Microsoft announced today that there would be a price increase coming to Xbox Live Gold. Here in the United States it will be an extra $10 per year for Xbox Live Gold, making it $59.99 each time it renews. While it is common for the price of products to increase over time in many instances, there’s really no excuse for Microsoft to do it here, and it’s highly dubious given their statements back at E3 that ESPN would be coming to Xbox Live and that it would be free for Xbox Live Gold subscribers. Well now, ESPN hasn’t even hit yet and Microsoft is upping the price by $10 per year. Doesn’t it seem like we are indeed paying for ESPN, just through the back door rather than upfront?
What do we pay for when it comes to Xbox Live anyway? Let’s break it down.
Playing Games Online
When it comes to playing multiplayer games online, Xbox Live is nothing more than a matchmaking service. When you log into Xbox Live and go to play a FPS game or a racer, you’re not connecting to Microsoft servers, you’re actually being paired with other players and one of the gamers in your session will host the game on his Xbox. All the bandwidth during multiplayer gaming is being shouldered by the gamers through their own Internet connections, nothing passes through a Microsoft server. The expense for this part of the service isn’t even remotely near what we pay for Xbox Live.
You can use Twitter, Last.FM, and Facebook on you Xbox 360, but why should these be costing any money to either Microsoft or the end user? All three of those services are free ANYWHERE ELSE YOU CHOOSE TO USE THEM. I have all three on my cell phone, netbook, laptop, and desktop and I’ve never paid a cent for any of them. If these are part of the “value” Microsoft touts when talking about Xbox Live, the US Government should be talking about how much value they provide in the way of breathable oxygen in the atmosphere.
Access to Game Demos
Yeah, downloading these does use bandwidth on Microsoft’s end, but each one is basically a sales pitch to the gamer. The cost to Microsoft in bandwidth for a game demo is so minimal that if only 1 in 1,000 people that downloaded a demo bought the game, they still come out very much ahead in licensing fees to the 3rd party developer. You should not have to pay to be advertised to.
Netflix and ESPN (ESPN is coming soon)
Netflix on Xbox 360 is still using yours and Netflix’s bandwidth to stream the videos to you. Microsoft’s role is to act as a 3rd party application to browse videos, and it’s not even the full catalog! If Microsoft is factoring this into the cost of XBL, it’s another ridiculous claim as you get a lesser experience on the 360 than you do on the Netflix.com site. You also still have to pay for your Netflix subscription independently from the Xbox Live Gold account. Like the PS3, Netflix should be free to use for all 360 owners. ESPN on the 360 is the same thing you can get for free online right now at ESPN3.com. Also, that will be limited to the same people who can already use it now. Check ESPN3.com to see if you can already use it. Again, this isn’t anything that should be costing Microsoft much, if anything.
Friends Lists and Profile Management
This is basically all Xbox Live does for you that they’re not actually making you do for yourself. Yes, Microsoft maintains space for your profile and your friends list, but that’s such minimal content that it’s silly to think that it costs them anything worth passing along to the consumer.
Add up everything there and it doesn’t really make any sense why Microsoft charges the $50 they do for Live and why they need to up it to $60. Also, Microsoft serves up advertisements to subscribers that can’t be filtered out, so despite adopting a paid subscription model, you still get nagged with ads that generate money for Microsoft. It’s a shame that PSN is so far behind in regards to overall quality of experience, because Xbox Live’s pricing is out of control. It was always bad, but we’ve dealt with it. At this point I am extremely dissatisfied with the “value” of Xbox Live and really hope that going forward Sony and Nintendo (fat chance) can catch up in their online support and force Microsoft to reevaluate their pricing scam, er, scheme.