Microsoft knew that announcing a significant price hike to Xbox Live Gold wasn’t going to go over well. That’s why it dumped the news on a Friday. So what’s the deal – or lack thereof, in this case? In short, $60 will now get you just six months of Gold instead of 12. Three months is $30, and one month is $11. The new pricing isn’t quite as bad as it looks on the surface, but to be clear, it isn’t good either, for a number of reasons.
First, it’s a straight-up surprise considering how Microsoft has spent the past few years not just saying but doing the right thing by gamers. Backwards compatibility, Xbox Game Pass, Smart Delivery, etc. – Microsoft has been focused on doing the right thing by its consumers, earning goodwill from the gaming community for a while now. This sharp price increase on the service, which is required to play even free-to-play multiplayer games, is both unexpected and unfortunate.
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Xbox Live Gold: Microsoft vs. Sony vs. PC
Similarly, while Microsoft would probably say it worries about its own business and not its competition, the reality is that for a company trying to woo back gamers who fled to PS4 after the Xbox 360 and lure in new gamers making a critical choice of which video game platform to buy for the very first time, Xbox Live Gold now costs twice as much as PlayStation Plus does. But OK, let’s look at PC. Microsoft has repeatedly insisted that they don’t care if you buy an Xbox console or not, as long as you’re in the Xbox ecosystem, and this move seems to rather darkly back up its own statement. Xbox Live Gold services are still, for the time being, free on PC! For instance: if you’ve got the rig to run it, Halo Infinite multiplayer will be completely free to play for you this Fall. On Xbox, that privilege will cost $120 per year.
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In theory, the Xbox community might be more accepting of this price change had it been executed gradually. After all, Microsoft isn’t running a charity. Costs go up. Revenue and profits must be had. Netflix raised its prices not too long ago. And to its credit, Microsoft hadn’t upped the price of Xbox Live Gold in a decade. The company obviously made a deliberate choice to rip the Band-Aid off all at once. OK, that’s the team’s choice, but making that choice in the middle of a pandemic, when times are tough for many people and video games are one of the few forms of entertainment still completely accessible from home…well, again, it’s not a good look, and for consumers on a budget, it downright sucks.
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Xbox Live Gold → Xbox Game Pass Ultimate? Microsoft Hopes So
What’s clear to most people reacting to this news is that it seems like an obvious push to drive more Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscriptions. The top-tier Game Pass service runs $15 per month or $180 per year compared to $10 per month or $120 per year for the standard Game Pass. Either remains a heck of a great deal for the Netflix-like bounty of games on offer each month. The difference, though, is that Ultimate not only adds Game Pass on PC, but it also includes Xbox Live Gold, whereas regular Game Pass does not. And so, should you opt to choose Game Pass Ultimate, one way you could look at this is that you’re paying the same $120 per year for Game Pass and the same annual $60 for Xbox Live gold, but getting the PC benefit for free. The choice feels like a no-brainer, but for the wrong reasons.
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The bottom line is that Xbox Live Gold is a worse deal today than it was yesterday – particularly for players who are heavily invested primarily in one multiplayer game, be it Destiny, Apex Legends, PUBG, etc. The silver lining – if you can call it that – is that it’s only a worse deal for new players. Existing Gold subscribers on a 6- or 12-month membership will continue to have their memberships renewed at the old rates. I suspect that’s most of the people reading this, but again, punishing new players at the start of a generation in which Microsoft is looking to regain some of the marketshare it lost to Sony last generation is (say it with me) not a good look.
Ryan McCaffrey is IGN’s Executive Editor of Previews and host of IGN’s weekly Xbox show, Podcast Unlocked. Follow him on Twitter at @DMC_Ryan, catch him on Unlocked, and drop-ship him Taylor Ham sandwiches from New Jersey whenever possible.