THIS MAY BE A LONG GAME, BUT MICROSOFT NEEDS CHANGE QUICKLY.
And that recent rise in UK sales suggests price remains perhaps the biggest determining factor in a console’s early success. Taking Kinect out of the box would certainly mean a more appealing price point for Xbox One, but it would be Microsoft’s biggest admission of failure yet in a marketing campaign full of them. As such, it’s little surprise to see the PR training kick in when we ask Spencer if a Kinect-free Xbox One is on the cards.
“We’re always trying to match what consumers are asking for,” he says. “I always want to make sure that we’re in tune with what current or potential customers are asking for from us. Right now, [dropping Kinect is] not the number one request from people. Usually it’s, ‘Where are the great games?’ That’s where it usually starts, ‘When am I going to get Shenmue?’ I get a lot of people wanting old franchises to come back. But we’ll always listen. I think we need to stay in tune with who our customers are, and react.”
There was a time when Peter Molyneux would also have toed the marketing department’s line, but these days, free of Microsoft’s watchful eye at his indie studio 22 Cans, his tongue is rather looser. “I actually wish Kinect wasn’t a requirement,” he says. “It feels like an unnecessary addon to me. Maybe it’s because we’re in England, and it doesn’t really use the TV stuff, but it feels more and more like a joke. My son and I sit there saying random things at it, and it doesn’t work.”
Xbox One’s problems in the UK aren’t limited to hitand-miss voice recognition: at launch, its TV functions didn’t support the 50Hz standard. That, like so many other things, has been addressed now, but for Molyneux the removal of that under-used camera is a no-brainer. “They could cost-reduce it [by removing Kinect]. I’m sure they’re going to release an Xbox One without Kinect. It would be unthinkable that they wouldn’t.”
Molyneux’s feelings likely hew closer to the layman’s, but Spencer makes a compelling counterpoint beneath the marketing sheen. While in the run-up to launch Microsoft needed only to cater to potential customers, now it must also satisfy existing owners, none of whom will be thrilled at the prospect of Kinect being discarded and the cost of entry slashed. Only one thing unites those two groups, and it’s nothing to do with TV functionality, appsnapping or media partnerships. Molyneux puts it best: “There’s only one thing they need to do. Give us some good fucking games and we’ll forgive every sin.”
Unfortunately, Xbox One doesn’t seem to make life easy for game creators. While the console had a bigger, and arguably better, launch lineup than PS4, the months since have served only to raise worrying concerns about the system’s power, with Xbox One versions of multiplatform games consistently performing worse than their counterparts on PS4 and PC. To thirdparty studios and the people who play their games, Xbox One means lower resolutions and framerates. Microsoft may be playing a long game, but if a console cannot keep pace in the year-one sprint, what chance does it have of winning a marathon lasting a decade? “Developers in the early years of any console generation are working hard on a platform that’s emerging as they’re trying to ship their game,” Spencer notes. “Over the lifecycle of the generation, you’ll see people getting closer to the metal, understanding exactly how the content and the pipeline works, what the consoles are capable of. And I’m confident that the resolution and fidelity of things that people will be playing on Xbox One will be top notch.”
Fair enough, but it’s early days for PS4, too, and Sony’s console has already earned the perception of being the better system on which to play multiformat releases. That disparity, it seems, is not only due to PS4’s more powerful innards, but the quality of its tools and SDK, which have clearly benefited from the dev-friendly, new-look Sony. A recent update to the Xbox One SDK has helped, but Spencer speaks of development tools evolving as Microsoft works out what studios need from them. “You ship with a certain idea about what the profile of a game running on your box will look like,” he says, “but you learn in terms of what people are really doing, and how you can make it most effective for developers.” This might be the most telling indicator of why the gulf in performance between the two consoles exists: Microsoft is relying on having conversations that Sony has already had. If multiplatform performance parity is out of reach for the time being, Microsoft only has one option if it is to bolster Xbox One’s software catalogue. Luckily, it’s something it’s always been very good at.
Ex-Microsoft employee Peter Molyneux foresees a Kinectfree Xbox One in the future
Kinect 2.0 is far from the vast improvement over the original that was promised