It’s Time For Xbox Live Gold To Die

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xbox
Image: Microsoft

For nearly two decades, Xbox Live Gold has been a mandatory add-on for Xbox online gaming. But time eventually comes for us all, and with the rise of Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Live Gold has become seemingly redundant.

It’s not because online multiplayer isn’t a necessity. Online multiplayer isn’t going anywhere, obviously, and Microsoft certainly isn’t making any moves publicly or privately that might suggest otherwise.

But what is increasingly redundant is the value of Xbox Live Gold as is. Consider the situation for someone upgrading to a next-gen console in a few months. Should the current crop of services remain the same — and I’ll argue why that’s likely to change soon — this is the outstanding offer.

xbox live gold
Image: Microsoft.com

Even just heading to the Xbox Live Gold page includes an upsell for Xbox Game Pass and/or Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, the latter of which incorporates Xbox Live Gold anyway.

On a pure surface level, that’s all well and good. It’s been common knowledge within the gaming industry, and among plenty of consumers, that console makers lose money on every console sold. Where Xbox and Sony make their money back is through services, sales on their ecosystem and, increasingly over the last few years, microtransactions. So as grating as it was for the Xbox One and PS4 era for both companies to be charging for online multiplayer, most gamers begrudgingly accepted it: Online multiplayer was still essential, and for a while the free games that came with Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus were so good that the value worked out on the other end.

But Microsoft’s services story is remarkably different in 2020.

The changed element in all of this isn’t necessarily the utility 0f Xbox Game Pass, as good a service that has become. What’s changed is Microsoft’s approach to the PC, and their idea of exclusivity.

In years past, Halo InfiniteSea of Thieves and games like Everwild would launch on Xbox as pure exclusives, or timed exclusives the way Rise of the Tomb Raider did. That’s how you sell consoles, the traditional orthodoxy goes. Here’s games you can only get on this platform, titles that make it the best platform to play games.

That’s how the sell has usually been.

Microsoft’s messaging now is that they don’t really give a shit. Buy an Xbox, don’t buy an Xbox. It doesn’t matter to them. It’s all part of the Microsoft services ecosystem anyway. Even gamers that don’t buy an Xbox are generally using Windows in some way, shape or form. And when you add xCloud into the mix — for gamers outside of Australia anyway — it shows how Microsoft just wants to ensure that your services can reach you, regardless of device.

And that’s kind of the kicker now, because the devices are no longer even.

Xbox Game Pass Now Gets New Microsoft Games On Day One
Image: Microsoft

Paying for online multiplayer made sense when you lived purely within the walled garden of a console. It makes no sense when customers in one part of your ecosystem have to pay for access when others don’t. PC users, for instance, don’t need Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. If they’re not playing on Xbox, the upsell makes no sense. Online multiplayer is free as a part of Windows, and obviously online access isn’t an add-on for those playing on mobile devices.

So with Xbox Game Pass becoming a stronger services story for Microsoft, it’s looking more and more logical that Xbox Live Gold should be killed off. It’s hard to justify charging Xbox users for online multiplayer when those playing on PC, who still count as Xbox users, don’t have to pay.

But there’s also the free games. What’s being added to Xbox Game Pass is increasingly more interesting, more relevant and more worthwhile than the monthly additions to Xbox Live Gold. Removing Xbox Live Gold makes the management on Microsoft’s end a little simpler — there’s no need to curate two sets of games for users. And Xbox users won’t be upsold for two services at once, which is a stronger marketing pitch.

Of course, the only thing that makes all of this work is if online multiplayer becomes a free option on the Xbox Series X, and the entire Xbox ecosystem, going forward.

The company is already moving in this direction. A change to Microsoft’s services agreement has removed references to “Xbox Live” in lieu of “Xbox online service”, which is generally because the term Xbox Live won’t be used going forward. But it’s also logical sense.

Microsoft wouldn’t want to be in the position to charge Xbox users both for multiplayer and Xbox Game Pass. Xbox Game Pass is a much better story, and a huge economic success for the company, so why not make that the primary service going forward? It means Microsoft can tell the mainstream market, families, and those disconnected with the gaming world, that the Xbox Series X won’t charge for online multiplayer — while PlayStation will.

It’s an interesting position for Microsoft to be in. If you can wrap your head around the idea of a company being solely focused on the money you spend within an ecosystem, it makes the lack of exclusives a little more logical. The psychology is that people will spend more money over the longer term than what they would have if there was an upfront investment. We see this not just in free-to-play games, but within the whole Windows ecosystem, and to a degree, the Windows operating system itself.

So the simplest way to ensure all of this works is to open the gates and make online multiplayer free again. Just think about it. If Microsoft can entertain the free-to-play logic for Halo: Infinite, then surely they’d be thinking along the same lines for every other Xbox game too.

