THIS MAY BE A LONG GAME, BUT MI­CROSOFT NEEDS CHANGE QUICKLY.

EDGE - - XBOX ONE -

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

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