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Xbox Live, what are we paying for? Could the tides change?

Anyone who is an avid Xbox live player probably knows that it’s been a bumpy ride for the past few weeks. It all started just before Christmas and slowly got worse throughout the holidays. The problem is supposedly now solved and was related to the large number of new users, but myself and several friends are still having trouble staying connected to games like Call of Duty 4. Xbox Live’s Major Nelson had updates during the holidays, but Microsoft in general has been quiet about the issue. Xbox Live gold members have been promised a free arcade game as compensation, but there are no clues as to what this might be. I think the compensation needed to be given shortly after the problem was resolved, but here we are weeks later and still no word.

Anyway, the real point here is not whether we get any compensation. I think not being able to connect at the one time of the year when you have lots of free time cannot really be fixed after the fact. That said, this begs the question of what we get when we pay the yearly subscription fee. Yes, I know it’s not that much, and it’s funny how many staunch supporters Microsoft has over this issue. I have never understood why people become so rabidly loyal to any company. As a customer I think I have the right to complain, and of course the company has the right to ignore me and so does anyone else.

Now in North America we find that two new fairly big demos are not available, The Club and Turok (Yes I know I can create other country accounts and get them, but that’s not the point). I think these are exclusives for game magazines like Eternal Sonata was, so basically if you want them when the rest of the world gets them you have to pay for them. Now if this is over a rating issue like it is in some countries then I can understand. That’s out of Microsoft’s hands, but if this is an exclusivity deal then I’m not okay with it. Let non-paying members buy the disks or wait, don’t make your Gold users wait!

What’s my point? Okay, I admit it; I won’t be cancelling my Live Subscription any time soon because I enjoy playing online with several friends, and Microsoft probably knows this about its users. Remember, pretty much every other gaming service is free. When you play live, the users are still hosting the matches and providing the bandwidth, all you are really getting is the right to connect to other players, that and a pretty good match making service, at least when it’s working. This is why when the host of a game leaves everyone gets the boot. So again, is this service really just for matchmaking and the privilege to share bandwidth?

I am not outraged like some people and I can easily afford the price, but I do think it’s time for Microsoft to seriously take a look at its Gold offerings and server stability. I also think that maybe paying customers should be able to get Demo’s without paying or waiting for them, but hey, that’s just me, I’m sure there’s Xbox Zealots out there that will disagree. I also think that Microsoft is choosing a bad time to rock the boat. Live has been a pretty great service in the past, but it’s also had no real competition, and now the service quality seems to be pretty rocky. There are also a boat load of highly anticipated PS3 games around the corner and the tides could turn very fast. Sure there are the fanboys of both consoles, but then there’s a lot of people like me who are fickle and don’t care about brand loyalty. We will switch at the drop of a dime if we think the deal is sweater elsewhere. So far it’s not, but that is likely to change very soon.

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