Why Is Microsoft Removing Xbox Live Gold Options From Their Store? [Updated]
Ahead of the Xbox Series X launch, Microsoft has revealed that 12-month subscriptions to Xbox Live Gold are being discontinued. Why?
Update: So it looks like Microsoft isn’t fully done in removing different versions of Xbox Live Gold. Amid a rebranding of Xbox Game Pass, The Verge’s Senior Editor noted that Microsoft removed both the 24-month and 12-month subscriptions off of the Microsoft Company Store. While it doesn’t get us any closer to the answer of why they are doing this, it does hint that we can likely expect more of this moving forward ahead of the Xbox Series X launch:
Original reporting follows…
What is Phil Spencer up to? Recent eagle-eyed fans have noticed that Microsoft Store has quietly removed the option to purchase 12-month subscriptions to Xbox Live Gold. With a few months away from the launch of Xbox Series X, it seems like a strikingly anti-consumer move — making Xbox gamers purchase more costly 3-month or 1-month subscriptions to play online games. Unless… something else is in store. Let’s look at what the options are, and why Microsoft may be removing the 12-month subscriptions from the Microsoft Store.
First things first, the background: first spotted by publication Eurogamer, the 12-month subscription option to Xbox Live Gold disappeared overnight. Meanwhile, the lesser options — 1 and 3-month subscriptions — were active options for those looking to re-up or purchase the subscriptions.
Without official word from Microsoft, many had assumed that this was simply an error on the part of Microsoft. That assumption was incorrect — Microsoft further clarified that the decision was intentional with a statement to publication TrueAchievements:
At this time, Xbox has decided to remove the 12 months Xbox Live Gold SKU from the Microsoft online Store. Customers can still sign up for a one month or three month Xbox Live Gold subscription online through the Microsoft Store.
There was no explicit mention to why this move is being made, or the long-term implications to the Xbox Live service. So, without that meaning given to us, let’s play a guessing game to what this may mean:
The Good: Xbox May Remove the Barrier To Playing Online
Admittedly, this is the most unlikely — however, not totally out of the question. Microsoft has taken the step of being an industry leader when it comes to pro-consumer moves in the latter half of the generation. In an effort to close the PR gap they created in the beginning of the Xbox One lifecycle, the Xbox team has taken proactive measures like heavily embracing cross-platform play, encouraging developers to offer free upgrades for cross-generational titles like Cyberpunk 2077, and push the boundaries on backwards compatibility.
So let’s look at the bright side of things — what if this isn’t indeed an anti-consumer move, but instead a pro-consumer move. There’s always the chance that Xbox is looking to remove barriers to online play entirely by offering free online play. With the complete popularity of their Xbox Game Pass service, requiring players pay for online pay may be superfluous. Not to mention the edge it would give over both Nintendo and PlayStation, both of which now require a subscription to access online services.
If this indeed is what’s happening, they may be limiting people from purchasing and using 12-month subscriptions on a service they are inevitably going to discontinue. With a prospective Holiday 2020 launch of Xbox Series X, now would be the perfect time to start limiting people to 1 or 3-month subscriptions.
Is this likely? No — probably not, given it is a consistent stream of cash flow. However, it’s hard to deny that this would be a shot across the bow for the looming PS5 that has seemingly been stagnant in their marketing and messaging.
The Bad: Capitalism Is Coming For Your Xbox Live
Now let’s take the most anti-consumer iteration of this change. There’s always the possibility that Microsoft is purely making this move as a way to generate revenue. Like most subscription services, purchasing a bundled subscription (like 12 months) can likely shave of tens of dollars from an annual bill.
For example, one month of Xbox Live Gold from the Microsoft Store is roughly $10. Taken over an annual period, you are spending $120 for a connection to online services, monthly free titles, and multiplayer. Meanwhile purchasing a 12-month subscription (still available on Amazon) is merely $60. So you are typically saving half the amount by buying in bulk.
With that option gone, Xbox might be able to milk 200% profit (though likely much less) from their audience simply by forcing them to short subscription terms.
Is this likely — not in my opinion. It would be an unforced error on the part of Microsoft, angering some of the most ardent Xbox fans and giving some easy fodder to PS5 marketing over an inflated price to reach online services. While this may be a merger of other services (for example, the 12-month subscription to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate which includes Xbox Live) it must be no surprise that there are plenty of gamers not interest in Xbox Game Pass.
This would be a short term financial gain for a pretty big PR blunder.
The Most Likely: Xbox Is Streamlining Subscription Services
Last on the list, and my bet for most likely, is that Microsoft is looking to clear up confusion when it comes to their subscription services. With Xbox Live, Xbox Game Pass, and Microsoft’s xCloud service on the table, there is a high probability of consumer confusion. And from what we know about the launch of the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, consumer confusion can be a death knell to early success.
With this in mind, Microsoft may soon be announcing a new merger of all three subscription services as a non-optional upgrade. While we already know that Xbox is merging Game Pass and xCloud early on launch, it’s not too far off to believe that this will also extend to Xbox Live. Even better, if this bundle will come at a reduced price for an annual subscription, this can come across as another pro-consumer option, besting Sony and PS5 in terms of online subscriptions.
If this is the model that Microsoft is looking to take, now would be the time for Microsoft to back away from the 12-month subscription to prep for the new combined service.
When it is all said and done, I’m not a savant — nor do I have insider knowledge on the workings behind this decision. It could be any option, a combination of them, or maybe something totally off this list. If you have a guess, leave it in the comment section below.
In any case, the Xbox Series X is planning to launch Holiday 2020. If you want to grab a 12-month subscription before it becomes a thing of the past, you can grab a digital code on Amazon to help support DualShockers.