3 Ways Microsoft Has Changed Gears on Xbox One


Let it never be said that Microsoft doesn’t listen to its fans. It’s been a year since the company officially unveiled the Xbox One, but the system they described back then is very different from the newly announced version that will be available on June 9. In its original presentation, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) laid out a bold vision for what the future of gaming would look like. Over the past year, many of the console’s unique features have been chipped away due to complaints from fans. Here are three ways the new Xbox One differs from Microsoft’s original vision.

1. A Kinect with every system

The biggest overhaul is that Microsoft will begin selling a $400 Xbox One that comes without the Kinect peripheral. To date, all Xbox Ones have come packaged with a Kinect that lets customers control some games and apps using gestures and voice commands.

For the past year, Microsoft has told developers that they could count on every Xbox One having a Kinect attached to it and to plan their development accordingly. This new Kinect-free version of the Xbox One is sure to raise the ire of any developer currently making software that requires a Kinect.

There’s little doubt as to why Microsoft had to cut the Kinect loose: Sales of the Xbox One have fallen behind the PlayStation 4, and many analysts blame the $100 price difference between the two systems. Now that a version of Xbox One is available at the same price as the PlayStation 4, Microsoft hopes its sales will catch up to Sony’s.

2. Always online

Another announced feature of the Xbox One was an “always-on” Internet connection. This served two purposes. First, every Xbox would authenticate the licenses for the games played on it. If the console was unable to connect to the Internet for 24 hours, you wouldn’t be able to play any games. This would benefit Microsoft by making it more difficult for users to pirate software, but players took great offense to this requirement.

Another potential benefit of a constant Internet connection was that it would enable the Kinect to keep its “ears” open and be able to respond to your commands whether the console was powered on or not. Once again, many fans reacted negatively to this. They didn’t want a high-tech sensor in their house that was constantly listening to every word uttered and, because the Kinect has a video camera on it, potentially seeing everything that occurred in the room.

A week after Microsoft’s presentation at the 2013 Electronic Entertainment Expo, the company said in a blog post that they were ditching the “always-online” requirement.

3. Digital-only games

In Microsoft’s original vision for the system, every game would have to be installed on the console’s hard drive — even games you bought on disc. After that, you wouldn’t need the disc to play the game.

That may sound beneficial to players, but it also allowed Microsoft to put new restrictions on how customers used their games. No longer could they simply go to GameStop to sell an old game, nor could they bring a game over to a friend’s house and play on their Xbox One with no strings attached. Once again, fans reacted negatively, and once again Microsoft relented.

What these reversals point to is a lack of understanding of what fans want on Microsoft’s part. Meanwhile, Sony announced and released the PlayStation 4 to almost zero fan outcry. Part of that is because its new system is basically a more powerful version of its predecessor, but it’s also due to Sony knowing what its fans want and delivering it. Microsoft seems to be getting the message from its fans, but it has been a long road to get here.

Earlier, we made a case for why Microsoft needs to make the Xbox more Netflix-friendly. Here’s a recap from our previous article: 

The new generation of gaming consoles is only 6 months old, but so far Microsoft has come up short against Sony (NYSE:SNE). The company wants to sell more Xbox One consoles, and to do that it will need to identify and remove as many obvious barriers as it can. One barrier Microsoft is on the verge of zapping, according to ArsTechnica, is the requirement to have a paid Xbox Live Gold account in order to watch content from Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), Hulu, and other media streaming apps on the Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

An Xbox Live Gold account costs $60 per year and is aimed primarily at gamers. By subscribing to the service, Gold members can play their games online,and download free games each month. Currently, though, Microsoft also locks Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services behind the Gold paywall. The trouble for Microsoft is that neither Nintendo nor Sony require a paid account to access these video streaming services. So if a Netflix customer is looking to purchase a device to plug into his or her TV to watch content on, all things being equal, that person is more likely to pick a PlayStation 4 or Wii U. Other streaming media boxes, like the Roku and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) Fire TV, also charge no additional fees for these features.

On the plus side for Microsoft, of course, is that it’s currently getting extra revenue from anyone who pays for a Gold membership to watch streaming media content, so it will be interesting to see how this decision — assuming it goes into effect — plays out.

Since the company would lose revenue from this decision, Microsoft probably has plans to make up the difference. One way it could recoup its losses would be to lock other services behind the Gold paywall, although that would seem counterproductive. It’s more likely that Microsoft will add new benefits to being a Gold subscriber.

For a while now, Microsoft has been planning to produce original programming specifically to be delivered through Xbox consoles. Like Netflix’s House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, these shows would be designed to appeal to a variety of audiences, although gamers would likely be the audience they’d target most. So far, Microsoft has announced a number of original series.

One is a reality show called Fearless, in which an Australian Navy Seal will travel around, finding and performing some of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Another, called Extraordinary Believers, is a stop-motion-meets-live-action show from the makers of Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken about characters from the Middle Ages trying to escape modern-day Los Angeles. Additionally, Microsoft plans to release series based on video games, including a Halo series and a Deadlands series.

Microsoft hasn’t announced how customers will access these shows yet, but one option would be to make them available only to people with an Xbox Live Gold account. After all, that’s how Amazon distributes its original programming — only subscribers to Amazon Prime can access those shows. Whether Microsoft’s shows will generate enough interest for the service to cover any losses from the Netflix and Hulu crowd remains to be seen.

All of this currently remains in the rumor stage. According to ArsTechnica, “multiple sources within Microsoft” have been clued in on this information based on the company’s planned announcements for its keynote presentation on June 9 at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Plans could change, but it sounds like a wise move on Microsoft’s part if it wants to entice more non-gamers to buy Xbox One consoles. Microsoft has yet to comment on the story.

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