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Microsoft thinks it knows why consumers are choosing the PlayStation 4 over the Xbox One, and it’s addressing this problem with a new version of the box.
An Xbox One without the Kinect camera will go on sale June 9 for $399. The company will continue to sell the $499 version with the peripheral. This brings the Xbox One in line with the PlayStation 4 in terms of price in the multibillion dollar home console war. It also brings the future of the Kinect into question as many developers may avoid implementing motion-control features since many potential customers won’t have the necessary hardware.
“Your feedback matters to us, and it shapes the products and services we build,” Xbox boss Phil Spencer wrote in a blog post. “Your feedback showed up in the Xbox One console we launched back in November and in the monthly updates we’ve delivered since. Today, we’re excited to share more ways your feedback is impacting the products we build.”
Improvements and additions are also coming to Xbox Live, Microsoft’s $10-a-month premium multiplayer service. Members of that program will start to get free games as the company introduces its Games with Gold promotion starting in June. Games with Gold will offer up one or two releases at no additional cost on a monthly rotation starting with physics puzzler Max: The Curse of Brotherhood and shooter Halo: Spartan Assault next month.
Microsoft began giving “free” games to its premium members on Xbox 360, but the system won’t work the same way on Xbox One. For example, customers on Xbox 360 could keep their free games without losing access to them after canceling their Gold subscription. On Xbox One, players must have an ongoing Gold membership to access the free releases. Microsoft marketing chief Yusuf Mehdi told GamesBeat that this model enables the Xbox team to offer better terms (likely more money) to third-party publishers, which means Xbox One’s Games with Gold will potentially have more-recent games than the service did on the Xbox 360.
Spencer also detailed how Xbox Live Gold members can also get special discounts, which is another feature that wasn’t previously available on Xbox One. Deals with Gold will save members between 50 percent and 75 percent on select games that will pop up over the next few months. In June, gamers can get Forza Motorsport 5 and Ryse: Son of Rome at a deep discount as part of this promotion.
Finally, as rumored this morning, Microsoft is removing the Gold requirement to access Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, and other third-party video apps on Xbox One and Xbox 360.
“We’ve heard that you want more choices from Xbox One,” Spencer wrote. “You want a wide variety of options in your games and entertainment experiences, and you also want options in your hardware selection.”
While this move feels like Microsoft is abandoning the Kinect, the Xbox boss did claim he still supports it.
“To be clear, as we introduce this new Xbox One console option, Kinect remains an important part of our vision,” Spencer said. “Many of you are using Kinect for Xbox One every day. In fact, more than 80 percent of you are actively using Kinect, with an average of 120 voice commands per month on each console.”
These moves come weeks after Spencer took over the Xbox division. He filled in a vacancy left when Don Mattrick joined social-game publisher Zynga last year.
As Spencer took over, he promised to deliver more of what gamers were clamoring for, and today’s maneuvers seem to reflect that. These changes are also part of Microsoft’s efforts to keep up with PlayStation 4. Sony’s latest home console has outsold the Xbox One largely due to public perception and its price. Since November, Sony has sold 7 million PS4s, while Microsoft has only shipped 5 million Xbox Ones to retailers (which means it has sold even less to consumers).
In March, Microsoft saw a boost in sales due to the release of the anticipated shooter Titanfall from publisher Electronic Arts, but the PS4 still outsold the Xbox One.
June 9, the first day of availability for the $399 Xbox One, is the day before the Electronic Entertainment Expo trade show starts. That morning, Microsoft will give a media presentation of its new games and features.