When the Xbox One was released last year, Microsoft’s strategy for the system could be summed up in one sentence from their press release: “The all-new Kinect is now an essential and integrated part of the platform.” A year later, however, Microsoft announced that the console, now lagging behind competitor Sony’s PlayStation 4 in sales, would see a new Kinect-free version at a lower price point. At E3, Polygon spoke with Xbox head Phil Spencer about the change in tactics, and what it means for the future of the brand.
Spencer told Polygon that, "This might seem backwards, but I believe the decision we made to allow people to buy Xbox One without Kinect included, in the end, will actually lead to more Kinects in the market.” He added, "I believe that you've got to sell the console before you can sell Kinect.”
Asked about the new $399 price point, Spencer responded, "Price point is important. I had to give people a choice when they come in to go buy a console, that we have a console that's at a competitive price, that's at an entry price for them." He explained how this ties into the idea that the Kinect-less model will result in more Kinects being sold, stating, "They can buy it standalone. If they want to buy it day one, I still think that's the best Xbox One experience over the long run, but giving them choice will let us grow the largest install base of Xbox One customers, and those who choose to, will actually add Kinect to it as well."
At launch, developers were expected to incorporate the Kinect into every game on the Xbox One. This policy was reflected by the press release that stated, “By having it as a consistent part of every Xbox One, game and entertainment creators can build experiences that assume the availability of voice, gesture and natural sensing, leading to unrivaled ease of use, premium experiences and interactivity for you." Spencer explained Microsoft’s new take on how devs utilize the Kinect; "Developers will choose when Kinect is part of the experience and when it's not, and that's the way it should be."
Polygon notes that Microsoft’s E3 presentation made almost no reference to the sensor technology, despite being entirely game-centered. When asked about the Kinect’s lack of representation at the press event, Spencer replied, "I consciously made a point to try not to call out where every game is using Kinect in an interesting way.” He continued, "It's a difficult thing to do on stage, and second, I think really what you want to focus on is why is a game fun, not what parts of the platform does it happen to be using or not using. A lot of those games are using voice, some are using gesture, a lot are using SmartGlass in interesting ways, but I wanted to first highlight what the soul of the game is about, which usually isn't about its platform features."
Finally, Spencer spoke about the future of the Kinect itself, calling it an outlet for creativity and stating that many studios are finding ways that the sensor can make their games better and more immersive.
The overarching message here is that the Xbox One’s future will still involve the Kinect; it just won’t be the central focus going forward. Whether or not the shift in focus will help put Microsoft consoles in more living rooms has yet to be seen, but at least the company seems to have streamlined and defined its vision for the Xbox One.