Should Microsoft still charge for Xbox Live?

Should Microsoft still charge for Xbox Live?

Sick of having to pay to play online with the Xbox 360 when the PS3 users get it for free? Well, you're not alone. The question of whether users should be paying for the Xbox Live service is a question raised many times by millions of Xbox Live users throughout the world. In this article, we look at this question in detail.

It was 3 years in March since Microsoft launched the Xbox 360 here in Australia and it was 3 years in November since it launched in America and Microsoft continue charging users for the use of the Gold Xbox Live service. For those that don’t know, Xbox Live has two subscription levels, Gold and Silver. The silver level gives you access to demos and the marketplace, which includes downloadable content. The gold level, in addition to what already is available at silver level lets you play online and gives you timed exclusive access to certain downloadable content and demos.

Here in Australia the average price for a 12-month live kit is around $80. As with everywhere else in the world, the 360’s main rival, the PS3, has an online service called the Playstation Network (PSN), which is free. This service allows you access to the Playstation Store, movies and TV shows, its new feature called ‘Home’ and online gaming.

Early in the PS3’s life, a reason that many Xbox people argued with their PS3 counterparts as to why Microsoft charged for Xbox Live and Sony didn’t for the PSN was that you get what you paid for. This was a reasonable argument at the time due to the Xbox Live service being streets ahead of the PSN in functionality and content. Sony have since worked their butts off to get their much published PSN feature “Home” to its launch stage and have continually made lots of general improvements to the PSN to at least make it on par with Xbox Live.

Although some will argue that the Xbox Live Service contains more content than the PSN including the great new addition in downloadable SD & HD movies and TV shows via Netflix, which is sadly, only available to America, the largest issues facing Microsoft at the moment is the amount of drop outs from Xbox Live and the continual lag that plagues most games.

The Netflix feature alone may make the gold Xbox Live subscription worth it in America, but here in Australia and other territories without Netflix, is the gold subscription worth it when a large percentage of games you play online are plagued with lag issues?

Another point that is mostly relevant to us here in Oz is that we also don’t get the Inside Xbox feature that many other countries get. If you have ever made up an American account you will know that the videos included in the Inside Xbox feature are great. They include updates from Major Nelson, IGN Hints & Tips, special game preview videos and game guides including how to get some of those elusive achievements. On the other hand, most of the things available on the PSN in America and everywhere else is on the PSN in Australia, which is fantastic.

In addition, many PS3 games that include online play like Resistance 2 for example, have dedicated servers which cuts down the lag considerably when playing online, even with people from overseas. If Microsoft expects Xbox Live users to pay for the gold subscription so they can play online, especially in Australia, they need to start putting in dedicated servers for their games rather than relying on peer-to-peer connections, which are increasingly becoming more and more unreliable. I know Microsoft make money from the gold subscriptions, but an idea for them to maintain this would be to make Xbox Live free for everyone, but in turn raise the prices slightly on things like Arcade games and downloadable content. This would more than make up for the live subscription fees lost and it would make users happy as everyone on Xbox Live gets to play online and the choice is theirs whether they pay for Arcade games and DLC. All this would help prevent people from switching to the PS3 and would possibly boost the 360’s sales, which benefits Microsoft anyway.

If Microsoft doesn’t do something soon to improve the dropouts, the lag and the price of the gold subscription, especially in the non-Netflix territories, the PS3 could become the console of choice for online gaming, especially with big online titles like Killzone 2 and Street Fighter IV. This will depend of course on whether Sony will start to charge for the PSN soon, as it is still losing money on the PS3 and losses can only be soaked up for so long, especially in today’s bad economic climate.

Time will tell, but 2009 could see the PSN overtake Xbox Live as the online service of choice if Microsoft sits back and does nothing. That being said, lets hope Microsoft bring out some major features and updates that not only improve Xbox Live, but rid it of the issues that users have complained about for some time now.


Article by Craig Cirillo