I have never been much of a “gamer” in all that the moniker implies. I’ve never owned a gaming PC, paid much of any attention to anyone’s Twitch stream or gaming YouTube channel and have only recently become aware of the professional gaming series that are gaining in popularity.
My penultimate console purchase was the PS3 and for a great while I thought that would be my very last.
For me that PS3 purchase was not one fraught with buyer’s remorse but one where I never could shake the feeling that I didn’t get the most out of my investment. The shine of sitting down with friends and playing games together was mostly gone as everyone had moved on to playing online and much to my chagrin many of them (which is to say nearly all) had opted for Xbox 360. Sadly this was long before Game of Thrones so my experience lacked much of the pageantry of the “Console Wars” satirized by South Park.
I’d often go months at a time without turning on the system and that experience made it easy to say that I was just done with video games – buying a new system when it came out seemed entirely frivolous.
But when the Xbox One was announced my jaded demeanor quickly began to fade, conquered by the allure of the Kinect. Well more specifically it was the combination of the Kinect with Xbox’s multimedia integration that piqued my interest. The prospect of turning on my television moving from cable to Netflix, pausing my show to start it again all without ever picking up my controller was compelling to me. I had some friends who wanted the new system and I looked forward to playing with them online but in my mind the worst case scenario even if that didn’t pan out I’d get all the use from the voice command function.
And boy did I – and still do today. I play a number of games online a couple times a week but I use my Kinect (specifically voice command) everyday and to this day am happy with my Xbox purchase because of it.
So for me the announcement earlier this week that Microsoft will be discontinuing the Kinect was one met with disappointment. Now to be fair, I understand Microsoft’s reasons for doing this – at least given the constraints of how they went to market with it initially. Most everyone knows the story but the TL:DR version goes something along the lines of a sluggish initial launch attributed mostly to a (perhaps) inflated price driven by the Kinect. A later decoupling with requisite price drop saw a boost in sales and emergence of a hardware scapegoat - the superfluous Kinect - emerged. Microsoft had its boogie man and the fate of the Kinect, an unceremonious trudge to technical irrelevance began.
Now I am not here to make a rallying cry for the Kinect or lament its passing (ok maybe the second part a little) at least not in its current incarnation. But I would argue that parts of it should live on – specifically the voice command functionality.
The voice command is what keeps me coming back. It is what keeps me running my cable connection through my Xbox, its what 90% of the time makes me say “Xbox on” and what to this day keeps me happy with my purchase. I’ve glossed over new Xbox systems like the X without even a passing interest. The power is impressive sure but it doesn’t compel me the way the Xbox One did.
To reach the intersection of people like me who enjoy hopping on for a game or two with friends but are no means gamers Microsoft needs a differentiator going forward. The Kinect won’t be it but maybe a scaled down version of it can be. I don’t need the motion sensor or facial recognition but a simple microphone (not connected to a headset) would be enough for me, and I suspect for many people like me as well. Now Microsoft has its internal numbers and it knows its market, maybe appealing just to gamers and the demographics that would just buy any new system as it comes out is the way to go. But I suspect it doesn’t have to be an either or scenario and that small compromise would be the way to keep me going forward.
So the Kinect is dead but hopefully part of it can live on. I have my doubts that it will but it would be enough to keep me coming back.