Is It Time For Xbox LIVE Subscriptions To Evolve?
We’ll probably know by the end of the day, whether or not this shall actually be a thing, but on the brink of the Xbox Reveal which takes place later tonight, perhaps it’s time to look not only at the future but also the present.
The Xbox 360 in its current form offers two options for gamers who wish to experience online interactivity. The first is the Free service, which allows gamers basic connectivity as well as the ability to download from various Marketplaces, however there are certain offers and capabilities that are reserved for Gold members only. These include weekly sales and specials, multiplayer in games, and subscriptions to various services. To become a Gold member, you simply purchase a prepaid subscription and redeem the code, for however long. The cost varies depending on where you purchase your subscription but an annual Gold subscription averages R400.
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Allow me a moment for emphasis: You need to pay to play online.
This compared to the PC or PS3, granted each of which have their own issues, which allow you to play online for free. Sure with both you have to deal with patches, firmware updates and all sorts of other things but eventually, when you get the game functioning, you can just hop online and that’s that, no further charges apply. But on Xbox 360 you need to pay for a subscription which allows you to play online.
It would be unfair to not also mention that paying for a Gold subscription offers certain advantages that make it worth the asking price. Things such as the ability to create parties, either for chatting and socialising or playing games with friends, which matchmaking prioritises so that you always end up in games with the rest of your party on your side, assuming you all fit. This on its own makes for a very competitive service compared to the PlayStation which went a long time without simple offerings such as in-game chat and the ability to play games with friends.
But that was before and now Sony are offering a far better service with their PlayStation Plus subscription which costs around the same as Xbox LIVE Gold and offers a few neat extras to the basic offering on the PS3, which mind you, packages multiplayer. So let’s get this clear: Regardless of whether or not you opt to get PS Plus, you can still play online. When there aren’t any firmware updates, of course…
The big thing about the PS Plus, which really sets it on a level higher than Xbox LIVE Gold, even with its party capabilities, is that each month a list of games gets put onto, let’s call it a service tray, and you the PS Plus subscriber may then download and play those games over the course of that month, entirely and completely free of charge, apart from your obvious subscription fee. You may play it for the entire month or for five minutes, Sony doesn’t care. But at the end of the month, you lose access to that game. Still, if you liked it enough you could just go and buy it (unlock it, whatever) from the PS Store or buy a retail version from somewhere. But with this system, effectively, for the price of the PS Plus subscription you could save potentially thousands of dollars per year.
Xbox LIVE Gold simply cannot compete any more.
Offering all sorts of other media subscriptions isn’t going to help either, with the advent of the Smart TV and all its bundled functionality. I do believe that if Microsoft keep going in the direction of making the Xbox 360 an entertainment centre rather than simply a gaming console, okay kudos for diversity, but they’re going to then add another bunch of competitors to their ranks, together with Sony and Nintendo (lol), and that’s makers of Smart TVs, the likes of Sony (again), Samsung and LG. And why would they want to do that?
Whatever, though. All I’m asking for is that with the next generation of Xbox, we get a better Xbox LIVE Free service, at the very least one that offers multiplayer as standard, and then a more beneficial and competitive Xbox LIVE Gold, which would give the PS Plus service a run for its money. Maybe monthly games, maybe hardcore specials, maybe some other gimmick, but something geared towards gamers, not media enthusiasts. Sure we in SA do have bandwidth issues which limit our enjoyment of something the likes of PS Plus, but that can be fixed in time with better infrastructure, and until then, such services can remain an option to us.
But wouldn’t it be the coolest thing ever to get five free games for a month, on our Xbox whatever-they-call-its?