Microsoft got the jump on next month’s E3 gaming show with two major Xbox announcements today: Its six-month old new console Xbox One will receive a $100 price cut to $399 for a version without the previously mandatory Kinect camera, and — starting in June — online entertainment apps like Machinima, Netflix and MLB.TV will no longer require a paid Xbox Live Gold subscription.
Both changes represent a shift in strategy. Since it was announced in May of last year, the Xbox One was said to be designed for the Kinect, which can listen for voice commands, see which players are in the room, and even read your pulse. However, the required peripheral made Microsoft’s new console a more expensive option than Sony’s new PlayStation 4, which took an early lead in the latest generation of console sales and even beat the Xbox One at U.S. retail in March, the month of a major new Xbox exclusive.
“To be clear, as we introduce this new Xbox One console option, Kinect remains an important part of our vision,” Xbox head Phil Spencer said in a blog post. More than 80 percent of Xbox owners are “actively using Kinect,” he wrote, and a higher-priced console with the Kinect still bundled will persist.
“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,” Spencer wrote. “We’ll share more details about the standalone Kinect for Xbox One in the coming months.”
Xbox Live Gold, meanwhile, is Microsoft’s paid subscription service initially designed to cover online multiplayer gaming that, with the earlier Xbox 360, later broadened to gate access to all online content on the console. That included separately paid-for subscriptions to services like Netflix, meaning using an Xbox as primarily a Netflix box was a financially less sound decision than buying a dedicated media box like a Roku or Apple TV that lacked the console’s gaming options.
The $60/year Xbox Live Gold subscription will still apply to games and include access to special subscriber-only deals and free downloads of older titles via Microsoft’s “Games with Gold” program.