Microsoft currently offers two core subscription models for its Xbox gaming customer base. One is the classic Xbox Games with Gold under the Xbox Live Gold membership and the other is the relatively newer but massively popular Xbox Game Pass. Although both subscriptions currently co-exist, there is a significant difference in the value they offer, which really has me thinking for the past few months, when is the legacy subscription getting the ax? But for those unfamiliar with the services, its perhaps better to understand what each of them offers.
Xbox Games is Gold was launched back in 2013 and it offered two Xbox 360 games for free each month initially. When the program was expanded to the Xbox One later, two additional games specific to the newer console were also included in the offerings. These games were made available in a staggered manner and you typically had to claim them within a couple of weeks. Claimed Xbox 360 titles would stay in your library forever even if your subscription expired while claimed Xbox One titles were only playable for free as long as you maintained your Gold subscription. You can compare it somewhat to the current PlayStation Plus Essentials service, except you could keep Xbox 360 games forever.
At $9.99/month and up to $59.99/year, this was a great value offering in theory. You got four games each month without paying anything extra. That is, until recently. Starting from October 2022, Microsoft stated that it will no longer offer Xbox 360 games on the service. What this means is that subscribers now are still paying the same fee but for only two games a month.
Coming over to the modern Xbox Game Pass (launched in 2017) model, we have a bundling of multiple services. At its basic level, we get Xbox Live Gold, day one access to first-party titles, and almost a dozen games being added to the service every month, both old and new. This costs $9.99/month, or $120/year. Meanwhile, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate offers all of this, along with an EA Play membership, along with the ability to play and cloud stream games on your phone and PC. This subscription costs $14.99/month, or $180/year.
On paper, you would think that it makes sense to have essentially three tiers, priced at $60, $120, and $180 per year. However, is the lowest tier even offering the value its being paid for? I don't think so and neither does Microsoft, it seems. If you wish to purchase an Xbox Live Gold subscription from Microsoft's website, there are multiple banners recommending Xbox Game Pass instead.
If we look at the past few months of offerings, we can see that barely any notable titles have been added to the Games with Gold program. You can see the past six months of additions tabulated below:
|Month||Xbox/Xbox 360||Xbox One|
The only couple of notable titles I see in the lists above are Portal 2 and Saints Row 2. And this is not a diss on the developers of the other games, I'm sure some of the other titles are great too but it's really hard to see the value offering for any of these games when they are being propped up against heavy-hitters like Monster Hunter: Rise, LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, Pentiment, Persona 5 Royal, A Plague Tale: Requiem, and more.
Microsoft proudly says each time how it's offering you ~$35 worth of games each time but just because a game has a $20 price tag doesn't really mean that you'd pay $20 for it if given the option. For example, I don't like horror games so if The Callisto Protocol has a $60 price tag doesn't mean that it's worth $60 to me. So, in a hypothetical situation, it does get added to Games with Gold (haha), for me, the value would still be $0. I know that The Callisto Protocol is a AAA title that is actually popular so the analogy doesn't make sense for Games with Gold, but I'm just trying to emphasize how meaningless the "$X worth" figure is, especially with Games with Gold which doesn't get notable titles anyway.
It's almost as if Games with Gold is just a relic that exists because Microsoft can't convince people to upgrade to Xbox Game Pass. And we know that Microsoft has definitely tried going in this direction before and failed spectacularly.
Almost two years ago, the Redmond tech giant announced that it was hiking the price of its Xbox Live Gold program up to $10.99/month and $59.99 for six months. Note that $59.99 was its price for 12 months initially. This move obviously received a lot of backlash and Microsoft was forced to revert the changes within hours.
However, I think that Microsoft failed in this endeavor because it went about it the wrong way. Rather than hiking the price to force customers to opt for Game Pass instead, I think it should have gone the opposite way and maybe sweetened the deal by offering six months of Game Pass at the existing Gold rates to Gold subscribers before requiring them to pay the $120/year fee. I'm sure there would have been a lot more conversions this way as serious gamers tried out the massive Game Pass library and began to understand the value it offers at the higher-than-Gold price point.
Titles on Game Pass aren't yours to keep forever, but neither are the titles offered via Games with Gold anymore. And if you really want to play games on a subscription, Game Pass has a lot more modern titles as compared to Gold. Sure, some might not have liked it and ditched the subscription altogether but right now, it's the existing customer base which is causing Games with Gold to be a deadweight for Microsoft.
And at this point, it's also important to talk about the customers the respective subscriptions have. We know that Xbox Game Pass has 25 million subscribers as of January 2022 and we know that this number is growing steadily. However, what we don't know is the number of Xbox Live Gold subscribers. 100 million customers use Xbox Live every month but as the notable @BenjiSales points out on Twitter, anyone interacting with the Xbox ecosystem counts towards this figure. 100 million Xbox Live users does not equate to 100 million Gold subscribers, far from it probably. Microsoft does not report the number of Gold subscribers, so one can only guess what the real situation is.
This is where it gets interesting. If Xbox Live Gold really does have a significant user base, then it's understandable why Microsoft wouldn't want to risk losing a portion of them as it forces some to migrate to Xbox Game Pass. It's also possible that this comprises of people who have just forgotten to disable auto-renew for their subscriptions and Microsoft just doesn't want to turn off that money tap.
It's also important to remember that Microsoft pays developers and publishers to put their games on either of the service, be it Game Pass or Gold. So while the company may have profit margins on Gold right now, this may not always be the case as Game Pass continues to pick up momentum and Microsoft continues to expand it even more in order to grab more of the PC market too.
And this is why I firmly believe that Xbox Games with Gold doesn't really have a future. It isn't really competing against anything, it just exists because Microsoft doesn't seem to know how to get rid of it without receiving backlash and without losing revenue. Games with Gold will eventually end up on the chopping block, the only question is when. And I hope Microsoft figures out an answer to that soon.
Do you think there's a place for Xbox Live Gold / Games with Gold in the current gaming landscape dominated by giants like PlayStation Plus and Game Pass? Let us know in the comments section below!