Does Xbox Live Still Pass The Value For Money Test?
The Xbox 360 is seven years old, and in that time it’s changed quite a bit. From revisions to the console itself, to updated dashboards, the Xbox 360 of today is an entirely different beast. Over the course of its lifetime, Microsoft has tried to move the Xbox 360 out from the hardcore gamer’s bedroom, and into the family living room. During that process the 360 might have shed it’s ‘boys only’ image, but there’s one thing that didn’t get lost during it’s rebirth – Xbox Live’s subscription fee. On the face of it, it appears that we get a whole lot more for our money these days, but is that really true? Is Xbox Live still good value for money?
When the PlayStation 3 finally launched in the UK in 2007, there was much debate amongst my friends and I as to just what effect Sony’s free online gaming would have on Xbox Live subscriptions. Broadly speaking, our discussions broke down into three possibilities:
(1) PSN would be so successful that Microsoft were effectively forced to make Live free.
(2) PSN wouldn’t be successful at all and Live carries on as normal.
(3) PSN would be reasonably successful, and Sony would eventually realise there was money to be made from also having a subscription fee.
Well we all know what happened – Microsoft weathered the storm and eventually the clamour for a free Xbox Live went away. In fact, if Sony’s free service had any impact on Xbox Live, it was to make it look even better value for money. Online gaming on the 360 was clearly better, and many gamers linked the subscription fee to that gap in quality.
Today, access to online gaming is still one of Live’s key bullet-points but over the years Microsoft has evolved the service from something only the hardcore gamer would be interested in, to a service that all the family can use. The Xbox 360 is no longer just a gaming console, it’s a multimedia device delivering films, TV, music and sporting events, all on demand, direct to the family’s living room. As of the latest dashboard update, gaming has moved down to third on the list. With all that extra content on offer, asking whether Xbox Live is still value for money may seem a little silly, but all is not as it seems.
Judging whether Xbox Live is still value for money is of course an entirely personal thing. On the surface Live does offer an awful lot of bang for your buck, but do all of the new additions really add value? I’m not so sure personally. The first thing I’d question is the restricting of services of on-demand content providers such as Netflix or Lovefilm to Gold Members only. Quite apart from not being able to watch the TV and films I’ve already paid for, both Nintendo and Sony allow me to use these services for free. Paying to access a service that I already pay for when it’s free to use elsewhere doesn’t add value in my opinion. For the same reason I’m scratching off Youtube, Internet Explorer and Skype from the “adds value” column; again they’re all usable elsewhere without a paying an additional subscription fee, and if you’re using a smart phone they’re more convenient too. The Twitter and Facebook apps have recently been retired, so that’s more value removed. The second thing I’d point out is that value is only added if you wanted these things to begin with. I’ve always felt that the dashboard should be modular by now. I want to be able turn off the things I have no interest in, but it will never happen. Microsoft doesn’t want you to turn off stuff that’s a “benefit” of Gold membership, because the risk of you realising that you’re paying for a whole bunch of extras you don’t actually want is too high. The final thing I take issue with as a subscriber is the adverts. Gold membership should exclude you from seeing ads – it’s that simple.
So what does that leave? What of the Gold-only features that I haven’t mentioned are worth paying for? Both party chat and cloud storage are valuable additions to the service, Halo Waypoint is quite cool if you’re a Halo fan, and even though I don’t own one, Video Kinect looks quite cool so I’ll be generous and add that to the plus side too. And of course there’s one other, quite big feature of Xbox Live that’s a definite positive, the online gaming. During writing this piece I’ve flip-flopped constantly over whether I think Live is good value for money or not. The part of my brain given over to free-to-play PC gaming is convinced that it’s not, and at one point I even had a conclusion written for this very piece that said as much.
It wasn’t until I got back on my Xbox to play with friends that I remembered what online gaming was like when it’s done properly. The Party functionality, the consistent voice chat, the simplicity of inviting friends to games, being able to quickly see who’s online and what they’re playing, it’s all done better on Xbox Live. All those years ago, Microsoft created the benchmark for gaming online on a console, and whilst I may not like all the fluff they’ve bolted to it since, there’s no denying that the core of the service is still a quality product. Of course Xbox Live is still value for money, I just needed my friends to remind me of it.