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Xbox Live Gold just became the worst deal in gaming [Update]

Xbox Live Sign
Xbox Live Sign (Image credit: Windows Central)

Xbox Live Gold

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Updated Jan. 23, 12:03 a.m. ET: Very early Saturday morning, the Xbox team announced that it would be rolling back the price hike on Xbox Live Gold following negative feedback. Prices will stay the same for Xbox Live Gold Members — $9.99 for one month, $24.99 for three months, $39.99 for six months, and $59.99 for 12 months. The announcement also revealed that users will no longer need an Xbox Live Gold membership to play free-to-play games on Xbox. Our original editorial is below.

After building up mountains of good will with a solid next-gen Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S launch, continued high-quality output into Xbox Game Pass, and big-name acquisitions such as the recent ZeniMax Media deal, Microsoft felt the need to remind us it is capable of truly strange decisions.

Today, after leaks and rumors, Microsoft revealed that yes, it is increasing the cost of Xbox Live Gold to double that of PlayStation's equivalent service. So, um, what?

What's going on with Xbox Live Gold?

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

While existing 12-month and 6-month subscribers won't be affected by this change, those on 1-month recurring subscriptions will be hit with an aggressive price gradation that now sees 12-months of Xbox Live Gold cost twice as much as Sony's equivalent service.

Xbox Live Gold gives you access to multiplayer on Xbox game consoles, in addition to four free download-to-own titles every month, although the quality on these games is often below par, to say the least. Beyond that, Xbox Live Gold doesn't really offer anything else.

SubscriptionXbox Live GoldPlayStation Plus
Free games onlineSubscription requiredSubscription not required
1 month$10.99$9.99
3 months$29.99$24.99
6 months$59.99N/A
12 monthsN/A$59.99

Microsoft used to offer Xbox Live Gold for $60 per year, equivalent to Sony's PlayStation Plus service. Now, $60 will only net you six months unless you're an active subscriber with no plans to cancel. As usual, you can upgrade your Xbox Live Gold subscription into an Xbox Game Pass subscription at no additional cost (opens in new tab), but that's not much comfort to someone who isn't interested in Xbox Game Pass.

PlayStation multiplayer beats Xbox on value

PlayStation 5

Source: Sony (Image credit: Source: Sony)

With this change, it's undeniable that PlayStation Plus offers a higher value proposition. 12 months of PlayStation Plus costs just half of what 12 months of Xbox Live gold costs now, but that's not all. PlayStation Network doesn't gate users who want to play free-to-play games. You know, games that are supposed to be free, like Fortnite or Rocket League.

Would you rather pay $120 a year for access to Fortnite or $0 a year?

Particularly for parents who may be struggling to justify monthly subscriptions as it is during the pandemic, letting their kids get access to these games without additional costs is undeniably offering better value. If you're a non-gaming parent of a youngster or someone who doesn't really play too many games, would you rather pay $120 a year for access to Fortnite or $0 a year?

I'm not sure what Microsoft thinks Xbox Live Gold does so much better than PlayStation Network to justify this price disparity.

This is really about Xbox Game Pass

Source: Matt Brown / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Matt Brown / Windows Central)

I predicted a while ago that Xbox Live Gold's paywall would eventually go away but not any time soon. As Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers swell to replace the lost potential income from Xbox Live Gold, which is substantial, it stands to reason that gamers in markets that may be mobile-first, where Microsoft currently has zero presence, could become the subsidizing factor needed for Xbox console hardware. Indeed, the reason Xbox (and other consoles, for that matter) are generally cheaper entry points to high-end gaming is that they're subsidized by their subscriptions and services. Remove Xbox Live Gold overnight, and you blow a massive hole in your cash flow.

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate gives you access to a wide variety of benefits and is undoubtedly of a much, much higher value now than Xbox Live Gold by itself. No doubt, it is ultimately the plan to persuade gamers to move from Xbox Live Gold to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. Whether that Xbox Live Gold's paywall goes away entirely depends on how much of that cost is already factored into Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, and the truth is we simply don't know whether or not that's the case. What certainly is the case is how old-fashioned and, frankly, weird Xbox Live Gold feels in 2021, when you're playing on merged multiplayer servers with PC and mobile gamers who, of course, don't have to pay to play.

