Back in 2002, Microsoft introduced an online multiplayer gaming and digital media delivery system called the Xbox Live. The Xbox Live service is available both as a free and subscription based model, known as Xbox Live Silver and Xbox Live Gold.
When it was first released on the Xbox, Xbox Live Gold was a literal goldmine for Microsoft. It allowed players from all over the world to play with faraway friends and strangers in the comfort of their living room. While the Gamecube and PlayStation 2 did also manage to bring such connectivity to their systems, Microsoft and their Xbox was the only one which managed to do it successfully. However, players are only able to play online and stream Netflix, Hulu and various other TV shows if they are Xbox Live Gold subscribers.
Over the years, Microsoft invested heavily into the Xbox Live system and designed the Xbox 360 with online connectivity in mind. Microsoft has streamlined the online interface to make it more accessible to a wider audience, with only a few button taps, players are able to view what their friends are playing, chat with them and view their achievements. Over time, the Xbox 360 became the go-to system for online-focused games due to in no small part, the online infrastructure that Microsoft built that was the Xbox Live service.
Then in 2006, Sony released the PlayStation 3. While it took Sony several years and a few firmware updates for the PlayStation 3 to be on a competitive level to the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3 online features can now easily trump the Xbox Live.
Compared to the subscription based model of the Xbox Live, PlayStation Network allows PlayStation 3 owners to play online with their friends and stream Netflix and other TV shows for free. And for a monthly payment, PlayStation Plus subscribers get additional features such as free games, discounts on select games through the PlayStation Store and exclusive and priority access to betas and demos. So if PlayStation Network allows PlayStation 3 owners the paid features of the Xbox 360 for free, what makes the Xbox Live Gold worth it?
So why do Microsoft still charge for Xbox Live Gold? It’s because they are making money off of it. A lot of money. But with online gaming and their various features becoming more accessible, charging for such features will only serve to push their subscribers to their competitors who can do it better and for free. Here’s to hoping that Microsoft will do away with their archaic model with the next generation and becoming more consumer-oriented.