Exclusive: Microsoft Has Stopped Manufacturing The Kinect – Co.Design (blog)
Inventor Vs Consumer
“Oh my god. Jesus. There’s my reaction. You can quote me saying, ‘Oh, comma, shit, period.’”
That’s Golan Levin, director of the esteemed Studio for Creative Inquiry at CMU, when I broke the news that Kinect is being discontinued. His lab, and others like his, use Kinect for everything from experimental art, to creating next generation UI prototypes. It’s been a vital tool to the greater research community.
“You know, we’re all at the whim of capital. And there’s no expectation that Microsoft should do something that doesn’t support their bottom line,” he continues, choosing the words of his swallowed rant very carefully. “But this is one of those times I’m sad to hear that a tool which is used for so many different applications, and is so ubiquitous, and has served crucially as a platform for so much creative experimentation, cultural progress, and secondary innovation, in so many different fields, isn’t supporting their core business.”
“Someone has made the decision that there aren’t enough games being sold that use it and it’s a shame,” he concludes. To at least some extent, that’s true.
If there’s one thing that went wrong with Kinect as a market success, you might call it “gamers.” While the device certainly had its functional flaws, including lag and occasional trouble hearing the user–it caught quick traction as an Xbox 360 accessory. The amazing games, however, never really arrived on the 360. There was no franchise with a $100 million budget developed for the Kinect, like a Call of Duty, or a Grand Theft Auto. In turn, Microsoft seems to have formulated a sensible plan. To ensure it was worthwhile for developers to invest heavily into Kinect games, it doubled down on Kinect, bundling it in every Xbox One it sold. That would ensure a larger market. However, Microsoft would also design the Xbox One to reserve a small part of its RAM and processing power, at all times, for the Kinect itself–meaning game developers couldn’t tap those resources for their own graphics and physics.
As the Xbox One was announced, it promised a living room computer that could control your games, cable box, and even, one day, your entire home, in a combination of spoken words and gestures that would be accessible to anyone. Amid innovative UI, Sony strategized the perfect counterpunch. On stage, at the E3 gaming convention just three weeks after the Xbox One’s announcement, then-CEO Jack Tretton delivered a borderline quiet speech, stating in a slow cadence that Sony “focused what gamers want most . . . for instance, PS4 won’t impose any new restrictions on the use of–” The discernibility of the quote cuts out there because the crowd is cheering so loud, knowing that the full system resources of the PS4 would be made available to developers. Tretton then hit on other concerns about the Xbox One, promising that Sony was a gamer’s first company, and announced a lower price for the PS4. Those sentiments echoed through message boards like Reddit, becoming something of a rallying cry to self-ascribed “hardcore gamers.” Years later, the PS4 is reported to have outsold the Xbox One by a factor of 2:1. And Microsoft, in an attempt to limbo the Xbox One’s price down and get more gaming performance out of its chipset, unbundled the Kinect and freed its dedicated system resources. The Kinect was no longer a mandatory purchase with the Xbox, diminishing any guaranteed market for Kinect game developers.