Released back in 2002, Xbox Live holds the distinction as the longest running console gaming service. After over ten years in service, it would be expected that Xbox Live would feature the best experience for a console gamer. The truth, however, is that Xbox Live offers very little in terms of online gaming. The future of Xbox Live seems to be drifting further away from gaming and going more towards the way of an entertainment hub.
A big criticism of the Xbox Live service is that at the free level of service, next to nothing is offered. Sure, a free subscriber can voice chat and download DLC packs, but that is about it. Besides missing out on Xbox Live’s many entertainment apps, free subscribers also can not play online with their friends. That is where the Xbox Live Gold subscription enters. For a mere sixty dollars a year, gamers can upgrade to a Gold subscription and have the ability to play online with other people. Granted, online gaming is not the only feature of a Gold subscription, but it is a huge reason Gold has so many subscribers.
So what else does a sixty dollar Gold subscription bring? For one, Xbox live Gold offers nearly thirty different entertainment apps, all in varying degrees of quality. The downside is that on top of the Gold fee, many of the entertainment apps also require a subscription to their service. This is in stark contrast to the PlayStation Network which offers many of the same apps, however a PlayStation Plus account is not needed. One benefit that Gold members do enjoy over PSN users is timed-exclusive content. Fallout 3,Grand Theft Auto 4, the Call of Duty series, and Skyrim have all featured downloadable content that was timed exclusive for Xbox Live. Again, a Gold membership merely allows gamers the option to purchase these full price DLC packs before gamers on other platforms.
Even with no official announcement of the future of Xbox Live, it is easy to read between the lines. Executives from Microsoft have made it known that they plan to shift Xbox Live’s focus towards becoming and entertainment hub. Microsoft sees a future where the family will use the Xbox, not just to watch Netflix, but to exercise, watch the news, connect with friends, and, lastly, play video games. Turning Xbox Live into the entertainment hub of a household is a daunting task. Price and functionality will prove to be massive hills for Microsoft to climb.
If the next Xbox launches at a similar price as the 360, Microsoft may find it hard to convince the average family that what is missing from the family room is an Xbox. Many families already own iPads that do all the entertainment features of Xbox Live and more. A family that owns an iPad may compare the next Xbox with an Apple TV box and realize that not only does Apple TV offer all the major apps that Xbox Live does, but also allows them to stream their iPad content and certain apps to their TV. It will require some unique and extremely useful features for Microsoft to beat out its competitors. However, this may prove difficult. At this time, there exists little synergy between Xbox, Windows 8 and Windows smartphones. Sony has both the PS Vita and their plans to bring the PSN to just about everything Sony makes. Apple, the king of simplicity, has many features that allow their products to work seamlessly with one another. Microsoft, on the other hand, allows consumers to stream some content from their PC to the Xbox, and that is about it. This lack of connectivity could prove to be what prevents Xbox Live from becoming the center of every family’s living room.
Finally, a big thing that needs to happen for Xbox Live to compete next generation is changes to the Gold subscriptions. Microsoft’s lead in sales this generation was largely due to hitting the market first. Early adopters of the 360 have been punished for not showing patience and waiting for the PS3. With most predictions having the PS4 hit the market first this time around, Microsoft will not be able to con gamers out of sixty dollars simply to play with their friends. Part of Microsoft’s next generation strategy should be to make the free subscription of Xbox Live comparable to PSN, then make upgrades to Gold in much the same way Sony did with their Plus service.
This article brings the conclusion of my series on the online services of this console generation. By virtue of having the least negative to say about it, the PSN is the current champ of the 3 services. By offering the most content without a paid subscription as well as is paid offerings, Sony has really jumped ahead this generation. That is not to say that Sony is untouchable for the upcoming generation. Should Sony fail to deliver on their numerous promises and Microsoft and Nintendo step up their game, Sony could easily find itself at the bottom of the pile. With each company striving to be introduce new and unique things, the next generation could turn out to be a quite interesting battlefield.