As launch day approaches, Microsoft is softening its stance on the Xbox One's most controversial requirement.
The second-generation Kinect sensor, which will ship with each Xbox One unit, will not have to be plugged in for the console to function. Currently, the Kinect peripheral for the Xbox 360 is sold as an optional add-on component or as part of a bundle.
Microsoft previously indicated that Kinect was an integral part of the Xbox One experience, and thus required for the system to operate properly. Now the company is changing its tune.
In a Q&A with IGN, Xbox head Marc Whitten revealed that "the console will still function if Kinect isn't plugged in, although you won't be able to use any feature or experience that explicitly uses the sensor."
Alleviating fears that Kinect is always keeping a watchful eye on its surroundings, Whitten announced that users will have the option to shut it off. "You have the ability to completely turn the sensor off in your settings. When in this mode, the sensor is not collecting any information. Any functionality that relies on voice, video, gesture or more won't work."
It's not the first time that the company reversed course where the Xbox is concerned.
Soon after the Xbox One's subdued reception at the E3 conference in June, Microsoft scrapped plans to implement a new DRM scheme that would have curtailed a user's ability to freely trade or resell games. Console gamers, largely free of such restrictions, flooded Websites, blogs and forums to voice their displeasure and clamored for a change.
The outcry reached Microsoft. "Since unveiling our plans for Xbox One, my team and I have heard directly from many of you, read your comments and listened to your feedback," said Don Mattrick, the then-president of the Interactive Entertainment division—he since left to head up Zynga—in a statement.
"The ability to lend, share and resell these games at your discretion is of incredible importance to you. Also important to you is the freedom to play offline, for any length of time, anywhere in the world," added Mattrick. Also gone was the formerly mandatory always-online requirement, which called for the hardware to "phone home" at least once a day to maintain the ill-fated game licensing scheme.
Microsoft may be loosening the link between Kinect and the Xbox One console, but the company is showing no signs that it plans to offer them separately.
Whitten told IGN, "Xbox One is designed to work with Kinect plugged in." Hinting that foregoing Kinect leads to an incomplete Xbox One experience, he added that the combo "makes gaming better in many ways—from the ability to say 'Xbox On' and get right to your personalized home screen, to the ability to control your TV through voice, Smartglass and more."
Preorder offers at the Microsoft Store and other retailers show the Kinect as standard equipment. The Xbox One will ship in November for $499.