This feels strangely aggressive

It might be argued that there's no "good time" to do a price increase, but right now, I can't think of a worse time. Microsoft bragged about its gaming revenue breaking records during the pandemic, and how does it thank its customers? Many of whom may even be new customers? With a big price hike.

There's no "good time" to do a price increase, but right now, I can't think of a worse time.

This raises eyebrows about the health of the business in some ways. If it has to do something so drastic as to double its annual subscription over its closest competitor — who, to be fair, may well now follow suit with a similar price hike, is everything going so smoothly, as Microsoft often claims? Either way, Microsoft has given Sony an opportunity to showcase PlayStation Plus' value or raise prices in a gentler way that helps them avoid the kind of scrutiny Microsoft is receiving in bucketloads right now.

I can't help but wonder why Microsoft thought it was appropriate to do this in the middle of a pandemic, with record unemployment and hardship in many of Microsoft's key markets. This also puts a microscope over Microsoft's erroneous practice of paywalling free-to-play games. It also highlights that there is no family plan for Xbox Live Gold or Xbox Game Pass.

Finally, it also reminds us that, despite record revenues due to the boom tech companies saw over the past year while schools and workplaces shuttered, corporations can never be sated.

Xbox Game Pass

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Jez Corden
Jez Corden

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

47 Comments
  • Makes the decision for some parents much easier, especially if their kids are only really into stuff like Fortnite. Buy a PlayStation.
  • **** off sony fanboy, not that hard to buy something called xbox game pass
  • You're funny. And speaking like that of which you accuse. If you weren't just an offensive asshat I'd be happy to discuss why I said what I said. But because you were, well you keep on making friends. And since you're new here...I work for the site.
  • oh uh i thought i you were just a fanboy coming here to make fun of it, i did not recognize your name. Nothing i can say will make up for that, so uh sorry i guess and yeah the price was crazy and im happy they reverted it and i guess my mind just went into hyperdrive mode but yeah well **** me i was completly in the wrong
  • Who called Game Pass difficult to buy? That just...doesn't make sense.
  • Sorry, he is 100% right. Why pay for a subscription at $120 to play that same game we can do it at $60 cheaper or free. Microsoft is making an awful incorrect assumption that most people will just move to Game Pass Ultimate because it is only a few dollars more. Wrong. I have heard from several people today, including my brother, that are looking to PS when their Gold subscription expires.. These people are not interested in Game Pass because they primarily play games, not in the service (like the most recent FIFA, Madden, COD, or Fortnite). Now they only need Gold but not at $120. So PS is a viable option. Especially if like many people you are planning on getting a next-gen console. They are talking about moving to PS and my brother is even toying with trying Stadia because the other options it will either be free to play (e.g. Fornite PS+ or Stadia) or half the price. Imagine trying to sell Gold to someone that is interested in Series S because of the price. Buying into the PS (specifically PS AD) they almost make up that price differential of $100 in the first year by avoiding Gold at this new price. In 3 years they are paying $180 less to play the same games they are playing now on Xbox but doing it on PS. Hell Standia it is all free. And GPU may have some good games for some it doesn't meet everyone's needs. Let's call it like it is. This a very anti-consumer move. All that goodwill Xbox built up over the last few years has been washed away in a single bad move. I suppose historically it is par for the course for Xbox to make these big failures.
  • Why would they buy a PlayStation? If their kids are only into Fortnight, buy a Nintendo Switch. It's cheaper.
  • The Switch has a terrible online setup. You don't have built-in voice chat or more than a minimal online profile. The hardware is significantly weaker as well. If you're going for lowest-price hardware, then using someone's already-owned mobile device would beat the Switch on hardware costs, really.
  • I agree, the Switch does have a poor online set up, but it's more than good enough to play Fortnite on. My point is Richard was saying that parents on a budget won't buy an Xbox for their child that plays Fortnite and not much else, they'll buy a PlayStation instead. But that makes no sense, if they're on a budget they'll go for the cheapest option which is the Switch. And let's be honest, if parents can afford to buy their child a £400-£500 console, they can afford to pay £10 a month for online gaming.
