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MassDebate: Is XBOX Live a dangerous precedent for basic online service?


Welcome to MassDebate! We take a controversial topic, form a proposition, and set two contenders the challenge of stating their case in favor of and in opposition to the proposition. After which, users may vote to decide which contender they support. Rules for voting are at the bottom of the blog, but it is recommended that you read the contenders' cases before you cast your vote.

The proposition: XBOX LIVE sets a damaging precedent by charging a premium for rudimentary online service.

Byronic Man states his case for the proposition:

There is one thing that must be established of this week's proposition before the debate is fully underway that concerns our understanding of the conditions of the subject matter.

It would be very easy to answer the proposition in lieu of one's personal preference of Xbox Live over PlayStation Network, or vice versa, as is the natural drift of a gamer's mind when it comes to comparing services - a perfectly natural reflex all in all, but one that would miss not only the point of the debate but also the underlying contention under question:

I assure you, the matter is far from preferential. This is not a discussion on contrasts of service quality, but rather it is an issue of value.

At first glance, the differences might appear negligible. Value can easily be said to derive from personal taste. How decided one is on the suitability of the price of a given product depends on a pair of conditions: Firstly, on one's need for the product, and secondly, on the availability of the product elsewhere at a lower cost.

The first is arbitrary; the second, contingent on a given market price. The latter is of concern for every budding consumer - or at least, for the smart consumer. (It should go without saying that being a smart consumer ought to be an everyday goal for all of us.) The former (i.e. personal preference and taste) when scrutinized, incites us to some extent to agree to disagree, at which point compromise seals the issue, debate becomes impossible and this blog dissolves into the ether.

If you're still with me, then I hope you'll agree that the matter of contention in this debate is wholly monetary and not preferential. That you cannot play Halo or Gears of War on anything but a 360 does not inherently legitimize any price-point that may be set of it, nor does the fact that the PSN lacks party chat and other tertiary functions legitimize Xbox Live's extortionary subscription fee, as I will argue below.

The issue at hand, then, is that Microsoft charges a premium for what should be the very basic, most rudimentary function of their online service: The ability to play the online component of your video games. Cross game chat, demos and trailers, cloud saving, Facebook functionality, Netflix, faster download speeds, and so on, should all defer to this in terms of service priority.

Online multiplayer is a large reason most people buy games with this functionality, and online multiplayer is more and more receiving the time and energy of game developers as it becomes an increasingly prominent feature. That such a large proportion of your game - a selling point, of all things - should be withheld from you in spite of your paying full market price for a game ought to be disconcerting.

So it goes that the "true" price for an online multiplayer on the 360 is the shop price of the game plus the subscription fee for the privilege - just over double the number on the game's box. Ironically, this is often rationalized through the proportional excess paid on the subscription fee decreasing according to how many more games with online functionality you buy a year.

While correct, this reasoning belies the point that in order to maximize the value of your subscription you need to buy more games, with every instance after the first game increasing your yearly spending much more than it decreases the proportional cost of the fee. Everyone wants to get value for their money, but in this case the bargain gets "better" the more hundreds of dollars you are willing to spend.

You could always opt out of the high yearly fee and pay the smaller (but inferior in value) monthly fee on a game by game basis. This, however, involves a remarkable depreciation in value of your game library, for when the paid month has ran out, your most recent multiplayer game becomes nothing more than a decorative bookend.

The same principle applies with the yearly fee, but on a much grander scale. Nobody wants to see their vast multiplayer game library become inert, so the fee is repaid to grant the games back their utility. Of course, the library would become equally useless should you swap your 360 for a PS3, and with the price for a new 360 or another subscription fee being far below the immediate cost of duplicating the library for the PS3 and buying that console, it appears much cheaper to simply stay loyal. And so saving money in the short term leads to much more money being lost in the long term.

What strikes me most about this situation is how this fee has met with almost total acceptance. It has become a fact of life for XBL gamers, not a barrier to be overcome nor a problem to be solved. Many use the fee as evidence that the quality of online play on the 360 is superior to that on the PS3, but this conclusion lacks evidence in its own right (to my knowledge, no study exists that substantiates the claim) and is wholly based on conjecture and anecdote, while just as much conjecture and anecdote argues to the contrary. Others legitimize the fee through availability of cross game chat and quick download times; a major case of warped priorities.

One thing is for certain: With gamers so willing to part with their money on XBL for what is currently free everywhere else, and with the subscription fee for online gaming being such a successful and lucrative business model, it has become a natural part of the industry's Zeitgeist. Having proven to be such a major source of revenue for Microsoft, it seems incredibly likely to be adopted in the future as a common standard among other service providers as an exploitative auxiliary charge for rudimentary game functionality, much to the detriment of the video game-loving consumer.

garethxxgod states his case against the proposition:

Everyone knows that for the most variety people will usually turn to the PC. It won the best of this generation's platforms on Debatoid, so it's no surprise that it's an obvious choice for those who can make it, but keeping to the current console generation, the one machine that keeps it as close to the PC in terms of choice is the Xbox 360, and this is only possible thanks to the unique commodity that is Xbox Live.

XBox Live offers a ton of gaming options, ease of use, a refined security system and, the icing on the cake, Party Chat. It offers all of this as a service. A service that people pay for based upon it's reputation as the place for online gaming. While the other guys may be giving it away, realistically there is a fee; your time and patience. Something that you won't even realize is at stake if you've never tried out the other guy.

