Worse than February: Paying for Online Multiplayer

Me in February.

Me in February.

Yeah, it’s definitely February. The weather is cold, rainy, and foreboding. Like always, Time feels like it has nearly halted in place.

For the next twenty-three days, it’ll be inching along at an excruciating pace.

It’s currently 1:57 a.m. CST on a Friday. I should be in bed, but for some reason I feel like discussing something that’s arguably worse than this soul-crushing month.

That something is paying for online multiplayer.

The desire to write this editorial actually hit me a few days ago, after reading IGN’s interview with Peter Dille, Sony’s vice president of marketing. Readers might recall that I brought up a few of the interview’s key points in my last Hey! Look! Listen! column. One of them was the possibility that, in the future, Sony might charge for their PlayStation Network services – much as Microsoft charges for an Xbox Live Gold subscription.

I reacted with disgust, naturally. I have no interest in paying console manufacturers for the basic function of online play – and I don’t think I should have to. This is why I don’t have an Xbox Live Gold subscription. And that’s why I really hope Sony takes an alternative route if they do introduce some sort of premium version of PlayStation Network.

Something that’s easy to forget is that online play has been around for years. People were playing Diablo online over Blizzard’s BattleNet network almost 15 years ago. The technology isn’t even close to being novel; however, it was some time before we saw it properly integrated into console gaming.

xbox-live1When Microsoft first launched Xbox Live, it was the first online service that was both stable and incredibly easy to use. Taking the PS2 online was a whole bitch, and few games had any real support anyway. The GameCube’s online support was even more of a joke. But Xbox Live offered reliability, ease of use, and a ton of people to play with.

And that hasn’t changed. Xbox Live is still a fantastic service, with a massive community that continues to grow. But Microsoft shouldn’t charge $50 for online play.

I’ve always praised Sony for providing PSN for free. Perhaps the service isn’t as “streamlined,” per se, as Xbox Live. But in terms of functionality, the two services are practically identical. If the service was buggy or unreliable, Microsoft might be vindicated – but as it stands, the difference is negligible, if it exists at all.

free-playstation-networkAnd, remember, it’s not just the PS3 that offers free online play – it’s every single gaming device aside from the 360: PS3, Wii, iPod Touch, PSP, DS, and of course, the PC. Sure, the Wii’s online functionality is a bit of a joke, but Mario Kart online is pretty fantastic. And guess what? It’s free.

So how, exactly, does Microsoft justify making gamers pay for online play? And why on earth is Sony considering adopting the same business model?

I have a simple solution that I believe would satisfy all parties involved: provide simple necessities such as online play for free, and offer extra, “premium” content to subscribers. By “premium” content I mean original programming like Qore, services like Netflix, and perhaps even exclusive game demos. Y’know, stuff that actually feels like it’s worth paying a little extra for.

IGN doesn’t require an Insider subscription to watch video reviews, but only subscribers can watch them in HD. It’s a business model that Microsoft should adopt, and I sincerely hope that it’s the route Sony takes if they do decide to begin charging for PlayStation Network service.

Oh, and $50 is too damned much. It’s significantly more expensive than the average magazine subscription. And seeing that most of the content on Xbox Live (TV shows, movies, services like Netflix) cost extra money, I’m unsure why I should be forced to pay a royalty just so I can… pay more later.

But hey, this is all just personal opinion, and a bit of a gut reaction. It’s probably worth noting that I’ve never had an Xbox Live Gold subscription, so I haven’t experienced the wonders that fifty extra dollars supposedly brings.

What are your thoughts, people? Do you Xbox Live Gold subscribers feel that your $50 was well spent? Do you think that console manufacturers should continue to charge for online play? Sound off!

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7 Responses to “Worse than February: Paying for Online Multiplayer”

  1. DarthGibblet says:

    Personally, I’ve never regretted having to pay $50 for XBL Gold. I use it sparingly, but it’s nice to be able to play online if my friends are around. I also never pay the full $50 for it, though. It seems like Amazon has sales on 1 year membership cards for $30 once ever few months, so I pick those up whenever I need to renew my account.

    I do hope that PSN goes the pay-for-content model (if they change at all), though. I’d pay for it if I had to, but it’s never fun to have to pay for something that was previously free.

  2. SiliconNooB says:

    I’m very glad at my complete indifference to online play … no nasty surprises.

  3. 7thcircle says:

    I’m with Darthy. I bought a $30 Gold card off Amazon when it was on sale a few weeks back, and I’ll wait until I need it to enter the code into my 360. In the grand scheme of things we spend money on, $2.50/month for a Gold membership is so trivial, it’s not worth the ire it draws. I do agree with Oliver, though, that Microsoft should provide some of the dopey stuff on XBL for free to Gold members, like some of the game wallpapers.

  4. Riddles says:

    Cheap as it may be, it still isn’t justified.

    They can charge all they want for the frilly stuff, but if go out and pay $60 for Modern Warfare 2, I should be able to come home, boot it up, and play online. For free.

    And that’s exactly what I did, seeing that I got it for the PS3. If I have to pay to do the same for Modern Warfare 3, I will not be happy.

  5. SiliconNooB says:

    Why pay for something when you can get it for free?

  6. SiliconNooB says:

    What would make me LOL is if Nintendo started charging for their online service!

  7. Ethos says:

    I’m with Glenn. I ultimately agree that, yeah, the model for Live Gold should be changed, but I really don’t care enough at under $5 a month. I might be part of the “problem” but there are other things more worth my attention in the gaming universe.

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