Microsoft made three big Xbox One announcements Tuesday, revealing that the company will launch a $399 version of the console without the Kinect motion sensor, that the popular Games with Gold program will expanded to include Xbox One games, and that entertainment apps like Netflix will no longer require an Xbox Live Gold subscription. All changes will launch in June.
Xbox chief Phil Spencer made the announcement via the official Xbox Wire blog:
We’re pleased to bring Games with Gold to Xbox Live Gold members on Xbox One in June. Members will have subscription-based access to free games ranging from top hits to breaking indie stars. The program will launch on Xbox One with “Max: The Curse of Brotherhood” and “Halo: Spartan Assault.” A single Gold membership will get you access to the free games for both Xbox One and Xbox 360.
We’ve heard that you want more choices from Xbox One. You want a wide variety of options in your games and entertainment experiences and you also want options in your hardware selection.
If you buy Xbox One for $399 and later decide you want to have all the experiences Kinect enables, we will also offer a standalone sensor for Xbox One later this fall. We’ll share more details about the standalone Kinect for Xbox One in the coming months.
The introduction of a Kinect-free Xbox One may come as a surprise to some, but the move will put at least one version of the console on par with the price of Sony’s PS4, which has thus far significantly outsold Microsoft’s flagship console. While the Kinect “remains an important part of [Microsoft’s] vision,” strong sales of the $399 Xbox One could spell doom for the motion and voice sensor, as developers would no longer be able to count on every end user having access to the hardware.
The language used by Mr. Spencer while discussing the expansion of Games with Gold to the Xbox One has also drawn concerns. Mr. Spencer cites “subscription-based access” to the program’s free games, suggesting that gamers will lose access to Games with Gold titles once their subscription expires, similar to how Sony operates its PlayStation Plus program. This contrasts with the Xbox 360 Games with Gold program, in which gamers retain full access to all games once their Xbox Live Gold subscription ends.
Regardless, everyone is happy to see the decoupling of Xbox Live Gold and the console’s entertainment apps. Starting with the Xbox 360, gamers had to maintain their $60 per year Xbox Live Gold subscription in order to even access entertainment apps like Netflix, on top of the standard Netflix fee. Now, thankfully, such an odd requirement will soon no longer be necessary.