A Kinect-less Xbox One Signals the Death of Motion Gaming

During a brief eight years, gamers were introduced to a bizarre new trend that turned the entire gaming culture on its head. While we’ve experienced the love of a tried-and-true NES controller and the complexity of a PS2 Dualshock 2, 2006 marked the world’s fascination with motion controls. The idea of removing the analog sticks and buttons by putting full-body motion into gaming was something that caught everyone off guard, including the non-gaming audience. From the Wii Remote to the Move to the Kinect, motion gaming became an inescapable feature for consoles in the seventh generation of consoles. But as the generation died down, so did the enthusiasm for motion controls. But the remnants of this concept loomed on, still appearing in Microsoft’s Xbox One system. But that all changed.

Microsoft’s debut of a Kinect-less Xbox One cuts the ties that motion controls had to the current generation of gaming, ultimately conceding to the world that the waving of wands and flailing of arms simply isn’t worth anyone’s time or money anymore.

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While motion controls technically weren’t anything too new, the Nintendo Wii remains the major pinnacle of the modern market’s fascination with them. Nintendo scrapped the idea of a complicated main controller with the Wii Remote, a motion-controlled wand that, in addition to traditional buttons, served to simulate the motions used to make certain actions like swinging a sword or rolling a ball. Early on, the Wii Remote got a surprisingly large amount of praise. In passing on traditional controllers, the Wii Remote provided a novelty, a curiosity not just for gamers, but for non-gamers. The Wii system debuted in 2006 and North American gamers could receive Wii Sports bundled with the system. Wii Sports was a pinnacle argument for using motion controls well, and even at the end of the console’s lifespan, Wii Sports remained one of the top-selling games on the system in addition to a shining example of motion controls done right.

After the success of the Wii, Nintendo’s competitors Sony and Microsoft wanted to catch the same fish that Nintendo did. However, the two brawling companies approached the motion control interest in different ways. Sony played the more direct challenge with the Move controller, which provided 1-to-1 motion controls for the Playstation 3. The Move debuted lacklusterly, with an unappealing library of Move-specific games and shoehorned features into bigger games like Killzone 3 and Bioshock Infinite. The device itself worked well enough, but the way Sony tried to push the Move into their AAA library simply showed the inferiority to playing a first-person shooter with a traditional controller. The Move came and went extremely quickly (along with game support), and while it’s said to make a comeback with the Playstation 4 and its camera, it is a very brief and forgettable footnote in the Playstation 3’s success story.

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Microsoft’s answer to the Wii Remote was something much more ambitious: the Kinect. When the Xbox 360’s motion-tracking camera debuted as Project Natal, it struck a chord with the masses, providing a controller-less gaming environment. The camera tracked body movement and could use that tracking to control characters in game. Natal promised a sense of immense immersion, one that Microsoft’s competitors could simply not achieve. It became a hot topic for gamers and techheads alike, making Nintendo and Sony’s efforts in motion control look archaic. But once the system launched under the title Kinect, gamers were introduced to a promising new device for gaming…along with the device’s obvious flaws. The Kinect, as ambitious as it was, was a technically imprecise tool. Its motion tracking capabilities lacked polish, causing many actions to be misread. While the successes appeared in Harmonix’s Dance Central series and Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s experimental rhythm game Child of Eden, the Kinect turned promising games like Fighters Uncaged, Sonic Free Riders, and the rock-bottom Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor into colossal messes. Even Microsoft’s in-house games like Kinect Adventures did little to flaunt the device’s strengths, and combined with a hefty launch price of $149, the device’s hype faded quickly.

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But Microsoft pressed on with the Kinect. For the Xbox 360’s successor, the Xbox One, Kinect 2.0 was called “integral” to the system itself, being bundled with every Xbox One system. The second iteration was said to be a heavy technical improvement over the first. Microsoft pushed Kinect 2.0 hard, but that also meant raising the Xbox One’s price tag to $499, a full hundred over its immediate competitor, the Playstation 4. The Kinect 2.0 suffered from many of the same support issues that the original did. Games built specifically for Kinect were few and usually of poor quality, like the maligned Fighter Within, and integrating the device with other Xbox One games proved to be as problematic as both the Kinect 1.0 and the Playstation Move. In May 2014, despite their unquestionably high effort to express its integral nature, Microsoft cut the Kinect cord and announced a Kinect-free Xbox One bundle at $399, matching the PS4 price point.

Going through the history of the modern motion control boom reveals the concept’s flash-in-the-pan feature. Motion controls came and went incredibly quickly. It’s easy to cite this interest with the fickle nature of the non-gaming crowd, and in a way, that serves truth. By the end of the previous generation of systems, motion controls had already run their course. The PS3 had all but abandoned Move and the Nintendo Wii’s last lines of longevity came from less motion-intensive games like the Operation Rainfall trilogy (though Zelda: Skyward Sword could combat that thought). But surprisingly, Microsoft held onto the value of motion controls the most, with Kinect becoming a focal point for their gaming ideology. While Nintendo and Sony were looking toward the future in different ways, Microsoft still found value in Kinect, even after the reputation of the device fell quickly.

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But even that could be argued against. The Kinect 2.0 wasn’t pushed as a motion control device nearly as much as the Kinect 1.0 was. Microsoft’s vision of creating a central entertainment hub with the Xbox One didn’t have room for Minority Report-style motion gestures, instead sticking to voice commands. Sure, there were launch games built for Kinect, but compared to the Kinect 1.0’s debut, there weren’t nearly as much. Kinect 2.0 was pushed more as a navigation and communication tool than a futuristic game control mechanism, a stark contrast to how Microsoft pushed Kinect 1.0. And the motion gaming potential of Kinect is at a dangerously low point. As of the time of this article’s publication, a lone nine released/announced Xbox One games require Kinect to function. Nine. Out of more than 150 games released or planned for release on the system, only nine consider the Kinect 2.0 an important enough feature to require control via the device. That’s a very small amount.

And with the Kinect 2.0 no longer being essential to the Xbox One, that number isn’t likely to grow. The Xbox One install base will no longer be 100% Kinect owners, leaving companies looking to make Kinect-focused games in a statistically risky situation. The device isn’t going to be as prominent a component to developers anymore since the chance of Xbox One owners not having a Kinect is going to rise exponentially. Support is likely to fall and the Kinect’s potential as a gaming device is going to be drained entirely. While other games on the system (ones that don’t require Kinect) are likely to flourish on Xbox One, Kinect games are going to dive into obscurity at an alarming rate.

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When all of this comes together, the last bastion of motion control potential, Microsoft, isn’t likely to keep that train going. It’ll eventually stop running and set its sights on another big advance. Nintendo’s venture into second-screen gaming and Sony’s push toward virtual reality contrast Microsoft’s efforts to keep motion gaming going. Microsoft were clinging to this old fad, which is ironic considering that the Kinect was supposedly “the future of gaming” at launch. Sure, we have the remnants of motion gaming with the Nintendo Wii U’s backwards compatibility with Wii Remotes and Sony’s potential for the Move’s revival, but with a Kinect-less Xbox One, any trace of motion controls having a strong presence in the current gaming world is lost.

We’ve witnessed the rise and fall of a gaming buzz that caught everyone’s eye, but the third of the three main console makers has conceded to the buzz’s lack of longevity and admitted that no one really cares about them now. Motion controls, for all that they’ve done, are just not worth investigating anymore.