“Xbox on!” I yell as I enter my living room. “Xbox, go to YouTube,” is usually my second command of the day, as I binge some videos to catch up on the cess pool that is internet culture. If you’d asked me a few years ago how often I’d be speaking to my Kinect I’d have said “little to none.” And yet, here in the future of 2018, I do it almost every day. And I’m not alone in talking to my gadgets and using them to control my entertainment devices.
Amazon Echo and Google Home were some of the hottest items this Christmas, and have been selling quite well for years now. But before those devices bugged everyone’s home there was the Xbox One with its Kinect, offering a lot of the same features. And yet the Kinect is dying a slow death while the Echo and Home surge. Why?
The reveal of the Xbox One will certainly go down as one of the biggest blunders in gaming history
Echo and Home do offer more functionality, though Microsoft’s hamfisted introduction of Cortana was meant to assuage this. But at their base all of these devices perform the same function, taking your voice and turning it into digital action. Hell, with an Xbox One you get a Google Home and a Chromecast rolled into one, except for the more robust voice commands that presumably would have been added, had more people been using their Kinect.
But they weren’t and Microsoft took note, slowly removing the device from the Xbox One, and now making it nearly impossible to use on their latest console, the Xbox One X. So what happened here? Why did the Kinect fail where other devices succeeded, often despite coming much later? I feel it all started at the very beginning, with the introduction of the Xbox One and Kinect 2.0.
The reveal of the Xbox One will certainly go down as one of the biggest blunders in gaming history. Don Mattrick took to the stage back in 2013 and left gamers with a collective feeling of confusion and anger over the decisions that had been made, or, to be more specific, the decisions that weren’t being explained. Many of these decisions surrounded the updated Kinect sensor, which would come packaged with every single Xbox One console.
The idea makes sense from a business and feature perspective. As we saw with the first Kinect and the Xbox 360, if the peripheral isn’t packaged with the console, it won’t be supported by developers. The install base will just be too small. So with every Xbox One having a Kinect developers could make games for it, knowing that their customers had the device. But that never happened.
This could be because of the increase in multi-platform releases. The PS4 didn’t have a Kinect alternative packaged with the system, so games that wanted to hit PS4 couldn’t rely on the Kinect. And then there was the backlash. Adding a huge sensor to every Xbox One purchase tacked an extra $100 onto the price, opening the door to one of the greatest moments in E3 history. For people who were debating which system to buy that $100 was key, especially when they felt like they were being forced to buy something they didn’t want.
The Kinect was also just not a good gaming device. Some titles worked well, such as Dance Central, but gamers simply weren’t interested. The best features of the Xbox One Kinect were its voice control and entertainment options, and many gamers just didn’t care. The swipe controls were also pretty awful, with myself and many other Kinect owners simply disabling them as soon as possible. The Kinect then ended up being a $100 device that saved you a couple of taps on your controller.
Do I still enjoy having it? Sure, but I also know that if given the choice I wouldn’t have bought it on its own. Just as I’ve decided that the Amazon Echo and Google Home aren’t worth the money, the Kinect’s additional features aren’t either. If there were some cool games to play then maybe it’d have left gamers with a better impression, allowing them to use it for its more enjoyable features for the long term, rather than abandon it due to the distaste Microsoft gave them.
Xbox One Revealed
All of this makes me wonder how the Xbox One Kinect could have succeeded in the same way the Echo and Home have. Those devices were pretty niche upon launch, but have taken off thanks to the introduction of the cheaper Dot and Mini alternatives. It’s not like the cameras in the Kinect were used by most gamers, so removing them to scale the device back in price would have done wonders.
The Kinect was certainly ahead of its time, but that doesn’t mean it was well made
Options seems to be the key. Don’t package the Kinect with the Xbox One, the price increase just pissed people off. Offer a lower tier, microphone only Kinect option so that owners who just want to control the Xbox One with their voice can do so. Then the die hard fans could buy the larger sensor if they chose. Gaming support would have been hurt, but that never panned out anyway. Maybe if Microsoft made sure to include must-have Kinect features into their top tier releases it could have worked, but it’s still doubtful. The Kinect just wasn’t a good gaming device, and gamers seemed to know it.
The Kinect was certainly ahead of its time, but that doesn’t mean it was well made. The features were limited. Consumers were uninterested, and Microsoft didn’t do much to change their minds. The peripheral seemed to have a control and entertainment focus, but the Xbox One was reliant on gamers buying it, and there were no games available that interested them. With some changes it could have succeeded, but it failed and Amazon and Google are cleaning up where the Kinect could have dominated. Perhaps the next Xbox can just put the microphone right into the console, forgoing the need for the separate device altogether. Or maybe we just need to wait on Amazon and Google to add in Xbox One support. Maybe I’d buy a Home then…but probably not.