What Was Up With Xbox Live Gold?

For console players, the most recurring purchase that one will become familiar with is the online subscription. The Playstation and Xbox ecosystems offer a subscription that enables access to online gameplay alongside additional perks such as free monthly games and exclusive discounts. This combination attracts millions of subscribers from both camps with their $60 price tags, with official Playstation Plus subscribers sitting over 40 million since last May.

In contrast to Playstation Plus, Xbox Live offers a free version and paid version, which encompasses 90 million active users. Xbox Live Gold, the paid alternative, does not have official numbers to reference. It can be assumed that there are millions of paid subscribers given the perks and its relatively affordable price for an annual subscription.

Yet this past week almost put that in jeopardy. Last Friday, Microsoft announced that Xbox Live Gold would get a price increase across its monthly options. The changes were initially as followed:

  • 1-Month: $9.99 to $10.99 (+$1)
  • 3-Month: $24.99 to $29.99 (+$5)
  • 6-Month: $39.99 to $59.99 (+$20)

It is the last change that should be noted, since it brought the price of a 6-month subscription up to the original price. What consequence went untold at first was that a year of Xbox Live Gold would effectively be $119.98. This sparked a massive uproar online that prompted Microsoft to abandon these plans in favor of its original model.

Coupled with the anger, there was probably a lot of confusion on the part of Xbox players. The idea of increasing the price of an online subscription is not a foreign concept; Playstation Plus went up to $59.99 from $49.99 a few years ago to some grumbles that subsided over time. Rather, it was difficult to fathom what justified a massive price jump while its offerings were identical. With the Xbox brand, Microsoft does hold a track record of getting ahead of the curb with changes in the gaming space to its benefit (Xbox Game Pass) and its detriment (Xbox One’s DRM policies).

Thankfully, the answer does not require much research. Anyone familiar with Xbox’s primary strategy knows that Xbox Game Pass is a defining pillar of their platform that opens up opportunities to distribute games to places other than Xbox consoles, such as PC and mobile. For about $10 per month, you can access a wide range of games, including the newest titles from Xbox Game Studios from release day. However, Microsoft offers Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for an additional $5 per month that bundles Xbox Live Gold.

With that knowledge, the intent is clear: Xbox Live Gold got a price hike to push users towards Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. Were I to speculate what prompted this, Microsoft must have noticed a disparity in what users chose to subscribe to. I venture that most Xbox Game Pass users would also have Xbox Live Gold, but a sizable portion of Xbox Live Gold users wouldn’t have Xbox Game Pass. By driving up the price of Xbox Live Gold, Microsoft assumed that it would be just expensive enough to convert them to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. Because of how blatant the move was, it did not take long for Microsoft to walk back its plans. As an added concession, it will make online free-to-play games available to all players even if they do not have Xbox Live Gold.

Looking back at the announcement, it is difficult to imagine how Microsoft thought that it could make this change without igniting a wave of backlash. On the contrary, Microsoft had to know this would occur. Reading the original post, Microsoft offered to convert the remaining months of a user’s Xbox Live Gold subscription to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. So if one’s Xbox Live Gold was valid for six more months, they’d get the equivalent of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. This appears to have been Microsoft’s attempt to mitigate the criticism, offering access to a large gaming catalog as compensation.

At the end of the day, the voice of the players managed to reverse this. Games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Star Wars Battlefront II are defining examples of how pressure from players can bring about pro-consumer changes. Even two years ago, there was significant controversy over Sony’s cross-play restrictions that were reversed.

In the meantime, this will certainly stop Microsoft from increasing Xbox Live Gold’s price in the near term and prompt hesitation on Nintendo’s and Sony’s part if either company was considering increasing its own online subscription prices by some margin. Next time Microsoft goes live with changes to their online services, hopefully it’ll be the gold standard :).

Thank you for reading! Feel free to comment with any thoughts about this situation.

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