In the leadup to the Xbox One’s launch in November, Microsoft made a number of crazy decisions. They were to require an online connection to use the console, with a check in to Microsoft HQ every 24 hours. Games were going to be tied to accounts, making it almost impossible to lend them to friends or sell them used. They were going to require that a Kinect be attached to the Xbox One for it to function properly. Sony saw the controversy arising from those plans and took up the initiative, delivering a cheaper console without restrictions that resonated with gamers everywhere. Since then, Microsoft has altered or gone back on all of their plans, but there was one last remnant from the DRM era. The Kinect was still bundled with the system, pushing the price up to $100 above Sony’s PS4. Today, that last supposed barrier to entry has been destroyed.
Microsoft came out with the news, including an apologetic video message, that they will be releasing a version of the Xbox One without Kinect for $400. They also announced that users will no longer have to have Xbox Live Gold to use pay services like Netflix or HBO Go, and they upgraded their Games with Gold service. New free games include Dark Souls, Charlie Murder, and Super Street Fighter 4 Arcade Edition, and the service will expand onto Xbox One games this holiday. The trade off for more recent games appearing on the service is that they will become nonfunctional if your Gold subscription lapses, which makes the system work exactly like Sony’s PlayStation Plus.
The last six months have not been kind to Microsoft. Some consumers outside of the gaming enthusiast space are still under the impression that Microsoft’s console is a DRM-infused nightmare, and Sony has continually outsold Microsoft even amidst the blockbuster release of Titanfall. I give Microsoft credit for being a more nimble company than Sony was in 2006 when this was all happening to them, and I hope their marketing team is ready to dispel even more confusion in the marketplace about what is and isn’t possible on their console. Microsoft’s upcoming E3 presentation in June now seems more like a system relaunch than anything, and we shall see if they have enough tricks up their sleeves to catch up with the PS4 hype train.