Plugged In

Microsoft raising Xbox Live membership prices

Plugged In

Love playing your Xbox 360 games online? Join the crew...and please have your credit card handy, because Microsoft would like to have a word with it.

Specifically, the word "more."

On Monday, the company announced plans
to raise the price of the Xbox Live Gold membership, making it the
online network's first fee hike in its eight-year history. Beginning
November 1, gamers in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the U.K. will have
to fork over at least $10 extra per year to enjoy the premium service,
which is required for playing games with (or against) pals online.

In the U.S., the annual subscription plan -- once $49.99, soon to be
$59.99 -- will remain far and way the most economical. The monthly plan
will see a $2 bump ($9.99/month, or $120/year), while the three-month
plan will jump $5 ($24.99/month, or $100/year).

Why the sudden hike? To Xbox Live spokesman Major Nelson, someone has to pay for all the stuff they keep adding to the network, right?

"Since launching Xbox LIVE in 2002 we have continually added more
content and entertainment experiences for our members, while keeping
the price the same," he said. "We’re confident that when the new
pricing takes effect, an Xbox LIVE Gold membership will continue to
offer the best value in the industry."

Well, that's one way to look at it. Another way to look at
it is that Microsoft remains the only one of the big three console
makers to charge a fee for online play. While Sony's recently-released "Playstation Plus"
upgrade gives gamers access to premium content, playing games online is
still entirely free for all users. And though the Wii has lagged behind
in the online gaming field, the relatively few games that support
online play don't cost players extra.

But with blockbuster multiplayer games like Call of Duty: Modern
Warfare 2 selling like hotcakes on the 360, Microsoft hasn't had a hard
time convincing users to pay up. According to Bloomberg,
a good 25 million Xbox 360 owners went Gold in the last fiscal year,
netting the company about $600 million in fees alone and accounting for
roughly half of Microsoft's estimated $1.2 billion in revenue via the
online service. With the Xbox 360 topping charts in July and surefire seller Halo: Reach arriving September 14th, the company might need to buy a bigger wallet.

It's not all doom and gloom for 360 gamers, however. In a
half-hearted attempt to make amends for the rate increase, Microsoft is
letting current U.S. Xbox Live Gold members lock in one more year of membership for $39.99,
a $20 premium over the coming price. Not bad, but an even thriftier
move is to snap up a few discounted pre-paid cards at online retailers
like Amazon.
Redeem one now, then save one for next year to renew at the discounted
price again. Sneaky...and sure to vanish quickly, so hop to it.

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