The monthly subscription for online access on your game console is commonplace nowadays, but Microsoft may be bucking that trend with the next-gen launch of the Xbox Series X in a bold move that could upstage Sony's PlayStation 5 in a major way.
As of Thursday, the option to purchase 12 months of Xbox Live Gold has been removed from the Microsoft Store. That's exactly a week ahead of the July 23 games presentation. One report suggests Microsoft could be planning to phase out the subscription service altogether with the launch of Xbox Series X.
This change was noticed by Game History Secrets writer and host Liam Roberston on July 16. The Microsoft Store page previously allowed players to purchase an Xbox Live Gold subscriptions for 1, 3, or 12 months. Visiting the same page now, you can now only buy the 1- and 3-month versions of Xbox Live Gold. Could the 3-month option disappear as well in the coming months?
“At this time Xbox has decided to remove the 12 month Xbox Live Gold SKU from the Microsoft online Store," a Microsoft spokesperson tells Inverse. "Customers can still sign up for a 1 month or 3 month Xbox Live Gold subscription online through the Microsoft Store.”
No attention was brought this change officially in any public statements, but shortening the length that people can subscribe to Xbox Live Gold is very telling. "It also seems like the right time for Microsoft to talk about the future of Xbox," Venture Beat's Jeff Grubb argues in a post about the July showcase. "That service is starting to feel a bit outdated. Maybe it’s time to phase it out."
While Microsoft's Aaron Greenberg has since gone onto say that the July 23 presentation will be solely focused on games, this Grubb's article suggests that Xbox Live Gold is being phased out. That can't be taken lightly now that the option for a 12-month subscription is gone. It is worth noting that the 12-month Xbox Live Gold subscription remains available at retailers like GameStop, so if you do want to buy a year of the service that option is still open. But third-party retailers probably have residual inventory.
It now seems likely that Xbox Live Gold will be phased out, possibly to get an edge up on the PS5, which will presumably still make players pay for online via PlayStation Plus subscriptions. If Xbox Series X's final price is cheaper than that of the PS5, and the console offers free online play that saves gamers about $60 a year, then Microsoft's console becomes the better financial investment hands down. But this remains hypothetical.
What could Microsoft replace Xbox Live Gold with?
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate — The most obvious move for Microsoft would be to integrate Xbox Live Gold into Game Pass Ultimate, which Microsoft has been pushing quite a bit recently.
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate gives players access to Game Pass on Xbox One and PC in addition to an Xbox Live Gold subscription, so players can play any online games and they get unlimited access to any games that are available in the Game Pass library. On Thursday, the service was also confirmed to be compatible with the upcoming game streaming service Project xCloud. As Microsoft's focus around Game Pass titans, it would make sense to make online play a part of only that package as it would attract more players to the service.
If Microsoft does go this route, it'd mean that Games With Gold would end and Microsoft would have to find a good way to covert those with time on their Gold memberships left to Game Pass Ultimate.
Make online play free — If Microsoft really wants to emerge as the most consumer-friendly console manufacturer, it could always get rid of the need to play for online altogether. This would be ironic, as Microsoft was the first to introduce a paid online service in the game industry.
Even though this course of action is less likely, not having to pay for online would make Xbox Series X look like a better and cheaper alternative to the PS5. "Our vision has one hero at the heart of it all: You," Phil Spencer wrote in his latest Xbox Wire blog.
Making Xbox Live Gold free would truly cement Microsoft gamers as heroes.
Xbox Series X will be released by Microsoft this holiday season.