If you download the Mass Effect 3 demo for Xbox 360 on its Valentine’s Day launch day, you’ll get a free month of Xbox Live Gold. That isn’t because Microsoft and Bioware are feeling generous; it’s because of the somewhat ridiculous restriction that prevents non-Gold members from playing online games. And as anyone who knows Mass Effect knows, if you want to show the best content, you need to try the online multiplayer.
The Xbox Live bonus for the upcoming demo is perhaps a realization of just how crazy the two-tiered online system is. Just for players to access a demo requires a service that costs $60 per year. By comparison, the PS3, which will also have its own version of Mass Effect 3, has never once charged a single player for the ability to play a game online against others. The Xbox Live infrastructure was put in place in 2005, when online gaming was still a niche concept.
The PS3 does still monetize its online network, but only for users who want access to exclusive content and special features. Online gaming should be a standard feature in today’s world, and hopefully in the Xbox 720 this will be the case. For now, though, if publishers want to be able to demonstrate their games’ online features, they’ll have to hope Microsoft is willing to offer a free month of Gold to anyone who wants.