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Dis-Kinect-ed

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By Nelson Schneider - 05/18/14 at 02:00 PM CT

Half a year after its launch, and the Xbox One will be losing a limb. Specifically, Microsoft has decided to release a version of their latest unnecessary console without its only differentiating gimmick: the Kinect 2.0. On June 9th, those wanting to get XBONE’d will be able to purchase the console for $100 less and with 100% less paranoia about being watched and wiretapped by the Kinect’s always-on camera and microphone.

But what is Microsoft really accomplishing with such a move? In the 7th Generation, the original Kinect was the Xbox 360’s only truly novel feature, and it never really had a chance to show what it was capable of in the hands of a development team interested in creating a better experience than a “WiiSports” knock-off or an endless stream of inane dance games. The Kinect had the potential to open up a whole new type of interface – “Minority Report” style – to enhance the capabilities of an existing controller instead of supplanting the traditional interface completely in favor of vague and unresponsive gesturing.

My take on this whole situation has remained consistent. Microsoft doesn’t know what it’s doing when it comes to consoles. The Kinect was a great idea, but primarily as a PC interface device, NOT a console interface device. When MS made noise early in the original Kinect’s lifespan about opening up development on Windows and providing official drivers, I got so excited I went out and bought a Kinect almost immediately… Yet the damned thing is still in its box with the seals intact because MS never delivered on their promises of Kinect for Windows support, instead leaving the device in a lurch with only a handful of impractical tech demos to serve as its epitaph.

Making the Kinect 2.0 a mandatory pack-in with the XBONE provided a consistent target, and developers could experiment with meaningful Kinect-enabled features with impunity, knowing that every XBONE owner would have access to the same hardware. Now the Kinect is being damned to the same existential limbo as the PlayStation Move and Wii Balance Board, leaving even the most lunatic fringe developers little reason to consider the device when creating a new game.

Of course, if you think about it, MS removing pack-in Kinects from XBONE boxes has little to do with the device’s failure. The thing that has doomed the Kinect (and those other optional controllers I just mentioned) is the overwhelming preponderance of multi-platform “AAA” games. If a developer is going to spend millions of dollars working on a game that their publisher insists makes even more millions of dollars in profit, it has to run on every platform possible. And if a game is to run on every platform possible, wasting more time and development money on implementing platform-specific gimmicks (like the Kinect, PS Move, or even the WiiU Gamepad) is out of the question. And in a closed, DRM-locked console environment, unlike the relatively open environment offered by Windows and *shudder* Linux, gamers and hackers can’t even cobble together the means to force compatibility with a specific hardware gimmick.

In the end, nobody who cares about the XBONE will shed a single tear over the loss of the Kinect, as the Kinect was an ill fit for the console environment. Instead, PC gamers should be lamenting the loss of Microsoft’s focus on making Windows the best gaming OS possible. With fully-realized Windows drivers and a polished piece of configuration software, Kinect could have stood alongside such innovative PC interface hardware as the upcoming STEM and Oculus Rift. Novice coders and hackers could come up with novel uses for the Kinect’s unique features and brute-force them into existing PC games, thus providing budget-restrained “AAA” developers a template to follow in ‘adding’ (read: ‘copying’) innovations of their own. Microsoft desperately needs to double-down on their efforts to keep Windows in the position of top gaming OS, and abandoning Kinect on the XBONE might finally give them the opportunity to deliver the Kinect on Windows support they teased years ago.

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