Xbox Live didn’t have any real competition when it hit the scene. PlayStation Network wasn’t around and online gaming was the last thing on Nintendo’s mind. Sure, a decent amount of PS2 games worked online and the GameCube had games like Phantasy Star Online, but both consoles lacked a unified online service.
Fast-forward 10 years later — we have PSN and the recently launched Nintendo Network. These services let you play games online, use Netflix, watch videos on YouTube, and connect with people on your friends list. It’s free to connect to these services through your console provided you have an Internet connection and a Netflix subscription.
This isn’t true for Xbox Live Gold; Microsoft still wants you to pay to use these features on their console. Maybe someone should tell them that it’s no longer 2005 and that Xbox Live Gold is a rip-off in its current state. Oh wait…
Charging money to play online no longer makes sense when every console, handheld, smartphone, and tablet does it for free. But Microsoft continues to place a barrier between gamers and services they’re already paying for. Here’s what they’re basically saying to gamers. “You pay for Internet service, so what. You’re giving Netflix $7.99 a month, who cares. You just paid $63 for a new game with a ton of online features, all right. Well, if you want to use these things on your Xbox 360 – you owe us $60 a year.”
The service lost its value when online console gaming became the norm. It’s no longer a big deal, everyone is doing it and they’re doing it for free. And then they have the nerve to place ads all over your dashboard. If this isn’t pure greed then please tell me what is. But the amazing thing is gamers keep coming back for more punishment– like a masochist groveling at the feet of his abusive mistress.
I’ve often wondered, why? Why do we continue to pay for Xbox Live Gold? Is it because it’s better than the competition? Or is it brand loyalty? It’s probably a mix of both, but I think it’s mainly because we’re so use to paying for it. It’s a normal fee for Xbox 360 owners. So we rarely stop and think about what we’re paying for. Now all of this could change if another company adopted a similar business model.
Imagine if Apple charged you $60 a year to connect to the Appstore, play games online, and to use Safari on your iPhone (if you’re an Android user replace Apple’s products/services with Google ones). Oh and they’re going to throw a few ads on your lock screen, plus you still have to pay your cellular provider. Does that sound like something you want to be apart of?
Xbox Live Gold needs to morph into something like PS Plus. Remove the ads and make it a service that gives you better discounts, exclusive content, and free games. Online gaming, apps, demos, and Kinect video chat should move to the free version. Meanwhile Microsoft could raise the price of the gold version to make up for some of the money they’ll lose. If gamers are willing to pay $60 a year for something that should be free they’ll pay $80 for monthly discounts, free games, and exclusive content.
This may be hard to believe, but the Wii U’s online services were the catalyst for this post (stop laughing). The console just launched, but it already has a good amount of online features that are free of charge. Sure it isn’t as polished as Xbox Live or PSN, but there aren’t any extra fees to use YouTube, Netflix. Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Miiverse, or Wii U Chat. You can do most of this on the PS3 too, but Miiverse is what really made me say – why am I paying for Xbox Live Gold? This may sound like hyperbole, but in it’s short lifespan Miiverse has already proved more useful than any of Xbox Live’s features.
Connecting with other Wii U owners is easy. You can hop into a game’s community and ask if it’s any good or get help with a boss fight. It’s a social network, a place to troubleshoot problems with your console, and best of all it’s free.
Nintendo and Sony’s online offerings are only going to get better. Microsoft will get left behind if they continue charging for basic online features. Hardcore gamers may not make a purchasing decision based on which console provides free online services, but the same can’t be said about casual ones. Which console would you go with if you just wanted to stream Netflix and play a few games? Microsoft wants to rule the living room, making Xbox Live’s most important features free will put them one step closer to achieving their goal.