[NOTE] This article is written as a response to an OF article from earlier in the week: Xbox One to not require Kinect Sensor; New Pricing to Follow. I encourage you to read it in its entirety. -MD
Microsoft revealed earlier this week that they will be removing the requirement of a Kinect in order to operate their new Xbox console. This is just the latest step in the frantic, back pedaling embarrassment that has been the Xbox One’s announcement and pre-release period.
A fellow O&F contributor described this recent development as being symptomatic of a greater problem within Microsoft: fear. This is accurate and appropriate — any organization or person should be seized by fear when there are pitchforks and torches at the door.
Unfortunately, this is where our viewpoints diverge. The rest of the article developed into a defense of Microsoft and displayed a willfully blind futurism that could only have its roots in tragic, helpless fanboyism.
Rotten to the core
Since the Xbox One’s announcement earlier this year, Microsoft has found itself drowning in a sea of bad press. This is not an issue of miscommunication or poor marketing. This is an issue of the company’s decision to try and leverage the momentum built with the Xbox 360 in order to introduce a comprehensively anti-consumer device. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and review the future that the Xbone tried to forge.
Never not connected
The Xbone required that the console “check-in” with Microsoft once every 24 hours via the internet. Fail this check-in, and the system was incapable of playing games. Requiring internet is unreasonable in its own right. For any useful function of internet access, consumers already have to pay Microsoft a fee in the form of Xbox Live. To then require people unsubscribed from Xbox Live who don’t benefit from the internet to remain connected is completely artificial. The check-in serves as DRM, as well as making sure up-to-date ads are always present on your dashboard, even if you’re not on Xbox Live. Both of these functions are exclusively for the benefit of the company and add zero value to consumers.
This also represents a larger problem. Microsoft does not trust any of its consumers to not pirate its games. Unfortunately for Microsoft, pirates will always create work-arounds for DRM, meaning that this does little to stop pirates and serves only to inconvenience or harm legitimate customers.
The Xbone was slated to implement an ownership system on physical games, tying them to a single account that is tied to a single console. This meant no more borrowing games from friends, no more renting them from Blockbuster (R.I.P.) or RedBox. Ownership could change hands one time for free. Any additional swapping would be charged, meaning you could expect a spike in used game prices. Microsoft is so untrusting and greedy that they would rather withhold your ability to bring Halo to a friend’s house for split-screen than risk a lost sale.
Never not Kinected
Until last week, having the Kinect peripheral plugged in and turned on at all times was a requirement for using the Xbone. Framing this as a device that “adds depth” to the user experience is cute and cool, but dishonest. Historically, the Kinect has never been a valuable interface for anything other than bargain-bin shovelware made for children, and there is not yet substantial evidence to suggest that this will change.
I can certainly see the Kinect developing into a legitimate genre of gaming, I’m not close-minded to that kind of change, but trying to force voice and motion control into my traditional gaming experience is like saying “hey, we know you like playing soccer with your feet, so we’re gonna make you play with your hands.” They are separate control schemes for separate types of gaming, and until the Kinect proves itself as a meaningfully useful new genre of gaming, it will continue to be just another bullet point in the “expensive and necessary peripherals” business model of the Xbox.
The 1984 Factor
My colleague’s decision to ignore the potential for government abuse of the Kinect is the most dishonest and infuriating portion of his piece. Microsoft has been one of the more willingly complicit companies when it comes to doling out private information to the NSA. Microsoft gave them access to Outlook chat and messages, as well as Skype calls. What on earth makes you think that the government would pass up a free, always-on eyeball and ear in the living room?
My colleague wrote: “the tinfoil hats come out at the thought of “Big Brother” breaking in an destroying your way of life as you know it because they can see that you are watching Breaking Bad while tweeting about your disdain for Bright House Cable’s lack of wideband support in your area.”
When you frame your life as a wholly mundane stream of occurrences, then it’s probably easy to not care about the Kinect’s surveillance potential. But guess what? I don’t just watch TV in my living room. I don’t just complain about my cable provider in my living room. The living room is, weirdly enough, one of the primary places that I live life. It’s where I sometimes have heart to heart conversations with my friends. It’s where I’ve had heated debates about government policy. It’s where I’ve gossiped gossip that could lose me friends. It’s where I’ve made inappropriate jokes. It’s where I’ve laughed and it’s where I’ve cried and sobbed into a friend’s shoulder. It’s where I’ve gotten drunk and said stuff I don’t mean. It’s where I’ve walked around naked. It’s where I sometimes have sex on the couch. Your life might consist of metaphorically jerking off in a corner in perpetuity, but I actually live a private life that I would like to remain private. Pretending this is not relevant in light of the ever-expanding Snowden/NSA scandal lacks understanding and empathy regarding the paradigm-shifting events that are occurring right now.
Just don’t buy it
If the original presentation of Xbox One is the future, I don’t want the future. However, I will consider the future of the Xbox One that has been dragged, kicking and screaming, into basic consideration of its customers. Every step of the way, Microsoft has done nothing more than attempt to redefine the consumer experience in ways that were clearly artificial and exclusively in their self-interest.
Microsoft is still back pedaling. They’re still trying to make things right. They want to keep you in play for the next time they try this. Don’t let them. They’ve shown their hand and what they want. They’ve shown you what they think of you. Your best bet is to go buy a PS4 and stick with Sony until they decide to try and betray you too.
As always, comment your thoughts or get at me @TyroWordsmith or @The_OnceFuture