I don’t talk about my gaming hobby on here too much (recommendations for titles like Subnautica notwithstanding) but from time to time it comes up. And from time to time, I do have something to say about it. Today, what I have to say is … weird. A pointed observation, but one that I want to put out there.
Xbox Live is now a legitimate reason not to own an Xbox.
This might seem strange (or if you’re unfamiliar with the names here, confusing). So let me offer a bit of background.
The Xbox is Microsoft’s gaming console. The first one launched in 2001, made a name for itself with titles like Halo, and has since become one of the three mainstream consoles most people think of when they think of games. A console, by the way, being a set-top box, like a Blu-Ray player, that plays games. Think of a small, specialized computer that’s built to do one thing: game.
Now, Xbox made a name for itself in several ways. But one of the areas where Miscrosoft lead the pack was in bringing online play to consoles as a mainstream feature rather than a peculiar oddity.
Online play is the ability for players to connect with others over the internet, engaging in cooperative or competitive play. To most of you, this isn’t new knowledge. Xbox was the first to bring this ability to a console by default with “Xbox Live,” a service that you had to pay for but let you play Halo with your friends across the country.
For a while, this was understandable: Consoles weren’t PCs. The games were only there. Pay a little extra to play online? Weird from the perspective of a PC player (where this ability has been around for forever) but for a console. Okay, sure.
Except in the last two years … this “pay to play” mentality has become a bit of a sticking point against the platform, rather than for it.
Why? Well, Microsoft has made major pushes to “unify” their gaming platform. All their first-party titles now come to PC, with the company putting an emphasis on making it as easy as possible for game-makers to release their titles on both platforms. They’ve even worked to make cross-play possible, so players on one can play with people on the other ecosystem.
Oh, and then they took it one step further and started making purchases cross over. Buy a game like Forza Horizon 4 from a participating digital store, for example, and play it on both your Xbox or your PC, wherever you want.
Buy once, play where you want. Sounds pretty good, right? Except this is where the problem arises.
See, I have an Xbox. I also have a PC. And now that buying me a title on one gets it for me on the other, I’ve started to have misgivings.
Not about owning a console. Sometimes I want to sit back and use a controller. Sometimes I don’t want to have to worry about how old my GPU is, or whether or not I’ve got the latest driver installed. Sometimes I don’t want to use my mouse. I’ve not, until recently, regretted having a console to play.
But where things shattered for me was a few weeks ago when I purchased Gears 5 and discovered that to play Horde mode (my favorite mode across the series) I’d need to drop a set amount of money per month or year (depending on how I paid) to do so … on my console.
If I loaded the game up on my PC, then the cost of online was nothing. As it has always been.
And like that, I started liking my console a lot less.
Look, we know that charging for online is largely a service of “because we can.” But when a product only charges for it on half of the equation, it becomes blatantly obvious. Why should I purchase a title for a console (or the console at all) if I can get the exact same game on my PC and not have to drop $60 a year for the “privilege” of playing it?
This wasn’t an issue when the ecosystems were separate. But by working to bring them together, Microsoft is also showing off where their console is desperately out of date.
Why would I bother paying for the console when I could play the same game on my PC without paying a monthly fee? Because that’s what Xbox Live is: A monthly fee. Paid each month for the ability to use the internet. Something that a computer does for free with the same games.
Suddenly the console is a tax. A monthly tax. To play the same game. Worse, it really is the same game. As I sat there looking at the store notice on my console that I needed to purchase another year of Xbox Live, my mind simply went to my PC, which is at the same desk and even uses the same monitor. I could just install it there, my mind said. Right now. And play without the monthly fee.
And why wouldn’t I? What’s the point of paying for a console when it’s going to charge me more—monthly—for the same experience?
Playing on a Playstation? Well, it makes sense to pay for PS+ or whatever they’re calling it there. Sony doesn’t play nice with others: You cannot get most of their games on a PC, and even the bare few that are don’t have a crossing multiplayer experience. You’re locked to the PC players, with no interaction with the console whatsoever.
Same deal with Nintendo. Their titles are only on a Nintendo product, and you’re only playing with Nintendo players (barring a few Microsoft exceptions).
But with the Xbox … I can just hop onto my computer and play the same game, with the same people, without paying a monthly online fee.
And that just makes me think one of two things. Either—
A) It’s time for Xbox Live Gold to go away, and for multiplayer to be free. After all, they’re making plenty of money with Gamepass (a different service) or …
B) It’s time for me (and a lot of other people) to stop seeing the Xbox as a console worth purchasing, since it’s just going to bleed you for extra services you clearly shouldn’t have to pay for.
Now, some might argue “But those services cost money to exist!” And yeah, they do … but pennies. PC games have run their own servers (by players even) for decades now. The cost isn’t what the console-makers would have you think it is. For all of them it’s just a bonus revenue source. But Microsoft has now made it obvious as a form of “console tax.”
And that? It’s not ideal.
It’s time to get rid of Xbox Live Gold, MS. Because right now? It makes your console unappealing.