because the Xbox 360 had been out a year earlier with a better online infrastructure, it was the leading system for development. Any multiplatform game that was going to be released, was brought to the XBox 360 first and later ported on to the PS3. For almost all of last generation, PS3 received ports of popular games that almost always played better on the Xbox 360 because of Sony’s mind-numbing decision to create brand new architecture for the PS3. While Nintendo managed to sell more consoles with the Wii, it’s a safe assumption to say that the XBox 360 was the winner of the last console generation. Microsoft must’ve been riding on the same white horse as Sony when they announced the PS3, because they came to E3 and told everybody “hey, we’ve got a new system, with new technology that’s going to be sold for $100 more than our competitors.”
We know how that story is currently going, because while Microsoft is touting the 5 million consoles “shipped,” they’ve sold a little over half the number of PS4’s, whose sales are currently above the 7 million mark. So, how did Microsoft fuck this up? The price is a great place to start. I actually remember saying at the Xbox One conference, “releasing this console for $500 is a mistake. Didn’t they learn from Sony?”
Microsoft also shot themselves in the foot with Kinect. First by making it a mandatory part of the experience, then by releasing a system that doesn’t need it. That might sound contradictory, but here’s the thing. If Kinect is really that important to the system, stick by it. It’s only been six months right? Release some games, make it an integral part of the functionality and make it so that there’s never any reason to doubt why it’s there. By removing it, Microsoft isn’t only pissing off people who already invested into the system, they’re also signaling to developers, “remember when we told you this extra accessory nobody cares about was really important? Turns out, it’s not. Do with it what you want!” Microsoft’s backtracking has not only fragmented the population between “Kinect and non Kinect onwers,” it’s also fragmented the devs who would’ve been willing to use it (since everyone had one) into devs who are likely going to treat it as an afterthought.
Lastly, Microsoft being willing to budge on some of their less popular policies could be seen as a sign of a company without an identity. At this point, Microsoft is pretty much stealing from Sony’s playbook with some of their moves (price point, removing the paywall for netflix and other apps). And that’s fine. The spirit of competition will always benefit the gamers (the most important person in this whole equation) but I’m worried about the direction of the Xbox One. As of right now, there really isn’t too much differentiating the consoles from each other, and that parity is wonderful…when you’re in the lead. If you’re trying to play catch up, I’m assuming you have to do enough in order for people to want to choose one over the other, and that’s where I see Microsoft coming up short. I don’t know what that means in the long term for the Xbox One, but if this price cut doesn’t close the gap, I sincerely hope they have something else in the chamber. Because from where I’m sitting?
It’s not looking pretty.