Since expanding the availability of Xbox Game Pass to PC in 2019, Microsoft has showcased a new sort of Xbox, an Xbox that is more centred around getting a monthly subscription from you than it is a chunk of change every few years, and that makes sense.
Mind you, a console is still a decent product to make given how many folks prefer the plug and play nature of that gaming platform. We can’t, nor will we, fault those who prefer gaming on a console.
And Microsoft also doesn’t seem to care where you play so long as you are playing and paying it to do so.
But for all the praise there is still something about this generation that needs to die off – subscriptions to play multiplayer online.
For Microsoft this is Xbox Live Gold which costs R99 per month.
Granted, Microsoft does lump a number of additional benefits into Xbox Live Gold including discounts on games and access to games so long as you keep your subscription up.
But the key driver is that in order to play a game of Fortnite with your mates, you need Xbox Live Gold, even if you have no interest in ever playing Dunk Lords (that’s a free Games with Gold for this month by the way).
What is even stranger to us here at Hypertext, is that there is a better product from Microsoft that you can get right now.
That product is of course Game Pass.
At R149 for the Ultimate tier of Game Pass you get:
- Unlimited access to over 100 games on both console and PC
- Day one access to Xbox Game Studio titles
- Member discounts
- In-game perks
- New games being added constantly
- Xbox Live Gold
But things are strange if you cast an eye over at Xbox Game Pass for PC (Beta).
See, as a long time subscriber, not once have I been asked to purchase Xbox Live Gold in order to play games online. I haven’t had to pay to send or receive friend requests nor have my save games been put at risk because I don’t have a subscription to the cloud.
It gets even weirder when you consider that next month, Project xCloud is launching which as part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate at no additional cost.
And all of this begs the question “Why is Xbox Live Gold still a thing?”.
The obvious and default answer for many is that Microsoft has to pay to keep the pipes open so that folks can play games online together.
To that I say, why?
To explain my point let’s compare a company that thrives in the online gaming space and hosts its own servers – Activision Blizzard.
In 2019, Activision Blizzard’s revenue amounted to $6.489 billion. By comparison, Microsoft ended the year off making $125.8 billion.
Yes, Microsoft has multiple revenue streams and not solely games but that is what makes Xbox Live Gold all the more confusing, especially when one considers that Microsoft, also has an entire division dedicated to building out and managing data centres in Azure.
If either of those firms was in need of a subscription to access online multiplayer, we’d say Activision Blizzard is the one who should be charging for that.
Granted, we’re sure things like Battle Passes help to augment those costs but it’s not mentioned to the consumer even if it is.
But Microsoft is adamant that Xbox Live Gold is not going anywhere and we feel like that’s a mistake as we enter the next generation of consoles.
This last generation of console wars showed us that if anything, players want to play good games regardless of what platform it is on.
But we’ve also seen an explosion of online gaming in recent years with the likes of Fortnite, Apex Legends and many others that are not only packed with players, but free to play as well.
And if anything, this is why Microsoft should ditch Xbox Live Gold if it wants to sell more consoles.
Consider paying R99 for Xbox Game Pass on console, only to learn that you would need to pay another R99 for Xbox Live Gold.
It gets even worse if you take Game Pass out of the equation. In order to play Apex Legends with your friends you have to pay Xbox, not EA, R99 to play.
Yes, you get access to games but you also get that with Game Pass for the same price but you don’t have access to online multiplayer.
As a PC gamer every time this conversation comes up I am just dumbfounded that in 2020, console makers are still charging players to get online and play together.
As it stands, Xbox is looking strong for the next generation with just Game Pass alone. But if it really wants to beat PlayStation in the forthcoming console wars, ditch Xbox Gold Live.
Or at the very least, hide it and add some extra benefits to Game Pass. At least that way we’re not reminded that Microsoft is either unable to afford to keep its players online without R99 every month or simply wants to keep milking its customer base.
As for PlayStation Plus, we feel very much the same way though the reasons differ. That’s a debate for another day though.