Guardians of the Xbox Division

Microsoft surprised a number of people when they announced that customers will soon have the option of purchasing an Xbox One without Kinect last week, reducing the price by $100 for anyone who doesn’t want the attachment. That the option will be offered isn’t a surprise. In fact, you could see it coming a mile away, with how the system was being outsold by Sony’s Playstation 4 in territories where both consoles have released. It also hasn’t made as much of an impact as the company expected, with a number of potential buyers ignoring it in favor of the competition. What’s surprising is how it’s happening this soon, a little over five months after the console’s launch in late-November. The announcement’s timing was also curious, considering we’re almost exactly three weeks away from the start of E3 2014.

Interestingly, that’s when this SKU will release: June 9th, when Microsoft will have their live press conference. It’s the kind of announcement they would have made there, surprising everyone by confirming that it’s currently in stores. The existence of it would have undoubtedly been leaked in that case, sure, but it still would have made an impact when they announced it. That, combined with the games they’ll inevitably show and reveal, would prove that Microsoft is serious about making the Xbox One a success — and they’ll sacrifice anything to ensure that.

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That wasn’t the only surprising revelation they had, as one more announcement was made at the end of the week: Halo 5: Guardians for Xbox One. Anyone familiar with Microsoft could have told you a new Halo title was in development, considering it’s the company’s most popular first-party franchise by a mile. They provided the banner posted above, along with some temporary (but probably mostly final) cover art featuring Master Chief and a new male character — despite the rather feminine physique the outfit has. Its existence was revealed in a trailer shown at their E3 conference last year, where they said the game would run in 1080p and at 60fps. Despite it saying it would be ready in 2014, though, it’s not coming until fall 2015. There was little chance that the team at 343 Industries would have a competent game ready two years after Halo 4, so there’s nothing wrong with giving them more time.

Unlike the announcement about the “DisKinected” SKU, Microsoft can still put on an impressive showing for Halo 5 at E3 with gameplay footage, which they plan on showing. But why reveal this now when they’re having a conference in three weeks? That question can be answered upon looking at their console’s sales in North America, which they confirmed when the NPD released its report on video game sales in April. Their statement said the console only sold 115,000 in April, making it the second best-selling console behind the PS4. That’s also a low number for a new system that, at the time, launched less than six months ago –even for a traditionally-slow sales month like April.

We also learned today that Kinect Sports Rivals didn’t do as well as expected, leading to 16 jobs being lost at Raresome of which were veterans of the company. Maybe it would have done better if it wasn’t delayed from the system’s launch window, so it could have been used as a better centerpiece for the system early on. It’s another catalyst for why they’re releasing a Kinect-less XB1.

Given how the Xbox 360 dominated over the Playstation 3 last gen in America, this is unacceptable for them, and they naturally want to try and reverse this as soon as possible. It might work, but Sony has gained a lot of ground over them in the last few months. This will be a fun race to watch, and the Xbox execs are hoping the PS4 gets a little winded. This will depend on what exclusive software Microsoft has on the horizon.

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This decision to make these announcements early was also likely influenced by Microsoft’s need to appeal to their investors as fast as possible — mainly the people that think the Xbox division should be on the chopping block. They needed to make a move that immediately showed them how the brand is worth keeping around. The combination of a cheaper SKU, consumers being fully aware that a Halo game is on the way, along with a bunch of heavy-hitting software coming this holiday season should cause a sales spike.

If these plans don’t work out, Microsoft’s gaming sector will undergo some serious changes. But the chances of that happening at the moment are low. Despite what certain individuals may say in certain places of the internet, the Xbox One isn’t exactly doing badly. It will also receive a little more exposure once it launches in a few other countries in the coming months, which should provide a minimal boost. Whether said boost will quench the hunger of their ostensibly-insatiable investors is another question entirely; one that won’t be easily answered.

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