Comments

  • I’m pretty sure this is exactly what is happening.

    Pay to Multiplayer doesn’t make sense when there are tonnes of (mostly F2P) exceptions.

    And free games don’t make sense when you have Gamepass.

    I guess the ball is in Sony’s court at this point.

      • That doesn’t make sense if you look at the PC side where users aren’t charged for online access. Makes for much better marketing to just add xCloud into Game Pass as the big upsell, with online multiplayer being free.

  • It probably looks better for them as well. Sony doesn’t have a rival to Game Pass so they’ll still want to charge PS Plus for non f2p games

  • “If you can wrap your head around the idea of a company being solely focused on the money you spend within an ecosystem, it makes the lack of exclusives a little more logical”

    But the exclusives are what bring people into the ecosystem in the first place.

    • Not if they’re already in the ecosystem — which is what Microsoft is betting on (that core gamers already have a touch point with Xbox somewhere, whether that’s on PC or consoles).

    • I’d argue that achievements and the Xbox social network aspect, which now includes crossplay to PC in more and more cases, are also an absolutely massive draw a lot of people like to overlook.

      Yes Playstation has trophies… But in my experience a lot of people simply don’t like them almost purely because they’re just not known as ‘achievements’ and Microsoft were the first to really get that whole deal rolling. One of the weird console war oddities I suppose.

      I know that I personally cannot recall hearing anyone I know talk about their Playstation trophies, yet Xbox achievement discussion absolutely comes up from time to time. Hell, in general I’ve absolutely heard more talk about Steam achievements than Playstation trophies.

    • That’s exactly the point Alex is making — MS don’t care if you buy the new Xbox or not. It’s irrelevant to their sales and services model. No doubt Sony will sell a butt-load of PS5s and fanboys will do their thing about Sony “winning”, but imagine all 1st party games coming to PC and the current gen for the next year or two whether by direct purchase or by Game Pass subscription… that’s a LOT of engagement. The more engagement on a platform, the better for the long term.

      • Additionally, Sony are bringing some of their exclusives to PC. So if you own a PC, you can grab game pass, play all the Xbox games and still play some of the Sony ones as well without ever having to really buy into the Playstation economy.

        One thing I am loving is that some of the games are cross-save as well on game pass, I have really enjoyed the freedom of playing no man’s sky on the Xbox and then picking up my save file on the PC whenever I want. I am not sure what other games support this, but the freedom to play where I want is amazing!

        Game pass also drives the sales of the games that are on it as you are likely to purchase some of the games when their period on game pass expires. Game pass is really the next console for MS, not the series X.

    • I’d argue they do have exclusives. You might not like them but the list is actually starting to look impressive, just dont listen to the sony fanboysyelling “no exclusives!”
      Halo
      Avowed
      Fable
      Everwild
      Medium
      forza

  • Gold is good because you sort of own the games, as long as you keep up the subscription.

    Some games don’t stay on game pass for too long, you sometimes have to rush to play them.

    Gold is kind of a stepping stone to game pass, price wise. In my head I say “well I need gold to play online, and game pass is only a little bit more than Gold”.

    If you make online play free, and only game pass available at $16 a month, it might be a bit of a hurdle to getting people on board.

  • Given the rumours of this possibly happening, it might happen before or with the launch of halo infinite. They launch halo infinite with the free MP and also make gold free. It would be amazingly good PR for Microsoft.

  • Xbox knows they cant compete with the sheer amount of skill and respect Sony Exclusives bring to PS, so they are just going with the bombardment philosophy, give people heaps of things, so they are so overwhelmed with choice, they never ask themselves what they are missing.

    I have a pile of shame on Xbox, PS4, Steam, I already have too many choices to consume my time. To say nothing of Apple Music and Netflix (etc), I dont need any more bombardment and enticement, give me a full price game of exceptional quality like GoW, Horizon, GoT, Death Stranding… any day over yet another subscription.

    • You have to remember the wider Microsoft (not Xbox) strategy for the last decade is we don’t care that you don’t use our products exclusively, as long as at some point you are using our products anyway.

      Being honest, Sony looks very far behind the 8 ball in everything except exclusives.

  • The thing that i hate is that i played Sea of Thieves on Game Pass but on my PC. Really liked it so i bought it, now sometimes i wanna just chill on the couch and play on the xbox but i cant because i dont have xbox live gold. It feels so jarring that to play a game with so much shouting from the rooftops that its cross platform and cross saves and the fact you can use keyboard and mouse on the xbox. But i cant play my game and it makes me upset that im forced to sit at my PC when i could be chilling on the couch playing my favourite game! First world problems i know but I just wanna veg out on the couch sometimes!

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