At the end of the day, Microsoft's biggest selling point with the 360 is the ability to connect with friends on the couch and through Xbox Live. Halo: Reach's options for the type of people you can play with via Voice Chat options and gameplay style are proof of the kind of customization that Call Of Duty Elite is only just now trying to bring.

Then there's Party Chat and the NXE, which are seamless in connecting to your friends. It's as simple as bringing up your friends and selecting a party to join or start and you don't even have to be in the same game before you can talk with them.

No waiting in lobbies, sending text messages, waiting for your friends to get into the game. All the pre-planning is right there in a simple click of "Invite To Party".

For some people, this feature is worth the price alone by cutting out the middle-man; you're connected to the people you want to hear instead of hearing everyone else and filtering out the crap.

At the end of the day Xbox Live is a service. When a competitor's online service receives problems or major downtime, the incentive for getting the service back up isn't as great as it would be for a paid service, which gives the paying customer more leverage for how efficiently the service runs. You won't find Microsoft taking a "let's take our merry time getting things fixed" stance when they have paying customers.

Don't get me wrong, all the suppliers will do everything they can, but the fact that XBox Live is a premium service again puts the pressure on Microsoft to get you back onto something you're paying for.

Multiplayer titles on a Sony or Nintendo machine may run fine but there's less pressure to make sure the entire system is running fine because again, it's free. Xbox Live's pedigree for being as stable and dedicated as possible a system for online gaming is what draws in its customers, so Microsoft looks beyond Halo and Gears to make sure every game runs smoothly. It's why you hear more often than not that multiplatform online games work better on Xbox Live, and that multiplayer services stay up for longer on XBox Live titles.

The first thing non-Xbox gamers balk at is the price. Why should they have to pay for something the competitor is giving away for free? However, there has to be a reason why Xbox Live's online is just as popular, if not more so, than its competitors even when you have to pay for it, or consumers would simply switch platform.

The cost of Xbox Live is about $5 a month with the standard $60 for a 1 year deal. If you're a savvy customer, you can find Live subscriptions cheaper on eBay or Amazon and sometimes they even have deals through Xbox itself for about half that price. In the expensive world of gaming, XBox Live is not a bad deal.

Consider for a moment where else your fees are going. While Sony is only just now getting into the exclusive package deals, the fees for Xbox Live have been wrapping up exclusive content for years; further enticing users not only to switch to Xbox Live, but also to buy multiplatform games that aren't even multiplayer-centric for the Xbox 360, due to the exclusive content that they can't get elsewhere.

On top of this, consider the huge library of games on XBLA, that dwarfs what Sony has on offer, as well its work with PC and mini-game developers to bring your favourite PC experiences to the Xbox 360.

Let's not forget specific "Game With Developers" events that put you in video games with your favourite games developer.

With the wealth of choice, ease of use and strong connectivity I don't see how anyone could argue that subscribing for your online service doesn't have it's advantages.

Even now, we see that Sony have created the PlayStation Plus as their answer to the success of XBox Live Gold, a revenue stream they sorely wish they were getting on top of the money they already make.

Whether PlayStation Network stays free forever isn't known, but I don't see why they wouldn't follow suit when the subscription model has been so beneficial to XBox Live users, not damaging.

Many thanks to Byronic Man and garethxxgod for their contributions.

Now, the ground rules for voting:

1. The users that set out the MassDebate (Byronic Man and garethxxgod) are not eligible to vote. (we can guess where their allegiances lie)

2. Feel free to comment at any point before, during or after you have voted.

3. To vote, begin your comment BYRONIC or GARETH depending on whether you support the proposition (BYRONIC) or you oppose the proposition (GARETH). The rest of your comment can be used to, you know, comment.

4. Only comments that begin with BYRONIC or GARETH may be considered in the voting process. Ensure you are spelling your vote correctly and placing it in capitals.

5. One vote per user. Only your first vote will count; there are no do-overs. Do not spam the comments. Donít bully other users into voting your way. Letís keep it clean. Donít be a wang.

6. Your voting should be based on the strength of the arguments set out by the contenders. Though your opinion may go some way towards forming your decision, do try to be as impartial as you can muster.

7. Any failure to undertake these rules or any ambiguity surrounding your vote may damage the chance of your vote counting. Whether or not your vote ultimately counts is at MassDebate's discretion. Maximise your chances by voting correctly.

8. The vote total will be accumulated one week or so after the blog is released.
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About MassDebateone of us since 1:12 AM on 03.14.2011

New header kindly contributed by falsenipple

Brought about as a result of a CaptainBus/Sean Daisy fever dream, Debatoid offers one proposal with two sides; two users give the case for and against the proposal and you vote for the outcome.

Debatoid changed its name to MassDebate, but don't fret; the principle of controversial topics, smart candidate and avid discussion remains at the forefront! Vive la mÍme chose et la difference!

If anyone wants to volunteer a topic or submit their interest in being a contender then please PM MassDebate, email captainbus AT gmail DOT com or message _SeanDaisy on Twitter.

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Is XBOX Live a dangerous precedent for basic online service?
The proposition: XBOX LIVE sets a damaging precedent by charging a premium for rudimentary online service.
MassDebate rejects the proposition!

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