  • Fortnite doesn't need an Xbox or Playstation. While you are correct that it doesn't make sense, it didn't make sense for $60 a year either. It's clearly the direction they want to go to push people to the Game Pass Ultimate subscription service which has great value. Which that is what this article said to me. You can still preload 36 months worth of Xbox Live Gold by purchasing 12 month Xbox Live Gold prepaid for $60 each, then convert for a $1 and additionally get an extra 2 months for free under the current promotion. I just did this and now have Game Pass Ultimate paid for until 3/21/24. Quite possibly the best deal in gaming you can find. I'll stick with my Series X.
  • It's always been absurd that Xbox users on PC can play the exact same games, enjoying the exact same Xbox Live services and servers, for absolutely no cost, but Xbox users on console have to pay to play online.
  • No, it never made sense to pay to play the games you own online. But this is all something invented in the world of consoles, full of different rules and artificial barriers. For example, console hardware is sold at a loss, it's a lot cheaper than it would cost.
  • There are better way to encourage (push) people to game pass. All Access is a great start... But this... Feels wrong...
  • Microsoft throws some pro-consumer moves like being able to use the X1 Controller on Series S/X, but then throws the most anti-consumer move possible that undos all the other ones by huge mother ******* margin
  • Price hikes can be okay. 100% price hikes are definitely not
  • Not defending this move because it's definitely strange and shouldn't be the case but it's not really a price "hike." Gold is and has been $10 a month for a good while, they just removed the incentive to buy it in bulk.
  • They didn't "just remove the incentive," they removed the opportunity entirely. I'd bet a large portion of their XBL sales were on the bulk options. The lowest possible purchase price has doubled, it's not like they removed a secondary rewards program.
  • I buy one Xbox game a year, and in the last 5 years, I play only 1 online game. I also have a gaming pc. I guess they consider me collateral damage.
  • What the hell Phil? Making XBLG more expensive in order to push people to Game Pass Ultimate is dumb and anti-consumer. Some people literally only use a console as a Call of Duty machine. Those people should get a PS5 instead and I wouldn't blame them.
  • Best answer : Avatars party games
  • Yeah at this point in time I don't think this was a good decision.
  • I don't understand the complaining. I haven't paid for Gold or Pass for over three years because of Bing Reward searches and activities (it takes less than five minutes a day). In fact I have so much saved up I'm good through Sep 2021. No one that has internet access has to pay for Gold or Pass. Get on the free train ride. Didn't Windows Central do a recent article about this as well? Sony has nothing like it.
  • OK, so tell parents buying an Xbox for their kid to play Fortnite or Rocket League or whatever else that's free to play how to put in all that effort to avoid 120 bucks a year? You're right, you don't understand, because the situation doesn't affect you. Were you able to see it from the perspective of someone it does affect, you would see why it's a problem.
  • Parents would get Xbox Game Pass because they're not idiots and not invested in bickering about console wars.
  • Oh I understand too well. That's why I started doing it, it was affecting me. It literally took me all of 3 minutes on my smartphone sitting on the can to get all of todays rewards doing searches I would have done anyway. Man that was difficult. In fact most the people I know who do it are kids in school, it's that easy. Maybe Windows Central needs to do another article and get some people informed in this great opportunity that is free. I'll even write it.
  • Microsoft Rewards is not available in most countries.
  • You probably meant "all countries", it is available to most of the world.
  • This won't affect existing subscribers that use 6 or 12-month subscriptions so I guess it is to move new people to gamepass and also to prevent people from abusing gamepass conversion offer.
  • It's not abuse when they promote it. You can still do it to this day. It's even in their FAQs "When signing up for Game Pass Ultimate from Microsoft: Joining Xbox Game Pass Ultimate will upgrade your remaining Xbox Live Gold or Xbox Game Pass for Console or Xbox Game Pass for PC time into Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for the same amount of time, up to 36 months. All conversions are final."
  • The way you can abuse this system is by creating dummy accounts on your home console and do the transfer for them. Their subscription will share to your main account, so you could keep buying game pass for half the price until they remove this offer completely.
  • And? Still until the remove the option that is a valid use of the deal. So is also letting your GP subscription expire then buy Gold and get the deal with the same 1 to 1 you had previously. If Microsoft didn't want you doing this last one they could easily make it so but they don't. Abuse is actually having to pay for online while PC gamers using the same Live services don't pay a dime. How is that fair and not abusive treatment for console gamers? And now we are being charged $120 for the privilege. Why not charge PC gamers online too? Probably because it wouldn't work would it? And it shouldn't work with console gamers. Especially with those real competitors Phil references (Google, Amazon) don't charge for online at all.
