Imagine working on a video game day in and day out for months, maybe even years, which would showcase new technology for the latest Microsoft video game console. This technology was vital to the company because it would set the console apart from its competition. It was the centerpiece that the company hitched its horse to and there was no turning back. That is, until sales lagged too far behind the competition. The seemingly inevitable decision had to be made, and with a new CEO in place, they abandoned that technology.
On May 13, 2014, Microsoft bit the bullet and announced that the Xbox One console would be sold without the Kinect motion sensor for $399, a hundred dollars less than the Kinect-bundled console. Even though the Xbox One was selling far more than anyone would have expected to this point, the PlayStation 4 was still outselling it by a large margin.
“Oh, great. Super great,” said Harmonix Director of Publishing and PR John Drake on Twitter right after Microsoft’s announcement.
“Oh, good,” was Harmonix publicist Nick Chester’s response, also on Twitter.
These were gut reactions to the news, because Harmonix was hard at work on the one game that would’ve justified the Kinect as an essential gaming device, “Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved.”
Microsoft literally ripped the rug right out from under them and this showcase game. Yes, there are reportedly more than 5 million Xbox One consoles sold with the Kinect. Even if 20 percent of those Xbox One owners bought Disney Fantasia or the just announced “Dance Central Spotlight,” it would likely be considered a success. In all likelihood, those games won’t sell that well and Microsoft has submarined chances of boosting sales by removing the Kinect well before either of those games release.
The original Kinect for Xbox 360 was a surprising success, selling more than 24 million units. But Microsoft—and Sony with its on PlayStation Move—were riding the coattails of motion control fever thanks to the Nintendo Wii. By the end of the last console generation, gamers simply weren’t interested in motion control games anymore. The Wii had become a wasteland with very few games releasing, something that has continued on through the Wii U console and Sony all but abandoned the PlayStation Move for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4.
Harmonix even laid off employees because of the shift in development plans affected by the Kinect-less Xbox One. Rare, makers of “Kinect Sports Rivals” also laid off employees because of poor sales and the Kinect changes. Harmonix did give a more official response after the initial shock of the news stating, “As game makers, this platform change doesn’t affect our strategy — it reinforces that we must continue to focus on building innovative, compelling and well-designed motion experiences to motivate consumers to buy our games.”
Microsoft had to make a move that would allow the Xbox One to compete with Sony’s PlayStation 4, despite the fact the decision threw developers like Harmonix and Rare under the bus. Harmonix will have to work even harder to justify the Kinect-based games in development.
“Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved” and “Dance Central Spotlight” will release, and no one will care because they’re attached to a device very few wanted in the first place.
Reach the reporter at Michael.Jerome.Martin@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter at @Bizarro_Mike