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Could Microsoft Lead the Way to a Subscription-Free Future for Consoles?

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By Nelson Schneider - 08/09/20 at 04:27 PM CT

There have been a few rumblings lately in the land of Xbox that point, ever so vaguely, toward the possibility of Xbox Live Gold going away. This is an exciting rumor since it was Microsoft who started the trend of consoles begging for loose change every month way back in November 2002, a year after the launch of the OG Xbox.

Rumormongers leaked information about the multi-player modes in the upcoming Xbox tentpole, “Halo Infinite,” being Free2Play, and Microsoft confirmed the leaked information as true. Meanwhile, other astute observers have noticed that Xbox Live Gold subscriptions are no longer available for purchase in large lump quantities, though it is still possible to roll an existing Gold subscription into Microsoft’s new Gamepass subscription. Microsoft also confirmed that this was intentional.

Combined, these changes from Microsoft all seem to indicate that the non-gaming company that started the vile trend that ultimately saddled all console gamers with annoying, rent-seeking subscriptions in order to access basic online (and Peer2Peer) features, might possibly be the first to discard such subscriptions, in favor of a value-adding game rental subscription instead.

Of course, Microsoft insists that the discontinuation of Gold is not happening and that they have no intention of changing the way Gold works “any time soon.” However, we who watch the Games Industry have gotten used to such Legalese terminology, and know that “no changes anytime soon” and “no plans at this time” mean literally that: Gold will not lose its fee literally at the very moment the spokesperson is talking to an interviewer, and “soon” is a very vague word that could very well mean “before people who have become addicted to Gamepass at the $1/month introductory rate start paying full price.”

Ultimately, though, Microsoft really can’t afford to leave subscriptions behind. The Xbox Gaming Division has never been profitable, and the Gold Subscriptions provide the only real revenue from that part of Microsoft, since the subscriptions are consistent and the services locked behind the paywall don’t actually cost Microsoft much of anything to operate. But merging Gold with Gamepass – as Microsoft has already done with Gamepass Ultimate – and removing the paywall from basic features while adding a “Netflix of Games” to the list of paid benefits really sounds like a smart move, of only Microsoft is aware enough to make it.

Microsoft already has PC gaming in the bag with the computing world’s reliance on Windows. The company has been trying to merge Xbox and Windows gaming into one thing, mostly successfully. Right now, the only difference is that people who want to play online using a device in the Microsoft ecosystem can do it for free on Windows, but must pay a fee if they want to do it on Xbox. Meanwhile, the entire digital world is struggling to find a way to make subscription models work. Wouldn’t it be great if Microsoft could set the mold for the next decade of gaming by giving away online features for free, while paid subscribers can browse through a huge library of games? Provided they don’t overreach and try to make Gamepass the ONLY method of playing Microsoft games, they’ve got a winning plan right in front of them, they just need to reach out a seize it.

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dbarry_22

Wrote on08/09/20 at 05:06 PM CT

If you meant when you said Microsoft "has been trying to merge Xbox and Windows gaming into one thing, mostly successfully" you were actually stating that XBox has become mostly irrelevant because of it than you'd be right.

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