It's been more than eighteen years since Microsoft launched Xbox Live and made Xbox owners pay for the privilege of playing games online. Even with online gaming only being a drop of water in the Pacific compared to what it is today, this move was obviously controversial. Why pay for something PCs were and had been offering for free? The answer became very apparent as time went on. Xbox Live Gold kept on growing and improving with higher speeds, better features in multiplayer games, "free" games in the form of Games with Gold and more. Microsoft seemed to justify the price tag by building upon the service, so people stopped complaining about it. Until a better offer came. Not from Sony's PlayStation, but from Microsoft itself.
Xbox Game Pass was introduced to the world on February 28, 2017. With a very limited catalog of games back then, it was easy to just call it an answer to Ubisoft's Uplay or Electronic Arts' Origin, but Microsoft had much bigger plans. After adding more and more games at an impressive pace, the service really got the world's attention three years ago when Phil Spencer and crew announced that first-party titles would launch directly on Xbox Game Pass, starting with Sea of Thieves. Even with a smaller output of first-party exclusives than PlayStation, there was no doubt that this made Xbox Game Pass far more tempting for even mainstream players. Now we'd only have to be interesting in playing two Xbox games every year to actually save money by subscribing to the service. The only real downside was that we had to have Xbox Live Gold as well to enjoy games online...oh, wait.
Because it was impossible for Microsoft to not hear the feedback about that caveat, so the company unveiled Xbox Game Pass Ultimate in 2019. Gathering Game Pass for both consoles and PC with Xbox Live Gold under one subscription was too good to be true, especially when combined with amazing deals that offered three months for one dollar. There was no hiding that Microsoft wanted Xbox Game Pass to be its next big thing. Where those who stick with Xbox Live Gold as separate service "have to make due" with four or five Games with Gold every month, Xbox Game Pass members get hundreds upon hundreds to choose from. Who wouldn't go with the slightly higher price of the latter? Well, it seems like even Microsoft wasn't sure how to convince the remaining Xbox Live Gold stragglers back in January of this year.
Many Americans hadn't even gotten their morning coffee when Microsoft confirmed the rumours of Xbox Live Gold increasing in price. One month of Gold would cost one more dollar and three months by five dollars. The official reasoning was:
"Periodically, we assess the value and pricing of our services to reflect changes in regional marketplaces and to continue to invest in the Xbox community; we'll be making price adjustments for Xbox Live Gold in select markets. In many markets, the price of Xbox Live Gold has not changed for years and in some markets, it hasn't changed for over 10 years."
Fair enough, but you don't have to be the sharpest tool in the shed to understand the other major reason for the price hike: make Xbox Game Pass Ultimate an even better deal. I don't have any form of marketing education, but even I understand that it's smart to increase the price of the base subscription while not touching the one it's bundled with. Maybe I'm crazy, but I think it's obvious that this was the first of many steps to get even more players over to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate in hopes of basically killing Xbox Live Gold and making the former Xbox' new baseline service. Unfortunately for Microsoft, the fact that many players hadn't seen the signs of this coming and of course not gotten a warning beforehand led to such a backlash that the company backtracked its decision less than twenty-four hours later.
What makes this sudden turn-around all the more impressing is that I think it changed long-term plans as well. It's no secret that Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate aren't profitable for Microsoft, as making more than a hundred deals to bring games over to the service costs a lot. That's even before including EA Play. I think it's safe to assume Microsoft was planning to increase the price of Game Pass as well, and that the hike of Xbox Live Gold was part of the process. Now it's time for plan B.
I'm of course talking about having Square Enix' AAA game Outriders launching day-and-date on Xbox Game Pass April 1. Not as Games with Gold, but Game Pass. A very interesting choice considering having it being a part of GwG would only make it "free" for a month, instead of an unspecified longer time. Again: Xbox Game Pass is clearly the focus moving forward. Outriders could easily have been a way to justify increasing the cost of Xbox Live Gold, but it is ending up on Game Pass instead. Sure, we'll need Gold to play it online, which could obviously be a part of the decision, but it seems like thing might be changing in that department as well.
The first indication of this is Halo Infinite's multiplayer being free-to-play when it launches this fall. 343 Industries' highly-anticipated title would most definitely have boosted Xbox Live Gold subscriptions by going the traditional route. Then why suddenly the change of heart and philosophy? Maybe it's because Infinite will launch on Game Pass and Microsoft wants to show there's no need for just Gold? Official plans of not requiring Gold for free-to-play games later this year kind of strengthens that theory as well, don't you think?
To make long and extensive text short: Microsoft is clearly trying to get rid of Xbox Live Gold as a separate product to instead get everyone over to Xbox Game Pass, in my opinion, and we should let them. While the higher price tag will make it harder for those of us with a tight budget, it's a far better deal. Even as a guy that has to have two jobs to even get close to the average salary in Norway, I think Microsoft should leave Xbox Live Gold behind to put all the spotlight on Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. This will allow them to bring even more and better games to it, make even more games support Cloud and maybe even make all online play free because everyone will be there for the incredible library and such anyway. Xbox Game Pass is the best dealing in gaming, folks, so please let it become the norm as well.
How wrong am I?