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On Xbox Live – I Think Our Relationship Has Changed

A couple years ago, playing online was a huge chunk of my gaming time. Between Left 4 Dead 2, Borderlands, Castle Crashers, N+ and even more recently, Mass Effect 3, I had a lot of time invested in online play. Now though, not so much.

The Xbox 360 was also my first console from this current generation that I got, and it still remains to be the one console that myself and most of my friends have in common. So why is it that I haven’t been a Gold Subscriber in months, or used the Xbox like the entertainment system that Microsoft is selling it to be? Or even turned the damn thing on? Well because of a few things like…

Price Raise

I remember the exact moment when my relationship with Xbox Live Gold started to change, and that was when Microsoft decided to raise the price of subscriptions. Now, I’ve never bought an entire year of Gold ahead of time (I could use that money for something else), so I always opted for the 3-Months for $20; it seemed like a fair amount. And the 3-Months for $20 was in that nice in-between space of not being too expensive (1 full year) and not being too short (1-Month). You can also pay with a $20 bill and be on your merry way. Now, though, the 1-Month has gone from $8 to $10, 3-Months have gone from $20 to $25 and 1-Year has gone from $50 to $60 (the price of a new retail game!). A relatively small increase, but an increase nonetheless.

Oh, and don’t forget about Automatic Renewal, which seems to turn itself back on whenever you renew your subscription. Hands up – who here has been a victim of Automatic Renewal? It’s always fun figuring out where your money suddenly went, isn’t it? But at least you get to keep using this great, advantageous service, right? Uh…

Xbox Live Gold Isn’t Enticing

What does Xbox Live offer its Gold members as opposed to those freeloading Free members? Well, you get to play online, which used to be the whole point. You can use Netflix, another service that you already have to pay for. ESPN, iHeartRadio and ‘personalized music from Zune Music Pass’, I guess. Game discounts? No, don’t think so, unless you bought the Family Pack. Then you get discounts on family friendly games. But the rest of you, have fun with early demo access (if that’s still a thing).

Meanwhile, over on the PlayStation 3 we have PlayStation Plus. Truthfully, I wasn’t a fan of it when Sony first announced it. I felt that it was just something to compete with Microsoft’s Xbox Live Gold, and it still is, no doubt. But I think PS+ has grown to become something better than Xbox Live Gold. For starters, even without PS+, you can play online, use Netflix (and only pay for one service, holy crap!), Amazon Instant Video, and whatever other apps the system has. You’re not blocked out from anything.

PlayStation Plus adds to your experience with the PlayStation 3. Not only do you get exclusive discounts and content, but you have the ability to get free games. PlayStation Plus’ Instant Games Collection is a brilliant idea, and it’s a collection that continues to be updated monthly. PS+ is a service that actually saves you money, as opposed to taking your money and giving you very little in return. Did I mention that PS+ is $18 for 3-Months and $50 for a whole year? Even before the price hike of Xbox Live, PS+ was a better value.

Microsoft Points

And then we have Microsoft Points. Ah, Microsoft Points – or Microsoft’s Moon Money as I sometimes call it, despite it being a longer term to type out.

MS Points are pretty easy to figure out when it comes to determining how many points equal how many dollars. 80 MS Points is $1, 400 MS Points = $5, 800 MS Space Coins = $10, blah blah blah. But there are many, many items on Xbox Live that don’t fit that simple conversion and instead make buying MS Points a huge pain in the ass.

Just recently, Valve put out new DLC for Left 4 Dead 2. Called Cold Stream, it adds one brand new campaign as well as the four remaining campaigns from the original Left 4 Dead, all for the price of 560 MS Points (I know it’s free on PC. Ssh!). Okay, great, $7 is that much. Oh, but wait, you can only buy points in increments of 400. This means that, unless you have some points lying around collecting virtual dust, you’ll have to pony up for the 800 points and come to terms with having some left over, most likely so that you can spend them on stupid Avatar items. Hurrah?

The point is (pun not intended), I was completely willing to pay for the DLC, but that extra step of having to figure out how to get a $7 add-on without spending more than $7 is what turned me away from buying it altogether. MS Points are great and simple when you’re buying some XBLA game, but then you get the ‘oddly’ priced items and MS Points become a bigger obstacle than necessary.  It kinda makes you wonder if Microsoft would be better off ditching the MS Points entirely.

By the way, how’d Bioware manage to release several free add-ons for Mass Effect 3, but Valve can’t?

Xbox Live, and by extension, the Xbox 360, used to be my go-to service/system where I would spend most of my free time and money. Back then, paying for Gold just seemed right, like I would be missing out on everything the service had to offer me. To be fair, I didn’t have a PS3 back then, so my Xbox was my only current-gen system and my go-to Netflix machine. But now? Now I have a PS3. I’ve seen Sony use PS Plus in a better and smarter fashion, and I don’t see it stopping anytime soon. The only thing I’d like from them is to extend the discounts to the video side of their PS Store.

Microsoft is turning their Xbox 360 into an all-in-one, family friendly entertainment device, but is still using a made-up currency unknown to the casual market they’re trying to get. People aren’t stupid (well some are). If they have the option to choose between exchanging their money for imaginary MS Points or taking their business elsewhere, where it’s potentially easier and more straightforward, which do you think they’ll choose?

Simplicity and overall value are two of the biggest factors when it comes to deciding what services you pay for. Sony seems to understand that (or they’re good at pretending), whereas Microsoft doesn’t.

Kyree didn't have an N64 or Dreamcast as a kid (so sad) and he doesn't remember finishing any of his PlayStation games, but skip to the PS2/GC/Xbox era and everything changed. He hasn't been outside to play tag in forever, but he can recall playing way too much Smash Bros. and even more Kingdom Hearts; seriously, he can recite lines from it. I think he may have a problem.

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