  • What the hell Microsoft? This is going in the WRONG DIRECTION! Read the room.
  • Personally I don't see what the big deal is. It's obvious MS want people to move over to game pass, which is far better value than PlayStation network and Gold, even at double the price.
  • Huh? The value of Game Pass has nothing to do with this.
  • What seems obvious to me is they are essentially pushing player to the Game Pass Ultimate that includes Xbox Live Gold in it's feature list. Which includes over a hundred games includes EAPlay and allows playing games remotely. You can still purchase 12 months for $60 with prepaid cards, you can still buy and redeem 36 months / 3 years worth, then convert to Game Pass Ultimate for a dollar which throws in two months more GPU for free. Which is a great deal if you haven't already made the switch to Game Pass Ultimate. Quite literally still the greatest deal in gaming if you act fast before the 12 month Xbox Live Gold price changes. Which actually still would be a deal at $120 for a year and converting. I'm pretty sure the next part of this move will be to make multiplayer gaming free like other platforms, who knows when they will do this though. If someone was already paying $60 a year to play with their friends the idea of not playing on the Xbox platform argument was already valid before this change. I'm not saying that there is value in Xbox Live Gold anymore, it just seems like a big push to make Game Pass Ultimate that much more enticing.
  • Wow there is a lot of spin going on here, and while I will admit this is quite a anti-consumer move there are a couple of things I want to point out. In most territories, with a little diligence, you can get Xbox Game Pass Ultimate completely FREE - by using Microsoft Rewards, one can earn enough points to get Game Pass Ultimate for 3 months and some extra points on top. I understand some can't afford Game Pass Ultimate, prefer just having gold (for whatever reason, maybe some warped principle?), but with that money saving method, you can also get Xbox Live Gold FREE and some left over for movies/games/dlc. Yes, you can play some free games on the PS4/PS5 without PS+, but if you really want to save money, you can play some of those games (and coincidentally some of the most popular) on your phone, without the need of a expensive console! There have been numerous opportunities to upgrade XBLG to XGPU with all of your remaining time for just £1 or whatever it was/is in your territory, iirc there are still ways you can get similar deals or work the system if you want to be thrifty. And again, you can still get XBLG or XGPU COMPLETELY FREE, if you want to sack it off just for internet points and memes be my guest, the only person that's losing out is you. Lastly, if you think Sony isn't going to hike their prices in the future for PS Plus...
  • What parent is going to grind Microsoft reward points? This comment is ignorant.
  • Can't say I'm surprised. Remember, this is the same company that repeatedly crept the Surface Pro's price upward while giving less and less for the iterative releases. The same year they removed the Surface Pen from the Surface Pro package, they raised the Pen's price from $50 to $100. It's the same company that took Forza Horizon's DLC and split it into TWO pass purchases (Car Pass and Expansion Pass). They raised the price of the Elite Controller to $180 after the $150 version sat on shelves with known hardware flaws. We were given a Surface Duo at $1,400+ that hard year-old internals and barebones hardware features. Microsoft, particularly Xbox, has spent the last 3-5 years running off of goodwill from unfulfilled promises. They never gave us Xbox VR. They canceled Kinect after forcing people to buy it as an on-optional accessory. Halo, the only major release for the Series X, is on a yearlong delay with nothing to fill the void. Many dev teams and second-party IPs were sent packing a few years into the XB1's life cycle. Other than Game Pass (mostly geared towards older titles right now) and the hardware of the Series S and Series X, Microsoft hasn't done a whole lot of good in the consumer space in a while. They've acted very much like Apple for a while.
  • Most of us agree this was pretty much the most anti-consumer move Micsofot/Xbox has done in a very long time if not the most anti-consumer move Xbox has done (especially considering what is going on in the world right now). If this is to get people into Gold Pass Ultimate there is going to a lot of collateral damage in the process. People will just buy a PS when their next-gen purchase is made or invest in other options where there is no cost PC and even Stadia come to mine. Maybe just avoid online subscriptions completely. I remember for a couple of years I barely used online but I habitual bought into Gold every year. I am not alone. Many people don't really take advantage of Gold for online play. At $60 it was almost like an impulse buy with the free games. If this similar pricing move happened back them for me I would easily have gotten rid