By YukoAsho 18 Comments
As I'm sure you all know by now, Kinect 2.0 will no longer need to be plugged in for the Xbone to function or play non-Kinect games. While this is a good thing, this is not going to turn Microsoft's fortunes this holiday.
Now, before I get into the meat of this post, let me make something abundantly clear; in the long run, the myriad reversals Microsoft have made with regards to the Xbone are good for their standing in the gaming industry for the next eight to ten years. With the coming generation likely to outlast the current one, Microsoft doesn't want to be hobbled by unpopular decisions and restrictive design. As indecisive as they look about the system's direction right now, these changes were mandatory if they wanted to stay relevant in the home console space.
That said, now Microsoft has some issues that need to be addressed in the short-to-medium term.
Right up until their humiliation at E3, Microsoft were quite loud and confident in their belief that theirs was the only future, and that we would be thanking them for their bold vision and initiative when the dust settled. The DRM restrictions would lead to better games through the magic of the cloud, and constant Kinect connection would mean that developers would really make the peripheral soar.
Then Sony came by and offered an alternative, one that gamers eagerly ate up.
In the two months since E3 (and in the face of presumably lopsided pre-orders) Microsoft has backed off on nearly all of its controversial policies, leaving only the forced bundling and $100 premium remaining. However, in doing this, they're going to have a shit ton of work ahead of them, and a very short time frame to get it done. We all know that new Xbones will need to undergo a "one-time setup," online, and anyone with a brain can infer that this is a day-one patch to replace the pre-E3 firmware with the current, less controversial firmware. This likely entails re-writing reams of code that took a hell of a lot more than four months to write in the first place, and with this latest reversal, making a version of the front-end that is more intuitive for people who've thrown their Kinect in the closet. Delaying the console is almost certainly out of the question, as they don't want to miss Black Friday.
You know what that means? Microsoft is, once again, rushing a product to market. We all know how wonderful that turned out last time, but unlike the RROD, firmware isn't quite as simple to fix as wrapping a towel around the system. There's almost certain to be busted code somewhere that's going to make the system unstable in those first three or so months. Unlike with this generation, there's no year-long head start for Microsoft. PS4's going to be here this holiday as well, and will likely not have as many issues. Consumer distrust over just how crappy the launch 360s were will lead to every single hardware/software/firmware issue being magnified in the press. MS might want to consider shipping with a 3-year warranty in the box in lieu of the camera.
However, these are going to be mainly issues for the first two quarters or so of the system's life. Fires that burn brightly and run out of oxygen rapidly in the constant winds of the blog-driven news cycle, much like the Wii U's initial update woes (that took two-plus hours, if you all remember).
No, now they have to deal with the tent-poles of their next-gen strategy simply not being there, or not being reliable. The cloud, already hampered by the fact that 3rd parties won't use it for their multiplat titles for anything but token stat-collecting, can't even be relied upon for first-party since systems can now be used without an online connection. The tinfoil hatters worried about encroaching DRM can stop worrying - we're not going to see online-only become a thing this generation, at least not for single player titles. Seriously, I can't even imagine the scale of the controversy if Halo 5 ran like shit unless you were online 24/7. Thus, no matter how much Microsoft PR wants you to believe otherwise, games aren't going to look better on Xbone than on PS4. In fact, the opposite may end up being true more often than not, with the two systems using x86 architecture.
This is easy enough to survive, however. Less powerful systems can have amazing gameplay experiences too, as the Xbox 360 itself has proven time and again. No, it's our next issue - the Kinect - that will almost certainly be the biggest bugbear for Microsoft over the next year.
Firstly, whether it's true or not (and how can it not be true?), most see the Kinect as the reason the Xbone costs $100 more than the PS4. While MS is at least relenting on its demand that we move our coffee tables out of the way to play regular Xbone games, the fact that it's not even needed to run the system only intensifies the question of value. Activision's Eric Hirshberg is already on record stating what we already know - MS has to make the value proposition more apparent than it's doing right now. While removing the requirement to have it plugged in is sure to please privacy activists and people who are already good to go with Xbone, Microsoft continues to do nothing to explain why they're asking for $100 premium versus technologically superior competition.
Not only that, but with all the reversals happening left and right, people have more hope than ever for a version to come out that doesn't have the Kinect at all. While it most likely won't happen this holiday, or even for the first two quarters, Microsoft has proven they're not so pigheaded as to ignore a chorus of people spending their console money elsewhere (unlike another console maker, but that's another post for another day). Thus, "I'll wait for a Kinectless release" is no longer an unrealistic troll post, but a legitimate response. I'd honestly be surprised if we didn't see a Kinectless version of the system by holiday 2014. Why? Because, with a viable alternative from Sony, holding out has never seemed so easy.
I need to state this again - the changes Microsoft are making to the console are good in the long term. Come 2015, only fanboys and trolls are going to be flooding forums with posts about the DRM and Kinect scandals of 2013 (especially if MS relents on packing the Kinect in with every Xbone), whereas their policies would have kneecapped their Xbox business for the whole generation had they stuck to their guns. However, Microsoft will have to prove agile and attentive if they want to minimize the short-term damage, especially since Sony isn't giving them even a moment's rest this time.