The Xbox One isn't having the most successful of launches. It launched at a higher price than its competitors, but it's becoming clear that it isn't as powerful as Sony's less expensive PlayStation 4. Recent sales data seem to show the PlayStation 4 outselling the Xbox One at a brisk pace. January's NPD data (as reported by Engadget) looks particularly troublesome for Microsoft's new console. This makes it no surprise that Microsoft recently announced a price cut for the new TitanFall Xbox One console bundle. It amounts to a $50 price cut for the console, with the game as a free digital download.
While such cuts would likely help sales, doing so could only be considered a move of desperation on a console that is already a loss leader. It also shows a lack of focus on the console's root problem. Namely, how does Microsoft reverse the current sales trend on a console that is weaker in power but more expensive than its direct competition?
One of the Xbox One's biggest strengths is the potential of the Kinect, but that potential is currently unrealized. The console launched in November with a paltry number of games to showcase the new and improved Kinect sensor, and using it to navigate the console's UI is hit–and-miss. According to a teardown done by IHS, the Kinect accounts for around $75 of the console's manufacturing cost. This means that it accounts for the majority of the $100 price difference between the Xbox One versus the PlayStation 4.
However, the idea of removing the Kinect from being bundled with the console is far from a good one. By leaving it as part of the console, developers can count on it being there, giving it a guaranteed install base and thus avoiding a big hurdle that the original Kinect encountered. If the install base is anything less than 100%, it means that any developer has to make a gamble in using the Kinect. With a guaranteed install base, developers can at least know that the gameplay isn't going to be relegated to a niche segment of the platform. This also means they can make the Kinect an integral part of their games, as opposed to making it a throwaway addition to the gameplay.
Rather than give up the biggest technological advantage it has, Microsoft needs to justify the Kinect's inclusion in the first place. Pushing out updates to address the UI navigation issues with the Kinect is a start. Microsoft also needs to increase its efforts in courting developers to create games that use the Kinect in a manner that is core to the gameplay. It's incredible that the console didn't launch with such an offering, other than a dance game. Meanwhile, the near lack of any noteworthy Kinect-centric releases slated for 2014 is something approaching madness. Games like Fantasia: Music Evolved and Kinect Sports Rivals are a start, but there should be far more than one game every six months to justify the mandatory inclusion of the Kinect.
Microsoft's salvation isn't going to come from price cuts on a console that already represents a loss for every unit sold. It also isn't going to come in the form of cutting a major system feature like the Kinect to help shave off the cost. Microsoft made a huge commitment when it chose to include the new Kinect with the Xbox One console, and it had a lot of faith in the device in doing so. What Microsoft needs to do now is deliver on the Kinect's potential, rather than leaving it as an anchor on a console that already has enough issues gaining momentum.
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