As Microsoft developed the original Xbox, online gaming was designated as one of the major key pillars for the greater Xbox strategy. Xbox Live was introduced in 2002, a year after the launch of the Xbox, and it changed the landscape forever and it was Halo 2 and Rainbow Six 3 that made the service explode into the mainstream and the introduction to online gaming was born. Xbox Live Gold is a paid subscription service that is required to access online gaming, it costs $60 per year, although Microsoft itself is no longer offering the option to buy 12 month subscription cards digitally, although, the cards themselves exists at retail.
Microsoft’s official statement on why they decided to do away with the 12 month digital subscription is vague and completely non committed, the rumor mills continue to churn that Microsoft has removed it because it’s gearing up to do away with Xbox Live Gold entirely. Can it work? Yes. Can it be done? Yes. But I would be surprise if it happens before the launch of the Series X.
The cash flow from Xbox Live Gold has enabled Microsoft to realize some of its long term goals and ambitions with regards to server infrastructure and cloud. Ever since the Xbox 360 era, Xbox Live Gold was seen as the most stable gaming network in the world, with features we now take for granted, such as party voice comms, dedicated servers, and other features. Kids today growing up with games like Fortnite and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare can’t imagine a world when comms wasn’t a thing or when you were forced into game chat with strangers on games like Call of Duty 4 and Modern Warfare 2 or when party chat wasn’t the norm, but the social aspects of Xbox Live Gold, as well as some of its other features wouldn’t have been realized without those early days.
In 2005, when the Xbox 360 launched against the Playstation 3, the price was rather enormous. The far cheaper Xbox 360 allowed Microsoft to propel the Xbox 360 and the brand itself to be thrown into the spotlight, knocking the limelight and the dominance from the Playstation 3. Today, in the present, Xbox Live Gold and PSN + help drive the costs of hardware down. If you can attach a subscription to every console, I can guarantee to you that you’ll end up with better margins.
This is why Phil Spencer has previously discussed the fact that the console business is less about selling the actual console, and more about monetizing the users themselves. A console sold that doesn’t attach a subscription is quite useless to a company.
It’s with this mindset that I believe Xbox Live Gold will be removed entirely sometime soon, although, I doubt that it will be by the time the Series X launched.
It would be a massive announcement that would give Microsoft a very large boost against Sony and the Playstation, it would basically make them the defacto winner of the upcoming generation, it would be a risky move that has the potential to pay off in the long run but I don’t think it will happen now or the remainder of 2020 or 2021 for that matter.
The industry is headed 200 mph down the fast lane, it’s shifting tremendously with PC being the dominant force in “core” gaming. Mobile Gaming didn’t see a huge resurgence as it did in the early 2010s, especially 2012, it didn’t turn us into mobile players as industry analysts had predicted, but more and more of us are playing on PC. The slow decline of “walled-in” style of closed networks is opening up to cross-play, with Xbox being at the forefront.
Paying for multiplayer seems old-fashioned, and maybe antithetical to Microsoft’s overall plans when it comes to Xbox and the Xbox brand. Xbox Live’s “Games with Gold” program has declined in quality ever since Xbox Game Pass entered the sphere and Microsoft shifting their priorities elsewhere in addition to the Project xCloud announcement that it is joining Xbox Game Pass Ultimate in September at no extra cost.
Since Game Pass Ultimate already includes Xbox Live Gold, factored into its overall cost, it’s safe to assume and predict that Microsoft’s long-term goal is to shift users over to Game Pass and Game Pass Ultimate and removing the barrier to online multiplayer seems a logical conclusion and a logical step in this new world. It would be a huge feather in Microsoft’s hat if they remove Xbox Live Gold.
The landscape is changing and Microsoft will continue to push Game Pass and Game Pass Ultimate, the day is coming that Xbox Live Gold will no longer be needed and that day is approaching fast. We’ll have to wait and see.