Your Complete Guide to Xbox Live: Price, Games, Features, and More

fingers holding Xbox giftcard

Your Complete Guide to Xbox Live: Price, Games, Features, and More

5 Key Points and Must-Know Facts

  • Xbox Live rebranded to the Xbox Network in March of 2021. This was done to better differentiate between the console’s free subscription and its paid tier, which retained its name Xbox Live Gold.
  • You cannot access the Xbox Marketplace or receive a gamertag without an Xbox Network account.
  • Xbox Network is still accessible on the Xbox 360, the Xbox One, and the current-generation console, the Xbox Series X and Series S. However, it is no longer supported on the original Xbox.
  • Registering for the Xbox Network is free. Xbox Live Gold runs anywhere from $9.99 for one month to $59.99 for an annual subscription.
  • On Xbox One and the Xbox Series X/S, one Xbox Live Gold subscription can apply to every profile on the console. Alternatively, every profile on an Xbox 360 needs its own separate Gold subscription.

Modern consoles are a step up from traditional video game consoles. Gamers can connect to the internet, play online with friends and strangers alike, and enjoy the benefits of regular digital exclusives. Of course, it usually comes at a price. Take the Xbox Network, for instance. Specifically, its subscription service Xbox Live Gold. What is it, and how does it work? How much does it cost, and what are its benefits?

In this article, we look at some fast facts about the Xbox Network, review some important specs, show you where to purchase a subscription and dive deep into the history of Xbox Live. We’ll also explore the various iterations of the service over the years, and see how the public has perceived it.

Quick Facts

Original price
Units Sold
approximately 100 million subscribers

Xbox Live Specs

Free-to-play games are no longer available to Xbox X series players with Live Gold membership
Release DateNovember 15th, 2002
PriceFree (Xbox Network); $59.99 (12 months of Gold), $24.99 (3 months of Gold), $9.99 (1 month of Gold)
Key FeaturesOnline multiplayer, free monthly games, game recording, Twitch streaming, cloud storage, early beta access, special offers
PlatformsXbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S
Number of Members> 100 million

Xbox Live Membership: Where to Buy

If you’re looking to buy an Xbox Live Gold subscription, there are various places you can visit both in-person and online. The easiest way is to go to the Xbox Marketplace, which you can access after signing up for the Xbox Network. Discounts are far and few in between, though. You’ll probably pay full price to buy Gold through the Xbox Marketplace.

Alternatively, you can also purchase Xbox Live Gold subscriptions as a gift card at your local box store of choice. Target, Best Buy, Walmart, GameStop, you name it- all sell gift cards. You can choose from one-month, three-month, and twelve-month gift cards. Unless there’s a retailer-specific deal, they will probably run you full price.

Last but not least, for a discounted membership to Xbox Live Gold, you can look online at Amazon or in-person at a warehouse store. Both Amazon and price clubs like Sam’s and Costco frequently offer Gold membership gift cards at serious discounts compared to the full price you’re likely to pay through Microsoft or at a major retailer. If you have a Prime or a warehouse store membership, you should definitely start your search here.

  • Xbox Live 12 Month Gold Membership – Best Buy Best Buy – $59.99
  • Xbox Live – Gold Membership – $59.99
Xbox Live Gold: 12 Month Membership [Digital Code]
  • Xbox Live Gold Membership works for Xbox 360 and Xbox One Xbox Live Gold Membership can stack up to 3 years
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/25/2024 02:14 am GMT

Guide to Xbox Live: What to Know

From the very beginning of the Xbox‘s development, Microsoft knew that online gaming needed to be a top priority. While the Sega Dreamcast was largely seen a failure, its online functionality via SegaNet was a huge draw to the console. Likewise, it showed Microsoft that such technology was actually capable from a console, even if the said console wasn’t commercially successful. This thinking was the driving force behind what would eventually become Xbox Live.

While it wasn’t quite ready for the Xbox’s launch in November of 2001, the console did come equipped with an Ethernet port to hint at what was to come. A year later, Microsoft had finally perfected its online functionality and Xbox Live was officially released. More than a million users signed up in less than two years, and the numbers almost double around the release of the Xbox 360.

New 360 users sent Live sign-ups through the roof. Microsoft made a few key upgrades (including a new logo). The updated version carried Xbox Live up to 2013, and another important update was made to support the next-generation console: the Xbox One. This updated version of Live was the standard for the console until the rebranding in March of 2021. This most recent update was when Xbox Live officially became Xbox Network.

sports games

The Xbox 360 is a home video game console developed by Microsoft.

Xbox Live: Each Version

Xbox Live (2002-2005)

Launched exactly one year after the release of the Xbox, the first version of Xbox Live was admittedly pretty sparse. At the time, Xbox Live was only supported by two games: MechAssault and Unreal Championship. Nevertheless, their servers were inundated with online gamers. Remarkably, they didn’t even face any major crashes at launch.

In addition to being one of the first Xbox Live-friendly games, MechAssault also became one of the first games to offer a paid DLC over the online service. Imagine that: a time before paid DLCs! This is now an inherent and expected part of gaming on any console today, but at the time, it was truly something to behold.

