Xbox Live Gold has been the gateway to online multiplayer gaming on Xbox for nearly 20 years. But Microsoft recently announced that Live Gold is evolving into a new subscription service called Xbox Game Pass Core starting September 2023. This shift marks the end of an era while kicking off the next generation of Xbox online gaming.
The History of Xbox Live Gold 2002 – The Beginning of Xbox Live
Microsoft launched the original Xbox console in November 2001 to compete with Sony’s PlayStation 2. A year later, Microsoft introduced Xbox Live, a subscription service that enabled online multiplayer gaming and digital content downloads on Xbox. Xbox Live launched in November 2002 requiring a broadband internet connection and a $49.99 starter kit that included a headset. A $9.99 monthly or $49.99 yearly subscription fee was also required to access online multiplayer gaming and the Xbox Live Marketplace.
This represented a major shift in console gaming toward online experiences. Prior to Xbox Live, consoles like PS2 offered limited online capability without a unified platform. Xbox Live set the standard with features like making and tracking friends, messaging, game matchmaking, and downloadable content.
Key Moments in Xbox Live Gold History:
- 2004: Xbox Live reaches 1 million subscribers
- 2006: Xbox 360 launches alongside improved Xbox Live features like gamerscores and game achievements
- 2007: Party chat and video chat introduced on Xbox 360
- 2010: Kinect sensor launches, supporting controller-free motion gaming on Xbox via Live
- 2011: Xbox Live Gold subs reach 40 million
- 2013: Games with Gold launches, providing free monthly games for Gold subscribers
- 2016: Multiplayer gaming becomes free on Xbox without Gold subscription
- 2020: Xbox Live reaches 100 million monthly active users
Over nearly 20 years, Xbox Live Gold has evolved from fledgling online gaming network to the premier console multiplayer service with tens of millions of subscribers.
Games with Gold – The Perk That Changed Xbox Live Gold
The launch of the Games with Gold initiative in 2013 was one of the largest changes in Xbox Live Gold history. Each month, paid Gold users who participate in Games with Gold receive download vouchers for 2-4 free Xbox games. Classic Xbox 360 games and more contemporary Xbox One releases are included in the list of free games. While the games change every month, gamers still get access to all of them as long as their Gold membership is ongoing.
Xbox Live Gold’s value proposition has been significantly enhanced with Games with Gold, providing users more for their subscription money. The no-cost games added to players’ collections and covered a variety of genres.
According to Microsoft, Games with Gold offerings in the first year of the program were downloaded over 75 million times. Popular early games included Halo 3, Assassin’s Creed II, and Dead Island. The program marked a shift toward gaming subscriptions over direct purchases. And Xbox continued expanding Games with Gold over the years, occasionally offering special bonuses.
Games with Gold became a staple Xbox tradition, providing exciting reveals of free games on the 1st and 16th of each month. It also gave inactive Gold subscribers incentives to resubscribe to maintain access to their accumulated free games.
The Downfall of Xbox Live Gold in a Game Pass World
While Xbox Live Gold’s popularity was increased by Games with Gold, the subscription service has recently experienced growing difficulties. The main problem? There were two of them. First off, players were blunt in their criticism of the shortage of high-quality games they received as part of Games With Gold. Second, internal rivalry, as Xbox Game Pass diverted focus from Xbox Live Gold.
Xbox Game Pass offers unrestricted access to a selection of downloaded games similar to Netflix. In 2017, Microsoft introduced Game Pass, which offers a library of more than 100 Xbox One/360 titles for a monthly fee of $9.99. Compared to purchasing games separately, Xbox Game Pass offered far more choice and value. For $14.99 per month, an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate membership included access to the Game Pass libraries for Xbox consoles and PCs as well as Xbox Live Gold.
As Game Pass grew in popularity thanks to high-profile games like Halo Infinite available day-one, the Games with Gold program lost its luster. Live Gold became primarily a vehicle for multiplayer gaming access as Game Pass assumed the role of content library.
