Beaten Back: Microsoft Changing XBL Gold (mostly) for the Better

What the hell was that plopping noise? Why the hell did pig shit just drop from the sky? Do I really want to look up and risk the pig dropping another one? Well cause and effect time and the fact that this pig is flying can be shown in moves Microsoft is making. Incidentally, apparently it has become hockey season in Hell.

While waiting a few minutes for a process to finish at my actual job yesterday, I stumbled on news that Xbox Live Gold was about to get worse to it’s audience. Kotaku’s article pointed out the free games on the Xbox One were about to become like the PS+ free games: they are free until you stop paying for gold. My immediate response was to think “Lowest Common Denominator, here we go!” After all, Sony was already getting away with this behavior as people have proven willing to pay them for the same deal. But then I remembered Kotaku is a click-bait site, so while there may be some truth to this story, it probably wasn’t the only thing, so I did a little searching for the source article, and what I found was in no other place the the Xbox news website itself, outlining the changes, and while this one change is certainly for the worse, there are a lot of things coming for the better for the fans of Microsoft’s machines.

First thing that reaches on this page is a video that wastes no time in telling us all that they are ready to start a price war, even as it requires them to backpedal about how essential Kinect is. Next month, the Xbox One will be available at $400 without a Kinect. Nice to see MS admit how useless this thing is, even as it means anyone who bought the machine already now has a useless piece of hardware sticking on top of their TV (after all, we all know how hardware not assured to be there gets supported by the developers in the console world). It takes away Sony’s price advantage which has played a part in the absolute stomping they have been giving Microsoft this generation.

But that is only the first change described in here. While most of the text is just promising continued support for various features currently on 360 and moving to Xbox One in the near future, it is the third bullet that contains text Xbox owners should be happy to see:

“Coming in June, anyone with an Xbox will be able to access popular entertainment experiences – whether or not you have an Xbox Live Gold membership. This includes great gaming apps like Machinima, Twitch and Upload, popular video services like Netflix, Univision Deportes, GoPro, Red Bull TV and HBO GO, sports experiences like the NFL app for Xbox One, MLB.TV, NBA Game Time, NHL Game Center and more.”

In this text, Microsoft has outlined what really should have been since launch: Gold is no longer a paid gateway to paid content you are paying someone else for the service of. If your 360 is the way you watch netflix and you decide you are done playing online, MS wont hold your viewing hostage to their gold subscription anymore. This is a huge move and again, puts them in line to compete with Sony this generation. It is also something I never expected to see from MS personally.

Last time they had to abandon the Gold subscription for features others had for free it was for their terrible Games for Windows LIVE service, which even as it touted the ability to talk to your Xbox friends held (and still holds) this and other exceptionally basic social networking features behind the XBL Gold paywall. As of now, we await the closing of the service after having found the original release so buggy it didn’t even recognize later versions of itself installed into PCs and no updates (let alone improvements) since 2009. Microsoft in this action showed how much they want those fees and how little they were willing to do without it, so to see this change, is frankly a little heartening.

But that is not to say that all the news is good, because Kotaku did find a dark spot in the cloud. Their entire story is based on the “**” footnote for the “Free games with Games with Gold” bullet:

“**Free Games Offer: For paid Gold members only. On Xbox One, active Gold membership required to play free games you’ve downloaded. Must download titles during designated window. Kinect and/or hard drive required for some games.”

While they obviously didn’t want to tout this change, they had to put it in print, and officially, the XBox One version of the free game offer includes a clause where if you stop paying, your free games stop working, in essence making the offer sound exactly like PS+. But in their click-baiting hurry, Kotaku may have missed a detail that, should the literal meaning be the real one, will annoy gamers. “Must download titles during designated window.” If this statement is literal, it means that if you delete the game and it’s no longer free, it’s gone for you too. I can already hear the arguments from Xbox fanboys about how “that’s how it should be” or “Sony does that too” or even “so? Keep it on your hardrive then. What a whiner.” Well, I can answer each of these.

  • If that’s how it should be, then why does everyone else who offer a game for free attach the game to your account… for good?
  • Sony does NOT do that too, as a free game IS attached to your account. If you picked it up free, it’s there. I’ve heard reports that it’s even back for you again if you drop PS+ and get it again later, though only in forum comments so that is unconfirmed right now. This would be a far cry from that level of function.
  • Harddrive space on the next gen systems is VERY precious. Neither comes with more then 500 GBs to start, and at least in the case of the XBOX One, there IS NO UPGRADING THAT DUE TO THE DRIVE BEING PROPRIETARY. And while 500 GBs sounds like a lot, we are entering a generation where the games all have mandatory installs. It’s great for performance, but at 50GB a pop, you are going to eat that hard drive real quick. Why would you want to waste that precious space for a game you will play more then a month later?

Just some thoughts to keep in mind. Overall, I like the direction MS is taking, as they are doing things they should have done years ago, but… it’s not quite all good, especially from the new generation side.


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