A new era is upon us in the world of video games. Late last year, we saw brand new consoles hit the market from both Microsoft and Sony. The Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 are now old hat. The Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5 are the consoles of the future. You might not have been able to get your hands on either one of those machines yet because of ongoing stock shortages that seem to have no end in sight, but the industry has moved on regardless. There are always changes at the beginning of a new era, and Microsoft has decided to make quite a big one.
Ever since consoles were first able to connect to the internet and mass multiplayer games became a thing – an era that’s hard to remember now because we’re so used to multiplayer “Call of Duty” – Xbox owners have gone online to play with their friends via a service called Xbox Live. They’ve also used Xbox Live to take advantage of cheap or free game downloads and even play a few games via streaming rather than owning physical copies of them. The service has changed and evolved significantly since Microsoft first introduced it, so the company has decided that “Xbox Live” is no longer the best name for their live platform. After eighteen years, Xbox Live has become the Xbox Network. The change will take effect immediately.
Microsoft’s thinking on this matter has recently appeared to be quite muddled. As long ago as August last year, the name “Xbox Network” appeared in Microsoft’s new Services Agreement for console users. Eagle-eyed players spotted it almost immediately, but Microsoft quickly issued a denial that it was planning to do away with the Xbox Live service. In fact, they doubled down on that position. During the first few weeks of 2021, the company announced plans to increase the subscription price for Xbox Live Gold memberships by a shocking one hundred percent. An annual subscription to the platform would have cost $120 if the plans had gone ahead. Faced with an enormous backlash from customers, Microsoft beat a hasty retreat from that position with its tail between its legs. Prices stayed as they were.
Having received so many angry responses from players who believed they’d already given Microsoft enough money, it appears that the company changed its thinking entirely. Rather than focusing on bringing more money in from live subscribers, they’ve now decided to do away with subscription costs at all in some cases. While you’ll still have to pay a fee to play “premium” games on the Xbox Network subscription platform, games that are marketed as “free to play” will literally be free. “Fortnite” is a great example of this. There’s no charge to download “Fortnite,” but under the previous structure, you would still have needed a paid Xbox Live membership to play the game against your friends (or strangers). Microsoft will now remove that barrier, and so anyone with a console and an internet connection will be able to play “Fortnite,” “Call of Duty: Warzone,” and any other “free to play” game without having to part with cash in order to do so.
Industry insiders are seeing this move as another step toward introducing full-scale video game streaming services of the kind that Google has attempted to innovate with Stadia, and more recently, Amazon with its Luna platform. Instead of buying physical games or downloading files onto your console, games will be streamed through the internet from remote servers in much the same way that online slots websites offer their games to players. Ever since the internet was invented, it’s no longer been a requirement to be inside a casino to play online slots. So long as you have a stable internet connection (and, of course, money), you can use your phone, your tablet, your laptop, or more or less any other smart device to play online slots thanks to Rose Slots NZ and websites like it. The amount of money that these websites make hasn’t gone unnoticed by the video gaming industry, so they’re looking to introduce a similar business model in the hope of opening gaming up to an even wider audience.
Microsoft’s change in policy with “free to play” games brings it in line with the PlayStation and Nintendo Switch. Neither console has ever charged players to play “Fortnite,” so Microsoft’s previous policy always looked miserly by comparison. Given the fact that sales of the PlayStation 5 are believed to heavily outnumber sales of the Xbox Series X since launch day by as much as two-to-one in some territories, it hasn’t come a moment too soon. The company will soon need to find a foothold against its biggest rival if the Xbox Series X isn’t to become a failure, and tiny changes like this will be a part of it.
For now, it appears that the pricing structure will remain the same as it is under the “Xbox Live” subscription platform. Curiously, it appears that the “Xbox Live Gold” name will stick around after the rest of the service is rebranded, which is probably a deliberate attempt to create a distinction between those who use the “basic” online package and those who are willing to pay a little more and get more in return. While the name has already changed, Microsoft hasn’t yet (or at least not at the time of writing) removed the paywall that prevents “free to play” games from actually being played for free. We suspect that will change in the very near future.
Aside from the name changing, there are no other cosmetic adjustments planned, so players shouldn’t notice any differences in the way they use the service. It’s likely that the change of name indicates a future change of policy, though, so we expect to hear Microsoft make announcements about more detailed plans for its new “Xbox Network” shortly. Perhaps one of those announcements might explain why they’ve gone for what’s essentially the same name that Sony uses for its PlayStation Network, but we doubt it. As we said at the start of this article, this is a new era for the console wars, and new eras demand new strategies. Microsoft has started off on the back foot but won’t intend to stay there for long. If the company’s new network means a new deal for gamers, we’re excited to see what it brings.