of Gold for what minor purpose it served back then. The strange things is the opposite direction of being a pro-consumer by removing the archaic Gold requirement for online play would have actually driven eyeballs to Xbox not away from and drew praises, not endless disgust and negative news stories. Instead of paying $60 more you probably get people investing in Game Pass and Game Pass Ultimate at greater rates because they weren't paying $60 online any longer. Same outcome but more people invested in your ecosystem (even if it was not all GPU). Most likely getting a larger percentage of casuals who may have bought a PS5 but maybe buy into an Xbox instead because of the savings and in turn more people buying into Game Pass/Game Pass Ultimate. The question that must be intensified and forced more and more on Microsoft is not being disgusted about pricing increases and questioning Microsoft about it. But in 2020 being disgusted about paying for online in any situation at all. In this supposed play anywhere world Spencer talks about there is this parity differential. Not all citizens of the play anywhere world are treated equally. Why is it consoles are forced to now pay $120/year (hell even $60/yr now) while PCs with the same services access pay nothing?
  • It should be free to play the games online. I’m not going to game pass, because I don’t play enough games to make it worth it. Guess I’ll be switching from Xbox once my year if Xbox live is over.
  • That's exactly why I get game pass ultimate though.... I don't have time to play as much as when I was in my 20s so instead of spending money on single games I spend less on game pass and have always something to play when I have the time... I just check every week the new releases and dl them... Along GwG... Never had that many game to play spending so little to get them... I buy maybe one game a year now at launch (mostly to play with friends) and maybe 2 or 3 at discount and usually because I tried them when they were available in pass and I liked them and didn't get the time to finish them... Not sure what you play but in then end I'm saving money compared to when I was playing a lot and have more games to play and yes more games I enjoy some of which I would have completely missed if it wasn't for the pass proposing them at no extra cost.... The pb now is that I have a backlog of more than 400 games lol well at least half of that I'd like to complete...
  • This was so bad that they went back and fixed F2P games not actually being free. I want commend them for this, I mean online shouldn't even be payed and you still for what can't buy a anual subscriptions
  • The gamers have spoken. Kudos to Microsoft for listening smart move.
  • In the end, with MS backing and all, this was all about PS winning this battle.
  • They should kill gold altogether IMHO.... And get a more versatile pyement option for game pass and ultimate... With subs up to 2 years prepaid or monthly that would come very close from gold subs... And have a 2month free gifted with e ery new console sold... With discounts on their first sub if they sign up before the end of the free trial.... Something like that... Well then again you can pretty much do that already if you want just have to work for it a little but nothing big for most gamers that cares about getting the best deal
  • Jez, I heard you on Rands podcast and I agreed with a lot of what you said around free multiplayer on PC and subsidising the Xbox. The big problem was really free-to-play games like Fortnite, my nephew bought my Xbox One X off me primarily for Fortnite and explaining to my sister that if he wanted to play that game he had to fork out $60 (at the time) to play a free game was akward. luckily I got him on the $1 Ultimate deal and now he can play hundreds of games and Fortnite but it isn't obvious for non gamers that the Ultimate deal even exists.
    Once again MS has communication problems and I agree with you a lot of this is down to the multiple platforms and deals that MS is juggling. They need to simplify their plans and hopefully as they move away from the Xbox One this will happen. As for their tone deaf nature with gamers i don't know maybe they will always be that way. Luckily they are nimble on their feet and can spin on a dime but it would be better if they didn't need to maneuver at all especially with the scales being weighted against them in general with the gaming public.
  • I actually don’t believe that Microsoft is so pro consumer, and this move is evidence of it. Yes, Game Pass is a great deal, but at the end of the day, it’s all about revenue, so while I don’t agree with this attempted move at all, I get why they’d do it. With that said, the only reasons I think they reversed on Gold is because of the amount of people threatening to dump their platforms over it and the atrocious optics of attempting to pillage users during a financial crisis (the pandemic). Then again, I view a lot of Microsoft’s internal decisions regarding Xbox as of late as the wrong moves. How many failed game showcases, not to mention the Series S/X launch itself, does Microsoft need to make before people start to question the decision making going on? This Gold fiasco is just the latest.