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The Truth Behind Xbox Live Gold's Price Increase

For the first time in a long while, Microsoft is raising the price on its Xbox Live Gold subscription service, with the price per month going up a dollar and three month memberships increasing by $5. While these increases may seem minimal, some believe that the price hike, alongside changes to long-term Xbox Live Gold subscriptions, may be a part of Microsoft's plan to push consumers towards the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.

News of the price increase comes directly from Microsoft itself, who put up a short blog post explaining the changes. The new pricing will put monthly subscriptions at $10.99, 3-month subscriptions at $29.99, and 6-month subscriptions at $59.99. Microsoft is implementing these price changes on a region-specific basis, and any members in a region where prices go up will receive an email beforehand. After customers receive the price increase notification email, the changes will be implemented 45 days later.

Absent from Microsoft's announcement for their Xbox Live Gold subscription changes is pricing for a 12-month plan. The reason why pricing isn't listed for the annual plan is because Microsoft removed that option, without explanation, in July 2020. The plan's disappearance without any explanation was so unusual that some assumed it must have been some sort of technical error. When questioned about the decision, Microsoft confirmed that it was not an error but declined to explain its removal.

At the time, there was speculation in the video game media that the removal of the annual subscription option, alongside some specific language in the Xbox Live service agreement, meant that the service might be offered for free in the future. With the Jan. 22 announcement, it is clear that is not the case, and the removal of the annual option has raised the price of the service significantly. In the first half of 2020, gamers could buy a 12-month subscription for $59.99. Now the cheapest option is 6 months at the same price, meaning the minimum annual cost for a year of Xbox Live Gold service has doubled.

Conspicuously present in the announcement is Xbox Live Gold subscribers' option to upgrade to the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate service. Members can convert any remaining Gold subscription to Ultimate with no additional charges. Industry analysts such as Daniel Ahmad see this as a clear indication that Microsoft is nudging subscribers toward the Game Pass, which includes a Netflix-style rotation of free games and access to the new xCloud game streaming service. As Ahmad put it, "$10.99 a month for Gold on console [vs.] $14.99 a month for Gold on console + Game Pass (Console & PC) + EA Play + xCloud is very much a no brainer."

Since Xbox Game Pass Ultimate costs $14.99 per month, that puts a year's worth of service around $180. Microsoft's new pricing structure for Xbox Live Gold makes it much less of a leap to move from one service to the other, although some consumers may not like the subtle push toward the pricier option.