Late last year, Microsoft decided that it just wasn’t charging enough for all the crazy awesome features that Xbox Live Gold subscribers received and raised the annual rate to $60 an account. But let’s be honest here: what are you really paying for?
Before we start, I should note that I’m one of the biggest Microsoft fanboys ever. Since I stood alone waiting for Best Buy to open on a cold, overcast November morning to pick up one of the first ever Xbox Live subscription packs for the original console, I have shelled out $50 a year to retain the Gold crown on my Live account. (It should also be noted that I wrote the History section of the Xbox Live article on Wikipedia.) With this rate increase though, the line must be drawn. Let’s take a look at the exclusive features that every single Xbox Live Gold subscriber is paying for:
Online Multiplayer – There are some people who absolutely refuse to pay to play online. Those people are idiots. Back in The Day, when it was Xbox versus PS2, there really wasn’t much of comparison: Xbox Live was infinitely better to play online with than any PS2 experience (except for maybe their crown jewels: the SOCOM games). Even when the PS3 debuted with an extremely clunky version of the PlayStation Network it still held true, but in this fast-paced age of constant firmware updates, the online multi-player experience between those two major platforms is a virtual wash. Sure, Xbox games get downloadable content like map packs and in-game vehicles sooner than PS3 owners and games that didn’t quite sell great are still being played on Xbox Live, but in reality it’s simply not worth paying for on those merits alone. In short, comparable online gaming on the PlayStation 3 is free.
Netflix – This was a far bigger deal when the Xbox 360 was the only gaming system that could stream Netflix content without popping in a shiny disc (that had to be ordered from Netflix proper), but those days are over. Why are people paying for this again, when it’s a free feature on the other systems?
Facebook/Twitter – Social media is all the rage these days, but to say these features aren’t worth downloading the extra modules for, much less paying $60/year to access them, says a lot. Facebook and Twitter are poorly implemented on both consoles, but Microsoft’s the one charging for them. Y’know, maybe if they integrated them as a functional part of the Guide, rather than as a clunky pieces of crap that you need to dig through the Xbox’s interface find at all, they might be onto something.
last.fm – You know what makes sense? Implementing Microsoft’s excellent subscription-based Zune Pass and decent Zune Social into the Xbox environment. You know what doesn’t make sense? This. When I asked a Microsoft rep about this – when we went to E3 a few years back – the response was “blah blah blah blah blah”. Why they wouldn’t integrate their own great features (in a brand that needs far more support than it gets, anyway) doesn’t make any sense.
Exclusive early content – Gold members get to do cool stuff like play demos for new games early. In a very recent case, I decided to just download the PS3 version, which was available to everyone.
At the end of the day, Gold subscribers are paying for a list of features that are comparable (and free!) on other systems. The Xbox Live value proposition simply doesn’t hold much water anymore. After seven years, my premium Live subscription finally expired. I may have shed a tear. I don’t have a clue when/if I’m picking it up again. Prove it to me, Microsoft!