So, What Will The Next Xbox One Reversal Be?
So what’s it going to be?
While none of these aspects of Xbox One are as nefariously awful as a constant internet connection requirement or the inability to own the property you purchase, they remain bones of contention for consumers not quite ready to let bygones be bygones. The question is which one Microsoft is willing to part with.
Of the three, Backwards compatibility seems a no-brainer, but Microsoft has been adamant. According to several Microsoft spokespeople, fundamental incompatibilities exist between the two consoles’ GPUs; others have claimed the two systems’ operating systems prevent compatibility. Those explanations ring true, until you consider that Xbox 360′s reverse compatibility was achieved via an emulator, not via compatible hardware or operating systems. It would presumably be quite easy for Microsoft to release a 360 emulator for Xbox One.
But easy or not, Microsoft is no doubt fully aware that, as we saw with Playstation 2 post-Playstation3′s release, previous-gen consoles will have a much longer lifespan than they did a decade ago. Microsoft has a vested interest in a continued revenue stream from (slightly) reduced-cost 360 consoles, and that means continuing to release new content for Xbox 360 as well as maintaining Xbox Live services for the device.
Also, just this week, the company has already announced a deal with Amazon to sell a limited number of Xbox One versions of recent 360 titles for the low low price of $10. It’s a limited-time offer, but it’s likely to be only the first of many such deals. (I fully expect to see downloadable titles at cut-rates via the Xbox One version of XBL). I suspect then that Microsoft considers the matter closed, no matter how much people keep asking.
Verdict: probability of backwards compatibility reversal is Low.
And speaking of Xbox Live. The aforementioned complaints sound small, but for many people (myself included), Xbox Live feels like a worse deal than before, even if it offers everything it used to plus a little more. Steam doesn’t require the repurchase of games when you change PCs, and that’s the closest cognate to the kind of digital downloads Xbox Live offers. Furthermore, locking two of the system’s core perks – cable tv/Xbox One functionality and the gaming DVR – behind Xbox Live Gold also undermines Microsoft’s goal of making Kinect essential.
Xbox Live Gold isn’t expensive – it’s really just five bucks a month if you purchase a year membership. But if you’re a new Xbox customer who purchased Xbox One because you want to be able to shout “Xbox: TV!” in order to catch the latest episode of “NCIS”, it’s probably going to annoy you that you can’t just, you know, do it. The company’s own description of this feature makes it pretty clear you’re running your cable through your Xbox, and probably not actually using Microsoft servers. Having to pay extra to use something you’re selling the device on, something that appears to be capable of working out of the box, isn’t exactly a stellar marketing technique.
Will Microsoft care? Maybe. Despite the popularity of let’s play videos and walkthroughs, the number of people likely to take advantage of the built-in DVR is not knowable, but I’ll bet it’s a tiny fraction of total customers. Microsoft may eventually decide the extra money they make from curious gamers who don’t already subscribe to XBL will be tiny, and make some DVR functionality accessible out of the box.
As for Cable TV/Kinect functionality, lumping that in with Xbox Live does at least superficially make it look more competitive with Playstation Plus, a service that provides a huge number of free AAA Games. Yeah, it still feels like a rip off, but you can bet Microsoft will eventually get around to confirming that everyone who buys a new Xbox One will get a free month of Xbox Live Gold, and that’ll be that.
Verdict: probability of DVR reversal is Medium.
Verdict: probability of Cable TV reversal is Low.
But what about Kinect?
Microsoft has already backtracked on the device once – might they go the whole distance and sell Kinect-free Xbox Ones? They clearly don’t want to. Kinect is at the heart of the Xbox One experience, so the company has insisted from the moment the system was unveiled. But Microsoft may face financial pressure far more convincing than any complaints from customers.
Xbox One’s $499.99 price is probably a loss for Microsoft, but it’s still a bit steep, especially compared Playstation 4, which is exactly $100 cheaper. The two systems are fairly similar, the only significant difference being the bundled Kinect 2 included with every Xbox One. The obvious conclusion is that the extra C-note is the direct result of that bundle.
In any other market, that might not be a huge deal. Kinect provides more stuff to do, and conceivably justifies the higher price. But in the market we actually have, Microsoft has suffered a series of embarrassing PR disasters that has helped make it the public whipping boy of the gamer community. Xbox One’s bigger price tag only seems to be making that problem worse. Don’t believe me? PS4 preorders have sold out entirely in the UK, something Xbox One has not achieved. Meanwhile, Gamestop has just confirmed that customer interest in PS4 is more than double that of Xbox One, and though the company refuses to confirm preorder numbers, it stands to reason they reflect consumer interest.
We’re only two months out and Xbox One is, by all available metrics, still trailing behind PS4. Microsoft may indeed value the two-way conversation it’s having with customers, but all its reversals have likely been made because of internal sales numbers, not specific complaints. Money, dear boy, is the thing that will motivate them, and it’s looking like they’re going to have quite a lot of motivation. The company may wait a bit longer to see how things shake out come launch, but from where we stand now, it’s looking like Playstation 4 has a solid chance of outselling Xbox One at the onset.
Microsoft continues to say it has no plans to release a Kinect-free Xbox One. But the company has already decided to allow people to completely turn the device off. The company may have intense strategic reasons for not wanting to sell a Kinect-free Xbox One, but logistically, it’s a very small step between allowing people to turn Kinect off, and just chucking the thing altogether for lower-priced models.
At this point, it isn’t a question of “if,” only “when”. My guess is very, very soon.
Verdict: probability of Kinect reversal is High, Almost guaranteed.