Mentioned briefly in the introductory video for the latest Dashboard Update (which hit Xbox 360 consoles this past Monday and was officially announced right before the US Launch of Kinect in NYC on Wednesday) the Xbox Live Gold Family Pack is really finally truly here. Not so surprisingly, some confusion and many questions were raised among the users that don't know what to do with multiple Xbox Live Gold accounts and multiple consoles.
How it will affect their Zune accounts and alter their interactions with each of the services was also a dodgy subject. I recommend reading on if you find any aspect of the new plan confusing, confounding, befuddling, frustrating, or any other disorienting verb. We'll do our best to leave you enlightened and ready to set up an Xbox Live Gold Family Pack.
You may find it's worth it even if you don't have a full family!
First off, the Family Pack cannot combine accounts, services, game content or media into one Xbox Live account. The Family Pack, above all else, is a very cheap way of managing up to four (four for now, Microsoft is more than likely to add more in the future) multiple Xbox Live Gold accounts. Designed specifically for families in mind, one Primary account will be able to monitor the activity of other accounts - what games have been played and for how long or how long they've been using Netflix or Zune.
The Primary account will be able to regulate game time and set parental controls - what content the other accounts are able to access and what games they are able to play. Because the Family Pack unifies billing to one Primary account an allowance of spendable Microsoft Points can be distributed to the other members. This doesn't mean that the other members won't be able to acquire their own Microsoft Points though, they aren't dependent on the Primary account holder to buy Microsoft Points on their behalf.
Math! One account for a year of Gold = $59.99. Two accounts for a year of Gold = $119.98. One family pack (which includes up to 4 gold accounts) for a year = $99.99. That's a savings of about twenty American dollars for just two accounts - great if you've got a significant other, a little brother or sister, a close personal friend or what have you. If you can get three people who want to get Gold accounts along with you than you can basically boil it down to buying one full price Gold account and buying a second Gold account for twenty bucks off and getting two additional Gold accounts ($120.00 value) for free.
There has never been a better time for a family to get a Gold account than right now. Do you already have a Gold account? Do you and a few members of your family already have Gold accounts? This a good time for you as well.
Current Gold subscribers can upgrade to the Family pack and get a five dollar deduction on the cost of the Family Pack for every month remaining in their Gold subscription. Microsoft will prorate up to $120.00 (20 months remaining on a Gold subscription) off an upgrade to the Family Pack, making it free. Any subscription time remaining on a Gold account over 20 months will not be deducted or refunded.
"But I've already got a gold account and my kids already have their own Gold accounts..." Each account can be added to the Family Pack. You won't receive any discounts for remaining subscription time on the additional Gold accounts but the subscription time of each account under the Family Pack will be extended one month for every two months left on each Gold account. For instance- you're adding two Gold accounts to the Family Pack and there is a combined 6 months of subscription time remaining. Every member in the Family Pack will receive an additional 3 months subscription time for the 6 month remainder of the Gold accounts being added to it. An account can be added to a Family Pack at any time and accounts can be dropped from the plan at any time. Dropped accounts won't be available to be added back to the same Family Pack for a period of time.
To set up a Family Pack, the Primary account holder must be the one to make the purchase (only available through Xbox.com or the Xbox 360's Dashboard). Each member that is going to be added to the Family Pack must have their Gamertag saved on the same console. Many, many people have separate consoles and found this bit confusing. You can transfer each Gamertag between consoles easily by transferring them to an Xbox 360 memory unit or a flash drive via the Dashboard's Memory tab located in System Settings. Alternately you can use the Gamertag Recovery feature.
To Recover a Gamertag through the 360's Dashboard you'll need to sign out of the Xbox Live service if you're already signed in (press the glowey Guide button on the controller to bring up the Guide menu and press X to sign out) and select Recover Gamertag from the Guide menu. You'll need to enter the Windows Live ID and password associated with the Gamertag that you are recovering. Once each account is added to the Family Pack they can then be moved or Recovered back to any console and will work exactly as they did before without any difference - unless they go international. All the members associated with a Family Pack must reside within the same country. Hey, I don't know, Microsoft's rules not mine.
In addition to the immense savings on 4 Xbox Live Gold accounts and unified billing, parental settings and monitoring tools, Family Pack subscribers will also receive discounts on family friendly games akin to the Deal of the Week that all regular Xbox Live Gold subscribers get.
How will this affect WP7 users? Well, we're all going to be gaming through Xbox Live on our WP7 devices now aren't we? We're all quite accustomed to mobile phone service providers offering Family Plans and now, for the first time, a gaming service with substantial integrated entertainment features like Netflix and ESPN also has a Family plan.
After raising the cost of the Xbox Live service, releasing Kinect last Monday, and launching WP7 here in the US next Monday it looks like Microsoft is making it a little (financially) easier to embrace the Xbox Live Gold service for newcomers and veterans alike.