While Xbox Live wasn’t the first online game service for a console (that honor goes to a short-lived modem device for the Famicom) or the most revolutionary console online service (that goes to the Dreamcast and SegaNet) it was the one that convinced most people that online console gaming was going to be a big deal.
The funny thing is that most people thought that Xbox Live was doomed to fail. Every console online service up until that point had failed to find a large enough audience and many felt that console newcomer Microsoft was in over their heads by pushing the service as a selling point. Critics also laughed at the service’s broadband internet requirements as so few households were broadband equipped at that time.
However, Xbox Live had two aces up its sleeve that no other console online service in the past had ever played; It was easy to use and it was free.
You didn’t need to buy an add-on or pay a monthly service fee to use Xbox Live. You just hooked your console up to the internet and started playing. PC gamers had known this joy for years, but this was a literal game changer for the console scene. Even the much more popular PS2 required the use of a cumbersome add-on device that didn’t’ benefit from the service feature of Xbox Live.
Over time, however, things changed. As the services offered by Sony and Microsoft’s online programs grew, the companies began informing gamers that it was no longer viable for them to offer these online services for free. Instead, gamers would need to pay a monthly fee once again.
People were outraged. Who wants to pay for something they had been legally using for free? Eventually, a compromise was reached. Yes, you would have to pay to play games online, but you wouldn’t have to pay to use services like Netflix. Furthermore, Sony and Microsoft would give out free games every month to premium subscribers.
At the time, people accepted the arrangement. In retrospect, we all got royally screwed.
At present, Sony is raising the price of their PlayStation Plus service in Europe and possibly elsewhere. Nintendo is lazily introducing their own premium online service that is lowlighted by some truly awful voice communication features. Meanwhile, Microsoft – and others – have begun offering additional game streaming services for an extra fee.
Why are they doing this? Because they can. Consoles are closed hardware meaning that there’s nothing stopping their manufacturers from charging for whatever they please.
Even if you accepted this long ago, it’s starting to make a whole lot less sense now. Sony originally justified their use of the service by stating that it would allow them to innovate online services. Those innovations have come slow if they’ve come at all. Meanwhile, prices continue to rise.
It’s clear that something has to give. Either Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft need to find a way to offer console gamers services that PC gamers and free online users couldn’t possibly enjoy or consumers need to start thinking twice before they automatically renew their services once again.