Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Microsoft with Another Power Play

In probably one of the more pandering ways they could have announced it, Microsoft has finally pulled the Kinect as a pack-in starting in June, meaning the XBone will start being sold as a stand-alone console in June for $399.  It's surprising in all the same ways that it's not - I really thought Microsoft was going to be stubborn on this one, but I guess the allure of phantom sales was too strong for them.  The XBox One is now, officially and literally, nothing unique at its base, and that is honestly more than a little disappointing, even for someone who just straight-up has never been interested in an XBone.

The whole of this little experiment as I'm charitably calling it has been rather interesting to witness.  From its inception, the XBone has been this malleable box of variable evil in the eyes of many and that's solely because of the poor messaging and the poor attitude from Microsoft with regards to everything about the system.  Once they fell flat on their face, the following could best be described as "Flailing wildly, grasping at any and all articles of your clothing to drag themselves back to you, prostrate and begging for your time and affection" which is...well, not everybody cares for it, we'll say.

Objectively, nothing is wrong with any of this.  The XBone has now (or will, in June) become a system that is truly about what a console should be: something you can pull out of a box, attach cables to, do the set-up on and then just get to playing your damn games.  There's no Kinect to calibrate (or even think about unpacking) and no -direct- need to plug an ethernet cable into it (or set up Wi-Fi) because of some nebulous DRM scheme.  (Okay, you still need to do that to make the console more or less -functional- but, you know, baby steps)  It is just a system reminiscent of the one we've had for the last decade but shinier and with some extra bells and whistles of some immeasurable value because of their inherently subjective nature.

Is that a bad thing?  No.  Not in so many words.

I have never been a fan of the XBox in any of its incarnations, and I had no love for the XBone when it was announced because, as it was announced, it was a product incapable of being loved.  It was a standing monolith of spite personified, primed and ready to exclaim "Fuck you!" and punch you in your reproductive parts upon being unboxed.  I can't even say, as most are willing to do, that they were trying something new on the Digital side of things because they weren't - they were attempting to push some sort of Frankenstein's Monster version of Games for Windows Live on the system and telling you to sit down and enjoy it for all the 'benefits' that being tied unceremoniously to a server structure an inordinate amount of miles away will provide to you, because shit is futuristic, yo.  It was never going to work out.  It was never going to be a thing heralded from on high by all or even some.  It was destined to be as it was - loathed and mocked for treading on the grass with the "No Trespassing" sign on it.

The Kinect, though?  It had potential.  Perhaps insomuch as MSPaint has potential in being a program in which you can create photorealistic images of shit, where it is only barely on this side of impossible to actually make that happen, but potential nonetheless.  I have a hard time believing anyone who says they -don't- want what Kinect is technically promising, but can't dream of delivering, on top of what it can actually do with some reliability.

Much like Tablet computers, there's something innately futuristic about motion controls and voice commands that is ingrained as awesome future shit to me.  Maybe it's just the Star Trek stuff I watched growing up, but it does tickle parts of my brain that come right to attention when that premise shifts up.  The jumping around, waving your arms about to protect an imaginary goal from soccer balls with dodgy (at best) detection when not instantly calibrated before hand?  Yeah.  I can see people not caring about that.  But walking into a room and saying "XBox, on" and having that shit turn on, waiting for your next command?  Yeah.  That's the shit I can get behind.  Were it only as natural as it could be (rather than having to put on your super authoritative voice most of the time) it would be -really- cool, if just for the novelty.

But I am convinced that with some combination of -something- like the Kinect (maybe even the Playstation Eye 3.0 or whatever) and a controller of some sort (Maybe a Move Wand(s) ) that there could be something immensely cool or enjoyable about motion technology where it concerns gaming.  It might be a couple generations off, but there has to be something out there for it.  I was personally banking on Microsoft stubbornly keeping the Kinect around (even as a toss-away thing because they weren't requiring it) to have it as an option for developers to use.  For someone to finally get -that- idea and implement it and it gets big because, fuck, everyone has one.  That's unfortunately just probably not going to happen anymore.  With the Kinect stuck as it was last generation, it's going to get much the same support as that did (read: almost none) and we'll all just sort of point and laugh derisively at it and what is attempted.

Now, is this move going to make a difference?  Not...much of one, I don't think.

The damage has been done.  In some ways, the Kinect was holding the device back.  In some ways, the extra $100 was holding it back as well.  Some pretend that these were the only two albatrosses about the neck of the XBone and now it's free to soar the sales charts and reign King Supreme and that's just not going to happen.  The time for the XBone to soar was back when it released, and if there's another time, it's a solid year, perhaps two away. The initial rush of consoles purchased has happened and the PS4 reigns on top of that pile.  The stragglers are the ones reluctant to pay $400 for a Next Gen system for whatever reason, so bringing the XBone down to that price parity....doesn't really do a whole lot.  Were there people that were just -really- waiting for Microsoft to do just this?  Sure.  Not the 'masses', however, since it honestly wasn't something you -should- have expected.

Even still, a stigma is just a -hard- thing to shake.  The PS3 had the "no games" thing for a while as well as the "stupid price" thing, and it all just cast the machine in a negative light long after those issues had been rectified.  It's going to be the same way with the XBone, especially because all they've done is put themselves directly next to the PS4 for comparison....where it will only be seen as lacking.  The XBone without the Kinect is just a less good PS4 without the benefit of PS+ and all the fun stuff that Sony has been working on.  Microsoft's exclusive lineup isn't going to draw in any -new- customers, either.  Halo 5 isn't going to make a Playstation diehard eschew grabbing a PS4 in favor of an XBone.  Gears of War anything isn't.  Forza didn't. 

No matter how you see it, this move with the Kinect just seems born of desperation and short-sightedness.  I will be heartily surprised if it makes the thing sell like a PS4 for any amount of time, and who knows if it's going to help in the long run if Sony continues to do their best with services and Exclusives that you -can't- just expect?  The Order is new and exciting because it's -new-, and if Microsoft wants to grab a few new people, they're going to have to put new things on the plate.  That's what'll sell an XBone over a PS4 way down the line when both have seen a price cut and parents are finally starting to relent, deciding to grab one of these things for the system.  But who knows if -that- is the next move Microsoft is going to rattle over towards?

seriously, I just don't see the point and I really wanted to see them take a stance on the goddamn Kinect

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