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Xbox Live Price Doubling Just Because (Update) January 22, 2021

Posted by Maniac in Editorials.
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Settle down boys and girls, Maniac is going to be getting controversial. Xbox Live first launched in 2002 as a console internet gaming service. For $50US a year, you could play supported games like Unreal Championship online and even use cross platform voice chat, something that the PC didn’t even support at the time. Support for the service exploded in 2004 when one of the best online multiplayer games of all time was released, Halo 2. Despite the fact original Xbox support was discontinued a decade ago and a ten dollar price increase was added some time during the Xbox 360 generation, the service has been moving steady ever since, through three console generations and has likely been a huge moneymaker for Microsoft over the past two decades.

However, Xbox Live is not without its controversy. Over the past year, the service has been plagued by constant downtime and frequent outages, even during the day of the launch of the Xbox Series X and S consoles back in November. Downtimes for paid services aren’t unusual, you may occasionally get a power or phone service outage at your home, but in those cases you would not be required to pay for any outages, or you would be eligible for a refund by your provider. That isn’t the case for Xbox Live. You will pay whether you can play it or not.

Xbox Live is the ONLY way to play Xbox games online, and as I mentioned before, there’s no guarantee of that. Online support for ALL original Xbox games discontinued some time ago, despite an enormous online protest lead by Halo 2 players that has (to this day) led to no noticeable technological improvements with the service whatsoever. Last month, Microsoft announced they will be discontinuing online multiplayer for all of the Xbox 360’s Halo games next year. Quite a shame since those games are still some of the finest multiplayer games ever made.

Not too long ago, retailers were informing gaming websites that Microsoft was phasing out year-long Xbox Live Gold prepaid cards. Since then, rumors have circulated the reason Microsoft is discontinuing those prepaid cards is to hike the price of Live, and now we know those rumors to be true. Microsoft is increasing the price of Xbox Live (without Game Pass) to $120US a year. That is essentially double its current price. Microsoft has said they will continue charging $60US a year for subscribers who have their accounts set to auto-renew before this announcement, but who knows for how long they will continue to honor that price.

Now, Microsoft has offered a Games for Gold service, where they offer Xbox Live subscribers the chance to download a few full games each month. Some would argue since new games are expensive this justifies the price hike. However, this “benefit” is dubious at best, since you haven’t actually been getting these games at no additional charge since Microsoft started offering Xbox One titles. Microsoft’s fine print states access to them is revoked when your subscription lapses, essentially putting them on the same level as Game Pass (which is an entirely separate service we aren’t discussing here).

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s competitors offer their own multiplayer subscriptions at superior value. Online play on the PC is entirely free, except in the case for certain MMOs. PlayStation Plus costs around $50US a year and offers just as consistent if not better online play for PS4 and PS5 games that aren’t free to play. Nintendo Network Online costs $20US a year on the Nintendo Switch and offers online play and access to a suite of classic NES and SNES titles every month you’re a subscriber. While I have heard complaints about latency on the Nintendo Switch, I have personally never experienced any.

I would be fine with any price increases if Microsoft had proven the price was necessary to either providing a stable consistent service or produce some great new benefit or feature to their customers that necessitated the increase. Over the past year Microsoft has shown themselves incapable of providing a stable, consistent service and they have not provided a single new premium feature for Xbox Live users since the Xbox 360 launched in 2005. In short, Microsoft has not proven they are worthy of the increased price they are asking for. I will not be renewing my subscription any time soon.

UPDATE: One day after writing this, online sources are reporting Microsoft is reversing course. Maybe they read this article and discovered how wrong they were.

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