If your subscription is paid, you can watch Netflix for free on your computer, your Blu-ray player, your PS3, and soon, your Wii—but not on the Xbox 360. Microsoft, it's time to kill the Xbox internet tax
In case you don't own an Xbox, what I'm talking about is Xbox Live, Microsoft's online gaming/content/social network system for the Xbox 360. The free, or "Silver" version of the service offers a slim set of online capabilities, limited to game demo and add-on downloads, and some downloadable video content. But all the other stuff the Xbox does online—the online gaming, the movie and music streaming, the social networking—requires an Xbox Live Gold subscription, which costs $50 a year, $20 every three months, or $8 a month.
In return, Microsoft gives you online gaming, something which has obvious costs for them, and which I can understand paying for. But they're also effectively selling you access to services that aren't theirs, services that are free, or services that you've already paid for:
• Netflix. If you have access to Netflix instant streaming, you're already paying at least $9 a month for the service, and whatever you pay for your broadband connection. You can stream it for no extra charge on all other consoles, and the content is streamed from Netflix's servers, so why are we paying Microsoft for this?
• Last.fm, Twitter and Facebook. These are recent additions to Xbox Live, and Microsoft obviously spent a fair bit of time and resources devising new interfaces for these services. It would be fair, then, to charge a set number of Xbox Points for these apps, but to charge a recurring Live Membership fee to access these otherwise free services doesn't make sense.
• Zune. This, of all the services in the Xbox Live Gold ghetto, makes the least sense. In the Zune video marketplace, you pay for movies with Xbox points. In other words, you have to pay for Zune movies or TV shows twice: once with your Live Gold membership, and once with your actual media purchase. UPDATE: A Microsoft rep got in touch:
All Xbox LIVE members, including Silver, can rent, buy, and stream videos from Zune on Xbox LIVE.
That did seem like a little much—I stand corrected.
I'm not saying that Microsoft should scrap Live altogether, or that there can't be a paid tier for the service. I'm also not saying that other companies are innocent here—Sony, while they're not charging for Netflix access, do require a Sony-tied login to access it, which seems like an unnecessary, albeit costless, extra layer between you and the external service you've already paid for. I'm just saying that Microsoft needs a Live subscription system that only asks you to pay Microsoft when Microsoft gives you something in return. Charge for online gaming, charge for Netflix Parties, charge for things that cost money.
Just stop charging us for things that we've already paid for, or that we don't—or even can't—pay for anywhere else.