In an interview with Ars Technica, Microsoft’s Head of Xbox Phil Spencer confirmed that efforts to offer a no-Kinect edition of Xbox One started as soon as he joined the Xbox team five weeks ago and that today’s announcement comes from the nothing was intended to “bring the product and choice to consumers as quickly as possible.”
Starting June 9, Xbox One consoles without Kinect sensors will retail for $399, cutting the system’s current retail price by $100. (Pre-orders of the new SKU have already gone live with Amazon and Best Buy.) Kinect-powered consoles will continue to be produced, and while Spencer couldn’t confirm what percentage of systems produced will be undocked from Kinect, “we’re building as much of both as possible,” he said. “After a while, [the total percentage] will play as consumers make their decisions.
When questioned about Microsoft’s repeated, stubborn statements in the past about Kinect being an essential part of the Xbox One, Spencer countered that consumer response turned out to be more important. “We put thousands of hours into engineering to make voice, gestures and even IR for TV work great, but when a consumer walks into the store, $399 is a point we hear from consumers wanting Xbox,” said Spencer. . “I wanted to make sure players were heard.”
In August, Microsoft announced that the Xbox One would no longer require a constant Kinect connection to function, reversing the system’s original, unpopular plan in the face of privacy complaints. Spencer says it was this long-ago move that triggered today’s announcement.
“When we made that decision last summer, some technical work had to be done on the platform to make sure the box would work without Kinect plugged in, and that made this decision possible,” said Spencer. “It’s been five weeks since I became head of Xbox, and during that time, Yusuf Medhi and I – we now run the program together as partners – and we started spending a lot of time reviewing the list of opportunities ahead of us. ”
That list also included removing the Xbox Live Gold paywall for media apps like Netflix, Hulu, and ESPN, and expanding Xbox 360’s Games for Gold freebie program to Xbox One.
Spencer insisted that Microsoft’s internal Kinect roadmap hasn’t changed, and that the small number of Kinect-heavy games launched or announced to date had no bearing on Xbox’s announcement today. He also mentioned an increase in Kinect-specific activity in Xbox One apps like Skype and Twitch.
“We want to continue to increase the accuracy of the sensor, along with an expansion of international voice modeling and the robustness of skeleton tracking and gesture control,” said Spencer. “We’re working on that with developers who focus on gesture games, because there’s always room for improvement.”
Harmonix, the maker of the Kinect exclusive Dance Central series, offered a statement in support of the decision as work continues on the Kinect-exclusive Xbox One Fantasia: music evolved. “As avid gamers, we’re excited for fans to have more choices,” Harmonix told Ars. “As game makers, this platform change has no impact on our strategy – it reinforces that we must continue to focus on building innovative, immersive and well-designed motion experiences to motivate consumers to buy our games.”
The non-Kinect SKU launches with no wrapped games or download codes, unlike recent Xbox One bundles that include popular games like Fall of the Titans, but Spencer hinted at a “bundle strategy that you’ll see play out between now and the holiday season.” Spencer couldn’t confirm a release date for a standalone Xbox One Kinect, and that includes the previously announced Kinect coming to Windows.
“This decision will give more people a Kinect sensor in the long run,” Spencer said. “Now people can join Xbox One early and add Kinect at a later date.”