Xbox Series X
The end seems nigh for Xbox Live Gold, the industry standard paid subscription service that motivated both Sony and Nintendo to offer their own paid offerings in the years after it debuted.
It may be the end of an era, but the alternative may end up making Microsoft even more money.
There are currently rumblings that Microsoft is going to kill off the concept of Xbox Live Gold entirely, the subscription service that usually retails for around $60 a year which gives players the simple ability to access access online multiplayer for Xbox games.
This has been “accepted” by gamers at this point, but it’s always been a little weird, considering that you are already paying your internet company money to access the internet, then you’re paying Xbox to access online gameplay through that internet, while also paying for the games themselves, where as you don’t have to do both for say, PC or mobile games.
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While Microsoft would be loathe to give up an essentially standard $60 a year, every year, from consumers, the reason they’ll likely do so is because the alternative is going to make them even more money.
The answer is of course, Game Pass.
Game Pass is Microsoft’s $10 a month subscription service that gives players access to a host of ready to play Xbox games, including all new Microsoft releases across Xbox consoles and PC.
But past that, Microsoft eventually came up with Game Pass Ultimate, which rolled up Game Pass and Xbox Live Gold into one $15 a month subscription. Recently, they have also added its streaming service, Xcloud, on top of that, which allows you to stream games without hardware similar to Google Stadia. All of that bundled into $15.
This is why Xbox Live Gold is effectively dead. This week, Microsoft confirmed that Halo Infinite would have free-to-play multiplayer, and yet it’s not really free if you still have to pay for Gold.
So, here’s what is extremely likely to happen:
“Free” games like Halo MP and Fortnite and such will be truly free to play across Xbox hardware without any sort of subscription, just an internet connection.
Xbox Live Gold will go away entirely, and yet Game Pass will become the new standard instead.
So instead of getting $60 a year from the majority of players, Microsoft will either be getting $120 a year from 12 month, $10 Game Pass subscriptions, or $180 a year from 12 month, $15 Game Pass Ultimate subscriptions which will still have the benefit of including Xcloud. Maybe knock that down to $100 and $150 respectively with some kind of deal or bundle, and lo and behold you still are making far, far more than when $60 a year XBL Gold subscriptions were the standard.
You also have the added bonus of offering something of actual value. XBL Gold was an arbitrary paywall for something that everyone should have already been able to access in the first place. Game Pass and Ultimate are Netflix-like libraries of games you can play on your current hardware or anywhere, via Xcloud. That’s an actual product that feels worth paying for, and at the very least, Game Pass feels like a default purchase for anyone with an Xbox, given that two, $60 game purchases a year will essentially pay for it.
Sony does not have anything to fully match this, and as far as we know, will still be having players pay $60 a year for PS Plus, which is required for online gameplay, but offers a couple free games a month. PS Now has a far, far lower adoption rate than Xbox Game Pass, as you won’t find new Sony exclusive releases on it, and Sony does not have a streaming service like Xcloud coming any time soon. They do have the advantage of…enormous console sales and a huge library of insta-buy exclusives, but Microsoft is trying to play the long game here.
And I think it may work really well for them in the end.