Microsoft recently announced that they are increasing the price of Xbox Live Gold. While this change will not affect existing customers or those who renew their membership in the near future, the price of an Xbox Live Gold membership will be adjusted 45 days after customers receive an email notification that the price of the service in their region is being changed. At that time, the new price of Xbox Live Gold will be as follows:
1 Month – $10.99
3 Months – $29.99
6 Months – $59.99
While Microsoft says “the price of a 1-month Gold membership is increasing $1 USD and that “the price of a 3-month membership is increasing $5 USD,” the price change is actually a little worse than that. After all, it wasn’t long ago that you could buy a yearlong Xbox Live Gold membership for $60. Soon, the cheapest available price for a year of Xbox Live Gold will be about $120. Needless to say, fans are not happy about the price hike.
That last comment is an interesting one that goes well beyond the borders of console wars and fanboyism. This price hike isn’t just a loss for Microsoft from a PR standpoint; it’s a big win for Sony that they scored without really needing to do anything.
After all, Xbox Live Gold is Microsoft’s equivalent of PlayStation Plus. Both allow you to access online multiplayer for games, both allow you to download free games every month, and both allow you to access an array of deals. While there are minor differences between the two services, the biggest difference is about the be the fact that Xbox Live Gold costs twice as much as PlayStation Plus.
As some have pointed out, this move is most likely part of Microsoft’s bigger ambition to encourage users to subscribe to Game Pass Ultimate which offers access to Game Pass for PC and console as well as an Xbox Live Gold membership for $15 a month. Actually, if you were to say that the price of Xbox Live Gold went up five dollars a month but it comes with complete access to Game Pass, then you might be able to spin this decision a little better.
That’s not what we’re talking about, though. We’re talking about a service that many of us begrudgingly agreed to pay for years ago when Microsoft and Sony decided that console gamers needed to pay a monthly fee to play online multiplayer games. They eventually threw in some free games every month to soothe the sting a bit, but in the minds of many gamers, we never got a great answer to the question “Why should console gamers have to pay for an essential service that is free on PC?”
Now, Microsoft is having to answer those questions all over again. It’s an especially bad look for a company that has been trying to make a name for itself as a consumer-friendly alternative to PlayStation. In fact, we previously praised the Xbox One for the ways that it essentially forced Sony to embrace concepts such as crossplay, backward compatibility, and a more generous monthly subscription service.
At a time when free-to-play online multiplayer games are more popular than ever (there’s a reason Sony and Microsoft were quick to assure people that Fortnite will be available right away for next-gen consoles), Microsoft’s decision to make access to the games that are (in many cases) the only games that many people play regularly has just made it that much harder to recommend people go out of their way to buy an Xbox Series X/S despite the benefits of Game Pass and the things that console does so well.
That’s why this is a win for Sony. We knew the PS5 was going to be appealing by virtue of its exclusives alone, but Xbox Series X/S backward compatibility abilities, peripheral support, and Game Pass integration made it an appealing option for many of those who could honestly say that they tend to mostly play third-party games (especially free-to-play ones). Now, it’s a little harder to tell Apex Legends, Fortnite, Warzone, and Madden players that the PS5 isn’t the more appealing console at the moment for the simple fact that players will currently save the cost of a full game a year by choosing to play those titles online on a PS5. Those who demand relatively less are suddenly required to pay more.
We’ll see where this all goes. Maybe Microsoft will change their mind, maybe Sony will raise the price of PlayStation Plus, or maybe Microsoft will unveil new Xbox Live Gold features that more than justify this price hike. Such as it is, though, Microsoft is raising the price of what should be an essential console service at a time when the console’s exclusives lineup would tend to suggest that they’re more reliant on the game’s that rely on that service than they seemingly seem to think they are.