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Despite some great ideas, the Xbox One might not be a hit like the Xbox 360

As the launch of the next-gen consoles nears, Microsoft is starting to speak more specifically about some of the impressive features that the Xbox One will support. Kinect-based player tracking and other novel additions like cloud gaming are quite compelling, but that won’t be enough to make the Xbox One a success.

In fact, a recent report estimates that the total sales of next-gen consoles will fail to match the sales numbers of the previous generation. Even with more horsepower and countless bullet points, the new consoles might be doomed to lacklustre sales.

When the PS4 was announced back in February, Sony made a big deal about the ability to play games as they finish downloading in the background. Not to be outdone, Microsoft has officially confirmed that the Xbox One will be able to perform that exact same task. While Microsoft hasn’t publicly made a move to counter Sony’s Gaikai technology, this is an important step towards gaining parity with the PS4’s feature set.

Now that Microsoft and Sony have both settled on the x86 architecture and intend to charge monthly fees, the race is on to find meaningful ways to differentiate the platforms from each other. Since its abrupt marketing 180, Microsoft is continuing to narrow the gap, so the pressure is on Sony to keep pushing the envelope with its cloud gaming innovations.

While Sony decided against including a camera with the PS4, Microsoft and its partners seem to be doubling down on the importance of the Kinect. During a panel at this year’s EVO event in Las Vegas, the Killer Instinct development team went out of its way to sing the praises of the next-gen Kinect’s player tracking capabilities (see the video below). This Xbox One exclusive will use the Kinect’s camera to recognise who is holding which controller, and automatically change control schemes and characters on the fly.

The possibilities of this type of dynamic player tracking are endless. Does one of your friends always screw up your controls by inverting the Y-axis? With the Xbox One, the Kinect can keep track of who inverts and who doesn’t. You’ll never have to fight with the settings again! Even better, your settings could easily follow you across consoles. You could customise your settings at home, authorise your account on your buddy’s Xbox One, and have the game change to fit your needs whenever the Kinect recognises that you’re holding the controller.

Even with all of these spectacular features headed for next-gen consoles, ABI Research is expecting a downturn in overall console sales. Thanks to the rise of cheap set-top boxes, these analysts are predicting that the PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U will only sell 133 million units combined in their first five years. That’s a 5 per cent drop from 140 million consoles sold during the first five years of the current generation.

While some are quick to point out that the Wii U’s poor sales are contributing to the overall decline, it would be short-sighted to pin all of this on Nintendo’s failings. It’s safe to assume that the increased competition from smartphones, tablets, set-top boxes, and Steam will make game consoles less appealing than they were circa 2006. With so many other options for consumers, the traditional game console could be in for some hard times going forward.

You might also want to check out The Xbox One and PlayStation 4: A number of missed opportunities.