At E3 2015, Microsoft Left The Kinect Behind – Forbes
This E3 was, by most measures, a banner year for Microsoft Microsoft and the Xbox One. Last year may have been Phil Spencer’s first E3 as head of the Xbox, but this was the first year where it really felt like he had taken the reins and started steering. We got backwards compatibility, PC mods for Fallout transferring to Xbox One, a few new exclusives, Halo, Gears of War, Rise of The Tomb Raider and more. It felt like a company that knew where it was going, and that’s a welcome change from the confused operation of years’ past. There was one major omission, however, that was indicative of the company’s overall direction: the Kinect.
I didn’t keep careful track, but I can’t recall a single mention of the Kinect during the entire press conference, and there weren’t any Kinect games on display on the show floor. Even Just Dance unveiled a new smartphone-assisted mode that negated the need for camera controls. That little camera may have once been the centerpiece of Microsoft’s Xbox strategy, but it seems that the company has left it thoroughly in the past.
When the Xbox One first shipped, Microsoft said that the machine and the camera were inseparable. The Kinect was the Xbox One, the Xbox One was the Kinect, and together they shall rule. It didn’t work out so well. The $499 Xbox One got trounced by the easier to understand and cheaper PS4 in its first year, forcing Microsoft to lose the bundled Kinect and drop the price by $100. The Kinect was in dire straits even as of that moment, though we did get the delightful Fantasia: Music Evolved shortly thereafter.
This year it became clear that the Kinect is little more than a footnote in the future of Xbox One. Phil Spencer’s Xbox division is focused on wooing back the core gamers that it lost by focusing on entertainment in 2013, and core gamers are ambivalent about the Kinect at best. It is still possible that the Kinect may get some sort of reinvention in the later years of the Xbox One, but I can’t help imagine that it will be an entirely different phase of the device’s lifecycle. The Kinect has to die this year if it wants to stand a chance of being reborn in another year.
Chief among the Kinect’s problems was that it didn’t work very well: the much vaunted gesture controls were essentially unusuable at launch, and the voice controls, while cool, still run about a 75% success rate for me, and in these cases anything less than 95 or so just doesn’t fly. I don’t know if these were software of hardware problems, but I’m hoping software, which stands a better chance of being fixed. Microsoft is bringing digital assistant Cortana to (well, back to) the Xbox One, and that’s going to be a coup if it works as advertised. Which is, of course, the same thing we all said about the Kinect back in 2013.
Microsoft has of course assured us that they are still developing games for Kinect, that Kinect will continue to be supported, and all of those things. While I’m sure that they are in fact developing games, the Kinect is obviously nowhere near the focus of this system. It’s the right move, for right now, but it can’t help but feel a little bittersweet. It was a nice idea.