It's no secret that I spent a good deal of my winter playing Gears of War 3 and Modern Warfare 3 on Xbox LIVE. (I mentioned both of these games in a fancy list I compiled of games that would steal my time during the holiday season.) In fact, I even played quite a bit of Halo online with some fellow game journalists while writing up my Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary review back in November.
Obviously, I paid for an Xbox LIVE Gold membership last fall. But that doesn't mean I'm happy about it.
Okay, so Xbox LIVE has some neat little features, and I do admit that XBL's party features are great. (Lack of such party features is a pretty painful omission from the PlayStation Network.) However, I don't want to spend $50 per year (or more, depending on how many months I want to pay for at once) for it. In fact, it makes me grumpy to have to do so, especially when my Internet provider feels obligated to constantly invent new charges and fees to increase my monthly bill. (Fellow Charter users will be able to sympathize with this pain, I'm sure. I have to admit, though, Comcast isn't any better. I can't say from experience whether any of the other providers also insist on running their customer service departments like Darth Vader with a hangover, but I'm not all that optimistic.)
My major beef with XBL Gold is that I'm not allowed to play online without throwing down some extra cash. You see, I can play Uncharted 3 on PSN without an additional fee (and I do so frequently.) Or any other PS3 game, for that matter. I don't pay a monthly fee to play PC games online either. Except for MMOs, of course, but that's a completely different ball game, as the monthly fee pays for the constant support and upgrades that continue to keep the online worlds I enjoy both populated and growing. (Although, I have to admit that I've cut my MMO playtime down to a single title. And it's not WoW, if that's what you're thinking.)
So why does Microsoft feel it can get away with such a practice? Well, simply because people pay for it anyway. We all grumble, and no one enjoys handing one of the richest corporations in the world money for something as silly as being able to play a game—which you've already spent $60 or more on—online with your friends. But it feels a bit like the small guy being robbed by the almighty corporate gods in the billing department at Microsoft. No, I revise that statement; it doesn't feel like robbery, it is robbery.
Now, I know the Xbox fanboys are going to call for my swift execution for so enthusiastically mocking their precious little console here, but before typing about all the painful things you're going to do to me in the comments section, please hear me out for a second. PlayStation Network (yeah, it's called Sony Entertainment Network now, but no one calls it that, because that sounds stupid) has its own premium membership. But Sony has actually implemented it very well, at least well enough that the veins in my neck don't start throbbing when I give them my credit card info.
You see, you can play games online over PSN without paying any additional fee. But getting a Plus membership actually grants you a ton of really cool features. For example, you get early access to demos and beta versions of great games. And that can be awesome.
Even cooler, though, is the fact that PS Plus members get free games every month. Seriously, I get far too many free games to ever have time to play them all. I mean, I've had a free digital copy of Altered Beast for months now, and I've never once actually played it. But it makes me smile every time I see it in my game catalogue, just knowing that I have access to that bit of retro gaming goodness without having to download an emulator or dust off my Genesis (which I still have, though I'm not sure if it still works) before scouring the pawn shops and other seedy places in the city to find a cartridge.
What does an Xbox LIVE Gold account get you? Well, you can play online. Which is awesome, but, as I've already mentioned, should be free, dammit! Gold also allows you to watch Netflix. But wait a second, you have to actually pay for a Netflix account to do this. So, again, you're paying to be able to do something with your Xbox that you're already paying to be able to do. Classy, Microsoft. Real Classy. You can also use the Kinect's video chat features, which, by all means, should be free as well, considering the Kinect is already a tough enough sell without having to pay extra to access some of its more practical features.
Oh, and get this. According to the Xbox LIVE website, you can "Enjoy exclusive member-only deals and previews." Do you want to know why this is stupid? I don't care; I'm going to tell you anyway.
I admit that getting early access to demos is a neat perk (and I've already lauded the PSN's implementation of this), but the whole paying to get exclusive deals thing? Doesn't having to pay for a deal negate the whole purpose of that deal in the first place? I mean, why would you pay extra just so you can save a teensy amount of money? In the long run, you're most likely going to be paying more for the membership than you'll legitimately save by the discounts that it offers.
There are a few other perks, but I'm not going to list them because they're boring.
The bottom line: Paying for a Gold membership doesn't give you anything that shouldn't already be free in the first place.
I'll be honest here. My Xbox LIVE Gold membership expired in February and I haven't renewed it yet. Take that, Microsoft!
However, I also admit that I'm weak, and I miss playing MW3 and Gears 3 with my friends. So I'm not the one you should be looking to if you want to start a boycott. But if you do go as far as to start a boycott, let me know. I probably won't join you, but I'll at least say nice words about you. And if you live in the Minneapolis area, I might even buy you a beer and enjoy an embittered conversation about how greedy those suits at Microsoft are. It'll be fun.
But until then, anyone up for a quick match of Horde Mode in Gears 3? Being a hypocrite isn't so bad when you're allowed to chainsaw your enemies in half, after all.
Editor / News Director
Date: April 30, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*