(Hoo boy... Regardless of this just being my opinion, I'm sure I'm going to catch hell anyway. Here we go...)
Recently, Destructoid posted an article
about how the Xbox 360 will soon have access to Comcast and Verizon pay TV content, in addition to being in talks with dozens of other companies for their services as well. This is in addition to apps already available, such as Netflix and Hulu Plus, and, oh yeah, being able to play video games. While all these services being available on one box is very nice (and optional at that), there's one thing that's impossible to overlook:
You're paying way more to use these things on the 360 than on any other device.
In addition to any subscription fees that you'll pay for each of these individual services, you're also paying a monthly or yearly fee for an Xbox LIVE Gold account. Nearly any PC or even the PS3 and Wii can stream videos through Netflix and Hulu, yet if you're not paying Microsoft, you're not even allowed to access this content on a 360. Hell, even phones
nowadays can do all this streaming for you.
Now, keep in mind that I'm not trying to imply that I think everyone is rich -- I'm by no means made of money, either, and despite owning all three current-gen consoles, I got the PS3 and 360 and heavily discounted prices, and there's no way that I would have been able to have picked them up at full price, even now. But be that as it may, I still believe investing in a cheap computer or Eee PC would end up costing less in the long run than paying Microsoft to access all these services on the 360, even if it seems like consolidation at first.
When the Xbox 360 first came out toward the end of 2005, it had a year's worth of a head start on both Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Wii. The 360 was so far beyond any console that had come out previously, that it had gained unanimous support from every third-party developer around at the time -- Its popularity and success were noticed even by people who had absolutely no interest in video games at all. Since the original Xbox was the platform on which LIVE was started, it was only rational that Microsoft extended the service to the 360, and with all the support the company received, they decided to do what any intelligent company would have done: They continued to charge for the premium service options. Why not? They had no competition at the time, nothing else to even be compared to their console. They saw the opportunity to make a pile of money, and they took it.
Notice how pretty much everything I said in that last paragraph was in the past tense.
The PS3 and Wii have been out for almost as long as the 360, and modern PCs have been out for quite a long time before that, and this is where my disdain for Xbox LIVE starts to rear its ugly head. When the 360 was released as the first console of its kind, Microsoft did what any business would have done, taking advantage of the situation. That time is long gone. You can now get Netflix on the PS3 and Wii, as well as the PC (where they both started), and Hulu Plus on the PS3 as well, in addition to a bunch of other video and music services if you live in Europe. (Seriously, make a UK PS3 account -- You've never seen that many icons on the PS3 before.) Not only that, but of all the current platforms available for gaming, including Steam on PCs, Xbox LIVE is the only
service that makes you shell out just to play your games online!
Why is this? Why, when the PlayStation network is easily comparable to Xbox LIVE, and gaming on Steam easily surpasses it, does Microsoft still charge for what every other platform
has for free? Even the Wii has stuff like Netflix, and Nintendo doesn't charge anything in addition to the Netflix subscription fee.
I have a Gold account on my 360 right now, but the only reason is because Microsoft was doing that whole two months for $2 back to school promotion recently. Now, because I'm a subscriber, I have the option to renew the service for $10 for three months, which is almost half the normal price. If these options had never been available to me, I still wouldn't have a paid account, and the only reason I signed up in the first place was to play with Destructoid people, which I've already done a bit. But every single time I play online, or notice that I've got a nice gold border on the top of my Gamertag, I count the days until Uncharted 3
comes out, when I'll be able to play online for the foreseeable future without subscribing to anything other than my ISP.
Multiplatform games are even more of a reason to feel like you're bending over for Microsoft. Assassin's Creed,
you say? Gold account required on the 360, nothing required on the PS3 or PC. Borderlands?
Gold on 360, nothing on PS3 or PC. Hell, how about Call of Duty,
arguably the most widely-played multiplayer game in the world? Ooh, the 360 gets the DLC before anyone else! Keep in mind it's not exclusive, it just comes out on the 360 first,
a significant difference. You want to be a part of these amazing multiplayer experiences? Gold on 360, nothing on PS3 or PC. You are always
paying for things on the 360 that you get for free on every
other available platform.
The thing that really gets me about this is the fact that Xbox LIVE doesn't offer anything
significant over the PlayStation Network. (I'm not even going to bother comparing this to the PC, since you can do about 10 million different things simultaneously on a PC anyway.) Sure, you've got a few nice little extras, but that stuff isn't huge in any way, shape or form. I defy anyone to convince me that cross-game chat is worth $59.99 a year, or that Facebook and Twitter are worth paying for at all.
Yes, you read that correctly, non-360 owners -- They charge for Facebook and Twitter.
I don't really think I can come up with anything more to say about that.
Speaking of the price, let's talk about that. The price of a game? Really? Not only is the 360 the only platform that requires payment for online play and video services, but it's as high as a retail game
for a year of service? This is completely unacceptable to me, and I'll never pay that much. It's true that you can find deals all over the Internet for cheaper subscription costs, and sometimes they're even on the 360's Dashboard itself. But not everyone is comfortable with just handing out their credit card information, especially after the PlayStation Network fiasco. If those prepaid Xbox LIVE cards weren't big sellers, you can bet Microsoft would pull them from stores. But they're still everywhere, which shows that that method is preferred by a lot of people. But if you go to an actual retail outlet to buy a subscription card, good luck finding any deals.
I love my 360, I really do, and I know this kind of thing has been argued hundreds of times already. But this kind of stuff was only okay when there was no competition (and you could argue that there was never any competition to begin with, thanks to the PC). With the PS3 providing nearly an identical experience to Xbox LIVE, and the PC pretty much outclassing it across the board, it's unacceptable that we have to pay extra money just to do what should be free for everyone at this point. I'll continue to have a Gold account, but the second I'm unable to get a huge discount, I won't be renewing -- Sarcastically call me "privileged" all you want, but I'm the customer, and it's my money that keeps Microsoft in business, which I'm not very happy about anymore. Why pay for something when you can the same experience for free somewhere else?