Xbox Live Gold price hike: Is Microsoft trying to bully gamers into Xbox Game Pass?

Sarah Bond, Head of Xbox Partnerships, (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Sarah Bond, Head of Xbox Partnerships, (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

The wise Harvey Dent once said, “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” For years — since botching the initial launch of the Xbox One — Microsoft had been building a reputation as one of the most consumer-friendly brands in the gaming industry. Today, that reputation took a massive hit as Microsoft reminded everyone that, at the end of the day, it’s still a massive corporation that really only cares about its bottom line.

Over on the Xbox Wire blog, Microsoft announced an update to the pricing of Xbox Live Gold, a service required for playing games online on Xbox. The price of a 1-month Gold membership is increasing by $1. It will now cost 10.99 per month, up from $9.99. The price of a 3-month membership is increasing by $5 to $29.99 (up from $24.99). Existing online 12-month or 6-month Gold members will not see a price change, and if you choose to renew your membership, it will renew at your current price.

So moving forward, here are the new prices of Xbox Live Gold:

  • 1-month for $10.99
  • 3-months for $29.99
  • 6-months for $59.99

As a reminder, Microsoft discontinued the 12-month membership offering, meaning if you want a full year of Xbox Live Gold, you’ll be paying $120. As many have been quick to point out, the new price change brings the cost of Xbox Live Gold much closer to what Microsoft currently charges for Game Pass Ultimate ($14.99 per month). Xbox Game Pass Ultimate already includes Gold membership plus access to EA Play and Microsoft’s huge collection of downloadable and streamable games to Xbox and PC.

Naturally, the price increase has been met with negative reactions online, with many accusing Microsoft of being greedy and completely out of touch with gamers. For comparison, Sony still charges $60 for PlayStation Plus, so the cost of a year for Xbox Live Gold will now be double that. Suddenly, one of the best deals in gaming just became the worst.

Many also believe that the price increase is Microsoft’s way of “incentivizing” (aka bullying) Gold members into switching to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. That narrative is furthered by Microsoft’s own direct upgrade plan:

"If you’d like to upgrade your Gold membership to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate your remaining Gold time will also convert directly to Ultimate (up to 36 months). For example, if you have 11 months of Xbox Live Gold now, and you upgrade to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, those 11 months convert to 11 months of Ultimate at no additional cost."

Clearly, there’s a push towards Xbox Game Pass Ultimate here. And while there’s no doubt that Game Pass Ultimate is the better value now, this move simply ignores the financial hardships many are facing (especially with the pandemic).

And remember, Microsoft requires a Gold membership to play free-to-play games online, meaning people will have to pay $120 a year to play Fortnite on Xbox. Neither Sony nor Nintendo requires paid online membership to play free-to-play games.

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Microsoft gave no specific reason for the price increase, only justifying it by saying: “Periodically, we assess the value and pricing of our services to reflect changes in regional marketplaces and to continue to invest in the Xbox community.”

Well, if we’re assessing value, it costs those on PlayStation 4/5 nothing to play Call of Duty: Warzone or Fortnite online. Increasing the price of Xbox Live Gold, which walls off free-to-play games, while offering nothing more than your competitor, isn’t exactly the best business practice.

Yes, costs go up and Microsoft is in the business of making money. Microsoft is hardly the only company to raise the price of its monthly subscriptions. We see it all the time from streaming services, like Netflix and even Disney+. In the grand scheme of things, Xbox Live Gold and Game Pass Ultimate are still incredible values. But price increases are hardly ever well-received, especially when there’s no clear cut reason as to why they are increasing. It’s not like any additional benefits were announced. If anything, it just seems like a push to drive more Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscriptions.