Many Xbox fans are understandably divided over Microsoft’s decision to unbundle the Xbox One from the Kinect sensor, and I think both sides make good arguments for and against the decision. While I personally supported unbundling Kinect from the Xbox One and selling the console by itself for $100 less, I do understand that the decision is potentially risky for Microsoft.
The biggest reason this might be a mistake is that Microsoft had been relying on Kinect as its biggest differentiator from the PlayStation 4. This difference went beyond just marketing the console to gamers, too: Microsoft had encouraged game developers to make games that worked with the Kinect sensor and told them that it would never consider unbundling Kinect from the console. Xbox One was Kinect, Kinect was Xbox One.
Now that Microsoft has made Kinect and optional part of the Xbox One package, it will almost certainly hurt Microsoft’s efforts to get more developers to create Kinect-centric games. In fact, unbundling Kinect will send a signal to developers that Microsoft has lost faith in the technology’s potential to be a big differentiator capable of changing the way we think about video games.
This is a very legitimate concern and is a potential long-term problem for Microsoft. That said, I think the biggest mistake with Kinect wasn’t that Microsoft decided to bundle it with the Xbox One — it was that it decided to bundle it with the Xbox One without offering any games right off that bat that made it a truly compelling experience.
Compare this to what Nintendo did with the original Wii. When Nintendo first launched the Wii it made sure to include Wii Sports as a pack-in with every console it sold outside of Japan. This ensured that everyone who bought the console would have a game they could use right from the start that would get them hooked on Nintendo’s radical new Wii Remote controller.
Kinect, on the other hand, is an incredibly cool piece of technology that Microsoft has promised would pay dividends down the road. But that’s just the problem: Kinect seems like it could become a revolutionary new way to play games but right now it just isn’t. Instead, it’s a nifty option that was made part of a mandatory bundle and that added $100 to the Xbox One’s price tag.
I think the bigger lesson here is not that Microsoft should stop trying to be ambitious and creative when it comes to changing how we play games. Rather, it should make sure that its potentially revolutionary new technology has at least one game ready to go at launch that shows off its unique potential and draws gamers in. For this console generation, Microsoft just couldn’t manage to pull it off.