Yesterday Microsoft surprised the internet and showed what may be the first big change of the Nadalla era by announcing a number of changes to the Xbox program. In short there will be a Xbox One available without a Kinect bundled and Xbox Gold will undergo a number of changes.
First the hardware. Since its announcement the Xbox One has been marketed as an integrated system with the Kinect being a non-removable part that needs to be bought with the Xbox and needs to be plugged in to be usable. This new Kinectless version of the system is to be available worldwide from the 9th of June at the lower price of $399 in the US or £350 in the UK. This is, probably not coincidentally the same price as Sony’s PS4 which has thus far been beating the Xbox One worldwide. A stand alone Kinect is also to be available at an undisclosed date for those who wish to upgrade.
From the software side Microsoft has long been criticized for its Xbox Gold service’s restrictions. To use and Xbox for streaming services such as Netflix and Youtube you have needed to pay for this extra monthly subscription of £35 a year or £17 for three months. This is to change from June with all the ‘entertainment apps’ such as Netflix and Twitch being free for any user, with or without the Gold subscription. In addition the Gold membership program ‘Games with Gold’ which gives discounts on games and access to free games is to be extended to cover the Xbox One as well as the 360. The ability to play multiplayer will still be Gold only, as before.
Taken together these changes are an acknowledgement from Microsoft that their forward thinking long term strategy to get voice and movement control on every console was too expensive for many in the here and now. It will probably dissuade developers from coding specifically for the Kinect as at least a portion of their players will not be able to make use of it, but after several months of an ecosystem that has Kinect’s on every system we have not yet seen a killer use of it, so this is probably no loss. The software changes are good for consumers and bring the Xbox ecosystem in line with every other streaming media box but may be too little to make a difference to poor sales figures on their own.