They Make Me Question My Brand Loyalty. I’m Not Sure I Like That.

Behold! A look at what Microsoft is clearly missing out on with their online service right now!

I used to be OK with the fact that I was paying $50 per year for online console gaming. It costs money to run that kind of infrastructure, and to design the services that are so cohesive on a console like the Xbox or the 360. I get that; it’s cool.

It made sense, in a way. I even defended it a few times, because Xbox Live was unbelievably superior to the original PS2 online structure, and even the PlayStation Network when it debuted with the PS3. Those services were free, and they were horrible. Xbox Live cost some money, and it was really nice and did a lot of things very well.

But what am I looking at now as a customer?

Xbox Live still costs me $50 a year. Then, they charge me additional money for all kinds of download packs and other content that often isn’t worth the inflated costs they’re asking. You can’t play online against anyone for free, so I pretty much have to pay the money. I stare at advertisements (which are making MS money) all the time while I’m using this paid service. And they just announced that they are bringing over an exec from EA to be in charge of Live. Have you ever played an EA online-enabled game? I don’t want this guy in charge of my console online experience.

PlayStation network costs nothing. It’s free as long as you’ve ponied up the cash to buy a ridiculously expensive PS3. They’re beginning to host dedicated servers of their own to provide players with well-bandwidthed and non-client places to play, which eliminates lag and client-zero “cheating.” Their downloadable games are cheaper, and if Home is what the press made it sound after E3 this year, then I’m suddenly very interested in what Sony is doing from an online perspective. They don’t have a unified login system that works reliably (yet), and other key integration methods currently employed by Live just don’t exist on PS3, but I have a feeling that’s more of a temporary situation.

Really, the only thing that keeps me thinking that Live is better is the combination of its amazing integration on the system level and the completely Pavlovian draw of Achievements.

Realistically, Live needs to be free.