Huge News From Microsoft Gives It New Ground In Console Wars

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Steve Anderson
The Video Store Guy
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Huge News From Microsoft Gives It New Ground In Console Wars

It was as though a valve opened somewhere, and a flood of amazing news landed from Microsoft just over the course of the last few hours. Some very staggering revelations, some which gamers had been hoping for for years, emerged, and suddenly, Microsoft got a second wind in its ongoing battle with Sony only mere weeks ahead of the annual E3 event.

The first bit of news was actually somewhat longer in coming, and made a great case for Microsoft's future endeavors. The company took down its notorious paywall, allowing users who didn't have Xbox Live Gold service to get access to video and entertainment apps, including apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus and YouTube, making the service substantially more valuable to potential buyers. While some services will still require Xbox Live Gold access like multiplayer gaming, gamers will no longer have to essentially pay twice for access to subscription services, or in YouTube's case, have to pay at all.

Next came word that Microsoft's popular Games with Gold program—in which Xbox Live Gold members get access to free games—would be extended to Xbox One starting in June. While it wouldn't be quite as generous as its Xbox 360 version—those who cancel Gold on Xbox One lose access to the free games—but Deals with Gold would also be coming along for the ride, giving gamers access to discounted titles, something that's been eagerly awaited for some time.

But perhaps the centerpiece of Microsoft's day in news came from the announcement that a version of the Xbox One without the Kinect would be available for sale starting June 9, at a significant discount as well. The Kinect-free Xbox One would sell for $399, and Xbox One-free Kinect units would be available for sales starting in the fall. The company cited customers' desire for “more choices from Xbox One” as the main reason behind the change.

Any one of these points by itself would be a pretty big deal. Microsoft dropping the notorious paywall that turned free services into pay services and pay services into double-pay services is the kind of thing that could change a few minds about going with Xbox One, especially given that Microsoft has so many plans to take over living rooms with the Xbox One. Bringing both Games with Gold and Deals with Gold to the Xbox One was a smart move, though it was likely inevitable that something so well-received on Xbox 360 would migrate to Xbox One. But bringing out the Kinectless Xbox One, now that was a masterstroke. Yes, many said that it should have been this way from the word go, but “better late than never” still applies. This is going to likely open up some new markets for Microsoft; now that the base price for a new Xbox One is $399, that means that used systems will likewise have to drop in price, otherwise there's no sense in buying used when a new system is available for a few dollars more. That could pull some fence-sitters into the fray, and on Microsoft's side.

The big point, as usual, will be the games shown off at E3. With Microsoft already talking a big game—Microsoft's Yusuf Mehdi recently noted that E3 would be “all about games”--this could be a very big hit indeed. The game is still clearly Sony's to lose, but Microsoft is clearly making a push for the come-from-behind win. E3 is just under a month away, but this one could well represent all the marbles.

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