For all the ways Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft have converged over the last several years—they all offer motion controls now, for example—one way they significantly differ is in their online offerings. Nintendo doesn't charge for its service, but it doesn't offer any discounts on its downloadable products, and relatively few of its games offer competitive multiplayer. Sony offers its PSN service for free, but it also has an optional "Plus" membership that comes with a variety of perks.
And finally, Microsoft charges $60 a year for its "Gold" service—which you'll need if you want to do anything beyond download patches for your games or buy content from Microsoft's online store. If you're weighing the pros and cons of an Xbox as opposed to the PlayStation 3, this is something to consider; the fact that PSN is free is a big bonus for the PS3.
But at the same time, this actually isn't such a bad deal. Here are the top four reasons why.
4. It doesn't have to be $60.
I found it kind of obnoxious when Microsoft raised its $50 price tag—which was already higher than the competition—another $10. But fortunately, you don't have to buy Xbox service directly through Microsoft. Instead, you can buy your service through a third-party vendor, and if you're patient, you'll be able to find it at a significant discount. Back in January, I extended my subscription for a year for just $39.99 thanks to a GameStop sale. This isn't exactly chump change, but it's $20 less than the sticker price.
3. You get access to extra deals.
If $40 still sounds like too high of a price, ask yourself a simple question: Do you ever buy downloadable games or DLC? If you do, an extra benefit of Xbox LIVE Gold will help the service pay for itself.
Specifically, Microsoft runs a "Deal of the Week" on downloadable content, meaning that if you're willing to wait until the games and expansions you want go on sale, you'll save $5 or so on everything you buy. For example, as I write this, Battlefield 3's Back to Karkand expansion has been marked down from $15 to $7.50, and there are 50% discounts on a variety of lesser-known games, too: NIN2-Jump is $2.50, Guwange is $5, and Virtual-On OT is $7.50.
If you game a lot, this adds up. It probably won't pay for the service all by itself, but at the end of the day, you won't lose as much money on Xbox LIVE Gold as you might think.
2. Your Xbox becomes an entertainment hub.
Today, many people have given up on the traditional forms of entertainment media—instead of renting movies at Blockbuster and watching cable TV, they subscribe to Netflix and watch their favorite shows online. The problem with this is that watching videos on a computer screen sucks.
If you have an Xbox LIVE Gold subscription, however, this problem is solved. Far and away, the Gold feature I use most is Netflix streaming—you need a Netflix subscription to use it, but it enables you to watch any item in your "instant" queue on your TV instead of hunching over your computer. Many of the titles are even in HD.
There are a variety of other services you can use as well, so long as you have the necessary subscriptions. HBO GO is available, as is some ESPN content. You can listen to music via Zune and iHeartRadio. Kinect owners even have access to a Skype-style feature that allows them to talk to their friends via video feed.
In other words, with a Gold subscription, your Xbox is more than just a game machine.
1. You can play multiplayer games online.
This, of course, is the biggie. For gamers, one of the best things about the Internet is that it lets us compete with each other long-distance. In fact, with online matchmaking, we can compete against people we don't even know. Xbox LIVE Gold opens this world to you.
If you have friends who also have Gold subscriptions, this can be a great way to keep in touch, especially if you wear a headset so you can talk to each other. And it's always fun to take part in a huge battle against lots of real people. If you're a multiplayer gamer who owns an Xbox, Gold is practically a necessity.
To put it briefly: Microsoft does charge more than the competition for its online offerings. But Xbox LIVE Gold is a good deal anyway, simply because it unlocks some of your console's best features.
Date: May 7, 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.*