Microsoft Restores Xbox Live Gold Prices After Backlash
It’s no surprise that Microsoft has had a stellar 2020. Riding high on the spikes in usage across everything from Xbox services to Teams video conferences in the middle of a pandemic, 15 million Xbox Game Pass subscribers were the icing on the cake. With perhaps the best deal in gaming and the most affordable next-gen console (the Xbox Series S at $299), the Redmond giant charted a course vastly different from Sony’s PlayStation strategy. While I’m not trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, Microsoft really did get off to a good start this time.
After a year of earning the respect of its customers, the age-old Xbox Live Gold began to feel long in the tooth. It wasn’t the key breadwinner for Microsoft anymore and with the $15 a month Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription granting access to all the latest Microsoft titles, the old online multiplayer service began to feel redundant. The new free monthly titles are a far cry from the generous pickings during the service’s golden age. Microsoft seemed to agree, with a new price hike that seemed to serve no purpose beyond embedding the final nail in Xbox Live Gold’s green coffin. And filling their coffers, of course.
The problem? While you could pick between Gold and Game Pass a day ago, Microsoft effectively made that decision for you from today. Fortunately, they have since backpedaled from their previous stance. Here are the new prices that were going to be enforced:
- Current Xbox Live Gold members with 12-month and six-month plans could renew their subscriptions at no additional cost.
- For both existing and new Xbox Live Gold members, the price of a one-month plan increased by $1 from $9.99 to $10.99.
- For both existing and new Xbox Live Gold members, the price of a three-month plan increased by $5 from $24.99 to $29.99.
- For new members, the price of a six-month plan would have been $59.99, twice as much as it used to be. 12-month plans haven’t been available for quite some time now.
- Current Xbox Live Gold members could upgrade to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate at no extra cost for the remaining term of their current Gold membership. A cap of 36 months applies.
X doesn’t give it to you (Update: it just did)
A quick look at the prices is rather telling of Microsoft’s new strategy. $60 for a 6-month membership to a service that costs half as much on Sony’s consoles was a cause for concern. It was a rather bold move for a console manufacturer who didn’t have the largest install base of last-gen consoles to lean on. While Microsoft would have let existing 6-month and 12-month subscribers renew their subscription at the original cost, they still drew the ire of new Xbox owners and the amusement of PC and mobile users. The latter never had to put up with charges for multiplayer and Xbox Game Pass on PC doesn’t stray from tradition either.
Add to that the conundrum of free-to-play titles needing an Xbox Live Gold subscription on Microsoft’s consoles and you can see why things turned red for the games service in green. If you didn’t buy titles every other month, a Gold subscription no longer made any economic sense. PlayStation users never had to pay for accessing multiplayer in free videogames in the first place which made the price hike all the more jarring. Fortunately, Microsoft pulled a 180 on this aspect as well, promising that Xbox owners will be able to play games like Fortnite and Call of Duty: Warzone without an Xbox Live Gold subscription.
For a moment, the $399 PlayStation 5 Digital Edition sounded like a better deal than the Xbox Series S.
Now that you don’t have to pay $60 a year (or a staggering $120 under the now-abolished pricing) to play titles that were free in the first place, the Xbox Series S still provides a lower cost of entry. Charging twice as much as PlayStation’s equivalent service amidst a pandemic, with a pronounced drought on exclusive titles, didn’t go well with either existing or potential Xbox customers. But now, balance has been restored to the console industry.
Microsoft’s raise is a bold gamble
Microsoft set itself up to offer both the best and worst deals in gaming. While I expected Microsoft to do away with Gold, an aggressive price hike uncharacteristic of the organization clearly wasn’t the solution. We’re back to picking between the red pill (Xbox Live Gold), the blue pill (Xbox Game Pass), or nabbing them both. The risk clearly outweighed the benefits here and I’m glad Microsoft listened.
The numbers at Redmond HQ must have given Microsoft the green light, despite the clear price disparity with its closest competitor. 90 million Xbox Live Gold users are no longer being herded into a pricier sheep pen. And Xbox Game Pass is just as alluring as it was for newcomers to jump ship.
Xbox Live lives to see another day.