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Xbox Live Gold: The yearly fee that's a big hurdle for casual gamers

Sarah Tew/CNET

The futuristic Xbox One lets you change channels with your voice, log in to your account with nothing more than your face. and instantly flip between gaming and live TV, but Microsoft's wunderbox can't stream Netflix without a $60-per-year Xbox Live Gold subscription.

It's a surprising restriction when nearly every other device, from the $35 Chromecast to the $400 PlayStation 4 to a $2,000 TV. doesn't charge for access to Netflix's streaming service -- a service that already carries its own $8 monthly fee.

(Almost) everything's behind the paywall

Netflix is the most bewildering service to live behind the Live Gold paywall, but it's far from the only one. Nearly all of the marquee Xbox One features require Microsoft's subscription fee, including OneGuide, Game DVR, Internet Explorer, online multiplayer gaming, virtually all of the streaming-media services, and Skype. At least the neat multitasking "Snap" functionality isn't limited to Live Gold, but there's not much point in multitasking if most of the features aren't available to you.


The fact that the Xbox One is little more than a single-player gaming machine without a Live Gold subscription

makes it a tough sell for more-casual gamers. Hard-core gamers won't complain -- they were going to pay extra for online multiplayer gaming anyway -- but it's hard to expect more-occasional, offline gamers to pay for the right to access services like Netflix and HBO Go, which are free on every other platform, besides their own subscription fees. And while many Xbox One buyers probably already have another device capable of streaming Netflix, having to switch inputs for your "House of Cards" fix is antithetical to Microsoft's "One Box To Rule Them All" philosophy.

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Sony isn't nearly as pushy with the PS4's premium subscription service, PlayStation Plus. Online multiplayer gaming, automatic game updates, and cloud saves require a subscription, but essentially everything else is free, including all of the PS4's streaming services, game recording and sharing, Internet browsing, and live streaming of games via Twitch. It feels like a much fairer divide between basic and premium services. Features that require pricey upkeep, like online gaming and cloud saves, cost extra, while everything else is considered a feature of the game console you already paid for.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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