Beyond these simple, entry-level features, Xbox Live didn’t have much else to offer except exclusive gamertags and voice chat capabilities. With this in mind, imagine the sheer joy that must have been felt when the next version of Live was released, along with the Xbox 360 in 2005.

Xbox Live (2005-2013)

Before this first major update, Xbox Live was merely an add-on, not an essential part of the Xbox gaming experience. That all changed with the release of the 360, though. Microsoft truly buckled down and worked hard to make its online components a vital part of the Xbox 360, which proved to be a smart move. This second version of Live carried them for eight years, nearly twice as long as the first version.

Microsoft began with the introduction of a paid tier called Xbox Live Gold. Concurrently, the original free version of Live was renamed Xbox Live Silver. Gamertags, matchmaking capabilities, and other basic features were still included in the free Silver tier, while all other exclusive benefits and bonus content moved over to the Gold tier. With this move, DLCs effectively exploded. Considering how much better the Xbox experience was with Gold, it truly paid to be a part of the paid tier.

This second version of Xbox Live also introduced the now-iconic concept of avatars. Every gamer got to make their custom avatar, with extensive customization options available for clothing, skins, hair, and more. Kinect functionality and support were another major part of this second version, though it didn’t arrive until late 2010. Coincidentally, this is also when support for the first version of Xbox Live ended and the service was shuttered.)

fingers holding Xbox giftcard

Xbox gift gift allows you make in-game purchase when playing virtually using Xbox Live.

Xbox Live (2013-2021)

For its next-generation console, the Xbox One, Xbox Live would need to make some updates to match. That’s exactly what they did, too. With the launch of the Xbox One in 2013, the old Xbox Live became a thing of the past virtually overnight. Thus, Live version 3.0 was born.

For one, this massive overhaul brought with it the ability to record and upload game footage for Gold members. This was a major advantage, as YouTube “Let’s Play…” and walkthrough videos had really begun to boom. Gold members also had access to OneGuide, which brought together the best of streaming and live television in one convenient location. Thanks to the help of Skype, Gold members could also take voice and video chat beyond the game lobby and into other apps throughout the Xbox One system (for instance, streaming services).

“Games with Gold” and “Deals with Gold” also emerged with this third update. Offering free and discounted games to Gold members, respectively, these bonus offers really took the Gold subscription level to new heights. Not only were you getting exclusive advantages for games you’d already purchased, but also the chance to download free or drastically discounted games straight from the Xbox Marketplace.

Xbox Network and Xbox Live Gold (2021-present)

With the release of the Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft made another major change to how Xbox Live worked. More than anything else, the most drastic of these changes was ending the free Live membership in favor of a new-and-improved service called Xbox Network. Similar in name and function to the free tier of the PlayStation Network, the Xbox Network retains the ability to create gamertags, make friends lists, voice chat, and access the Xbox Marketplace. Additionally, Xbox Network carries over to online games played on Windows computers.

If you want to play online with friends, get early access to betas, and indulge in “Games with Gold” and “Deals with Gold,” you will need Xbox Live Gold. Interestingly enough, Gold is still the same subscription service as before this fourth version’s release. No name change was deemed necessary, it seems.

Ultimately, Live 4.0 maintained the feel and functionality of the Xbox One. Xbox Live has not undergone any serious or major changes since the One release in 2013. Some users file this lack of innovation alongside their main complaints about the Xbox Series X and Series S, which we will dive into in the following section of our guide to Xbox Live.

The Public Response to Xbox Live

After all, the history of Xbox Live hasn’t always been as peachy as it might sound. The gaming community took issue with Microsoft on number of points.

The first major instance of Live backlash came in 2009 when Microsoft banned more than a million consoles from the online service for using mods. Microsoft claimed to have done this to protect the brand’s integrity and its software. But, as to be expected, many gamers took this move personally.

Five years later, both Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network suffered a widespread and catastrophic denial-of-service attack on Christmas Day 2014. This attack victimized millions upon millions of people. It took days (and, in some cases, weeks) for full service to officially return.

Many have questioned the ethical and social implications of its chat feature. Like many corners of the internet, some users take it upon themselves to lash out at others behind the mask of anonymity. Xbox Live is notorious for users flinging around racist, ableist, and sexist language, and there’s little Microsoft has done to try and curb this.

Up Next…

Want more great articles about the Xbox? We’ve got them right here!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Xbox Live?

Xbox Live — now better known as the Xbox Network — is an online multiplayer gaming and media delivery service exclusive to Xbox consoles.

When did Xbox Live debut?

Xbox Live first debuted in November of 2002, one year after the Xbox first launched.

Is Xbox Live the same as Xbox Network?

Xbox Live and Xbox Network are virtually the same. At their hearts, both are just the free version of Xbox Live Gold.

Is Xbox Live better than PlayStation Network?

Xbox Live and PlayStation Network both come with their own unique benefits, and the question of which is best really depends on your personal console preference.

How much is an Xbox Live Gold subscription?

Xbox Live Gold is $9.99 for one month, $24.99 for three months, and $59.99 for twelve months.

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