Why the Hell Are the Xbox One's Best New Features Behind a Paywall?

You don't buy a Big Mac and pay extra for special sauce. You don't buy an iPhone and pay extra for FaceTime. So why in the hell is Microsoft putting some of its most heavily promoted Xbox One features behind an idiotic Xbox Live Gold paywall? Because it can. But that doesn't mean that it should.

When the Xbox One was first announced, its $500 price tag was a little jarring next to the $400 PS4. But hey, at least you get a Kinect 2, and some fancy new features—an on-screen channel guide, an in-game DVR, Skype, etc—thrown in. Not bad! When we asked Microsoft directly, at the time, which of those features would end up being Xbox Live Gold exclusives, we were given a very gentle brush-off. Which is fine; maybe they were just figuring out which would be Gold and which would be included. And now it turns out that all of them are Gold.

The news, quietly added to Microsoft's Xbox Live Gold product page and first noticed by Ars, is probably more disappointing than surprising, at least in some instances. SmartMatch, for example, makes perfect sense as an Xbox Live Gold product; if you're not already paying to play online, you don't have much need for something that improves your online play. And while it continues to be absurd that non-gaming products like Netflix and Hulu Plus are hidden behind the Xbox Live Gold paywall, at least putting Skype there is consistent.

But! But. The Xbox One's Game DVR feature, which records your last five minutes of gameplay for your edutainment? Need a subscription. OneGuide, Microsoft's handy on-screen channel guide alternative? That'll be an extra $60/year, please. For the rest of your natural life.

The tyranny of Xbox Live Gold was bad enough when it was limited to making you pay for services you were already paying for. But this is somehow even more insidious. Game DVR, OneGuide, and Skype were all promoted prominently as Xbox One features. It should be a safe assumption that when you buy a product, it will come with the features it's advertised with.

But it turns out that Game DVR, OneGuide, and Skype aren't Xbox One features after all. They're Xbox Live Gold features that you happen to access on your Xbox One. At best it's a ripoff; at worst it's disingenuous, an openly cynical marketing switcheroo.

Go ahead and charge me for online multiplayer gameplay, Microsoft. That's a distinctive feature that only you can provide. It's worth it. But don't make me pay twice for Netflix, don't tell me that my $500 buys me features that it doesn't, and don't make me pay 60 bucks a year for the privilege of using Skype—a company you own—when there are plenty of folks out there who'll let me access it for free.

The Xbox One might be great, it might be bad, who knows. But the one thing that's clear is that it's incomplete without an annual subscription. And that's absurd.