The Xbox online gaming landscape shifted decisively toward Game Pass. Active Game Pass subscriptions exploded to 25 million by early 2022. Meanwhile Xbox Live Gold stagnated around 30 million subscribers. Games with Gold continued offering free titles each month. But Game Pass overshadowed it with major hits added regularly rather than the inconsistent Games with Gold lineup.
Introducing Xbox Game Pass Core
On July 17th 2023, Microsoft introduced Xbox Game Pass Core as a replacement for Xbox Live Gold. The pricing remains identical at $9.99 monthly or $59.99 annually.
But Game Pass Core offers a major upgrade over the previous Live Gold benefits:
- Online multiplayer gaming access
- Exclusive member discounts
- Over 25 games from Xbox Game Studios, Bethesda, and partners
The 25+ game collection fills the void left by the discontinued Games with Gold program. Microsoft confirmed at launch that Game Pass Core’s included games library will refresh 2-3 times per year.
Some confirmed Xbox Game Pass Core launch titles:
- Halo Infinite (Xbox Game Studios)
- Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition (Bethesda)
- ElecHead (Indie)
- Spacelines from Far Out (Indie)
- Metal: Hellsinger (Indie)
This new Xbox Game Pass Core subscription combines the best features of Xbox Live Gold with a taste of Xbox Game Pass. For the same $9.99 monthly cost, players now get a Game Pass game collection plus online multiplayer access.
Microsoft’s intent is clearly to entice Xbox Live Gold subscribers and new players to upgrade to the fuller Xbox Game Pass Ultimate plan. But Game Pass Core still offers strong value at just $10 monthly for online gaming and free games.
Xbox Game Pass Core launch represents the end of an era for Xbox Live Gold after 20 years. But Xbox online gaming continues evolving to meet players’ demand for subscription value.
What About Current Xbox Live Gold Members?
All existing Xbox Live Gold subscribers will automatically transition to Xbox Game Pass Core with no action needed. Players can enjoy the same online gaming benefits and member discounts.
For current Gold members, the transition to Game Pass Core means:
- Maintaining the same pricing without a rate increase
- Gaining access to the Game Pass Core 25+ game catalog
- Losing access to new Games with Gold free monthly games after September 2023
- Keeping all previously redeemed Xbox One Games with Gold titles
- Retaining all Xbox 360 Games with Gold games in their library regardless of subscription status
With Game Pass Core launching in September 2023, Games with Gold ended preemptively on August 31. This marked the official conclusion of Microsoft’s free monthly games program after nearly 10 years.
Long-time Xbox gamers will undoubtedly feel nostalgic for the excitement of monthly Games with Gold reveals. But Xbox Game Pass Core opens the door to a new chapter focused on subscription gaming value.
The Future of Xbox Game Pass Core
While significant for Xbox gaming history, the transition from Xbox Live Gold to Xbox Game Pass Core is unlikely to be the end goal for Microsoft. Xbox Game Pass Core builds a bridge for migrating players toward Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. We will likely see Microsoft continue expanding Xbox Game Pass Core’s benefits to further push Ultimate subscriptions. The 25 free game library could grow towards 100+ titles found in the full Ultimate Game Pass plan.
Microsoft also may reduce Xbox Game Pass Core’s price in the future to create space between it and pricier Ultimate. But for now, the $9.99 Core plan offers a nice balance of free games and online play for budget gamers. It remains to be seen how many Xbox Live Gold subscribers will upgrade to Game Pass Ultimate after the switch.
The Xbox Game Pass Core announcement came alongside news that Sony’s PlayStation Plus service is getting revamped similarly with game catalogs across Essential, Extra, and Premium tiers. It highlights the industry trends toward subscription services as the future of gaming content.
After two decades as the premium name in console online gaming, Xbox Live Gold is taking a bow. Rest in peace, Games with Gold. The stage is now set for Xbox Game Pass Core and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.