[Update, 1/23/2021: Microsoft has updated its original post to indicate that the cost of Xbox Live Gold will not increase after all. This decision, apparently spurred by a substantial consumer backlash (Microsoft was trending most of Friday afternoon on Twitter, and not in the fun way), comes hand in hand with a change coming “as soon as possible” that will allow players to access free-to-play games’ online modes without Xbox Live Gold.
[Microsoft updated its original article on its official news site, saying “We messed up today and you were right to let us know. Connecting and playing with friends is a vital part of gaming and we failed to meet the expectations of players who count on it every day. As a result, we have decided not to change Xbox Live Gold pricing.”]
[Our original article follows.]
Microsoft announced Friday that it’s planning to dramatically raise the monthly cost of its Xbox Live Gold subscription service, which is required for Xbox owners who want to play their console games online.
“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,” Microsoft wrote in its announcement. “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.” This includes the U.S, where the base price of Xbox Live hasn’t gone up since 2010.
Going forward, the price of a Gold membership is planned to rise to $10.99 per month, $29.99 per three months, and $59.99 per six months. (The 12-month option was quietly discontinued last July, although some brick-and-mortar stores may still sell physical gift cards that offer a full year of Gold.) Gold subscribers will still receive the option to download several free games each month, as well as access to a rotating assortment of exclusive flash sales.
For consumers, this means that the cheapest possible method of getting a full year’s access to Xbox Live Gold has effectively doubled in price, from $60 to $120. By way of comparison, the similar subscription services on Sony’s PlayStation 4/5 and the Nintendo Switch cost $59.99 and $19.99, respectively, for a year’s access.
At time of writing, it’s unclear whether existing 6- or 12-month subscribers to Xbox Live Gold will remain on the previous pricing scheme in perpetuity, or will be charged for the new price the next time their subscriptions renew.
Notably, the Xbox also remains the only major console on which free-to-play online games, such as Fortnite, Rocket League, Rec Room, and Call of Duty: Warzone, still require a paid Xbox Live Gold subscription for players to access their multiplayer modes. On the Nintendo Switch and Sony PlayStation 4/5, these games can be played online without a subscription to Sony or Nintendo’s respective online services. However, the Xbox is the only console of the three that offers free cloud backup of users’ data, which both the PlayStation and Switch treat as a subscription perk.
Among industry analysts, Microsoft’s Live price hike is seen as an attempt to incentivize its players to move off of Xbox Live Gold as a standard service, in favor of the $14.99/month Ultimate version of the Xbox Game Pass.
Microsoft’s recent moves with its Xbox arm have been toward decoupling it from the console market and turning it into a sort of virtual ecosystem, available on PCs, mobile devices, and even competitors’ platforms. Since Xbox Live Gold is strictly for console players (PC owners on any service don’t typically pay any additional price for online play, barring specific per-game subscription fees), and Gold’s basic functionality is already rolled up into Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, the price hike represents a sort of soft pressure for consumers to make the switch.
In theory, this would let Microsoft eventually phase out Xbox Live Gold as a standalone service, in favor of continuing its current emphasis on the Game Pass. Another point in this perspective’s favor: Microsoft said that any current Gold members who’ve got a few months left in their current subscription can currently convert their Gold time into Game Pass Ultimate for no additional cost.
Players who have registered an Xbox Live account with Microsoft and connected their Xboxes to the internet, but who do not pay for a monthly subscription, are automatically considered members of Xbox Live’s free Silver plan. Silver, which provides a handful of perks like access to the Xbox’s social networks and cloud server, is unaffected by this change.