If you have an Xbox One or Xbox 360, Microsoft’s Xbox Live Gold service is required to play multiplayer games online. A subscription costs $10 per month or $60 per year. Xbox Live Gold also includes additional benefits, like free games every month and discounts on some digital games.

What Is Xbox Live Gold?

Xbox Live Gold is Microsoft’s online gaming subscription service for the Xbox One and Xbox 360. It’s required to play online multiplayer games. Whether you’re playing a co-operative game with a single friend over the Internet, or you’re playing a competitive multiplayer game with a bunch of people you don’t know online, you need Xbox Live Gold to do it.

Microsoft has also added some additional features to this service. Xbox Live Gold members get a few free games every month, and they also get access to members-only sales on some digital games.

You Need Xbox Live Gold For Multiplayer Gaming

If you want to play online multiplayer on your Xbox One or Xbox 360, you will need Xbox Live Gold. Your subscription also enables access to the party system and voice chat. If you try to use the online mutiplayer features within games without Xbox Live Gold, you’ll be stopped in your tracks and told you need Xbox Live Gold to continue.

This service isn’t necessary for playing single-player games, and it isn’t required when playing multiplayer games offline. For example, you don’t need to pay anything to play a split-screen game with two people in the same room on the same console.

Xbox Live Gold also isn’t required if you want to watch Netflix and Hulu, or use other media-streaming apps. For example, In the Xbox 360 days—and even when the Xbox One launched—you needed to pay both the Netflix subscription fee and the Xbox Live Gold subscription fee just to watch Netflix on your Xbox One, but Microsoft changed this. Xbox Live Gold is now only useful to gamers.

How Does “Games With Gold” Work?

Every month, Microsoft offers several free games through its “Games With Gold” service. While these games are available—for the entire month or just for two weeks, depending on the game—you can choose to “redeem” them via the website or on your Xbox console. You can then download—and keep—the game for free.

If you don’t redeem the game during its free time period, you don’t get it for free. This means you won’t get any of the previous “Games With Gold” for free when you subscribe. It also means that, if you don’t stay on top of the free game offers, you’ll miss some games and won’t get them for free. However, people who have been members for a long time may have libraries full of hundreds of games they got for free, if they’re diligent.

On an Xbox One, once you’ve redeemed a free game, you can download and play it whenever you like, forever—as long as you have an active subscription. If your subscription lapses, you won’t be able to play the game anymore. If you restart your subscription, you’ll regain access to all the games you previously redeemed.

On an Xbox 360, once you’re redeemed a free game, it’s yours to play forever—even if your subscription lapses.

RELATED: How to Play Xbox 360 Games on Your Xbox One

Games With Gold includes both Xbox One and Xbox 360 games. However, Microsoft has promised that all Xbox 360 games released through Games With Gold will be playable on the Xbox One via backwards compatibility. In other words, all Games With Gold games will work on an Xbox One.

You can view the current games available through Games With Gold on Microsoft’s website, and a list of games Microsoft has previously given away on Wikipedia. As of August 2017, you’ll see quite a few indie games for Xbox One and older big-budget (at the time) games for Xbox 360. Microsoft also has given away some of the early big Xbox One games, including Watch Dogs and Ryse: Son of Rome. But don’t expect to see the latest blockbuster games on their release date—expect smaller indie games and older big budget games.

How Does “Deals With Gold” Work?

In addition to the free games, Microsoft offers a variety of exclusive deals on digital Xbox One and Xbox 360 games to members. You can view the current deals on the Deals With Gold website and in the Store on your Xbox. These deals change every week. And as with the free games, you won’t see the latest big-name games here as soon as they’re released.

Once you’ve purchased a game, it’s yours to play all you like, even if your subscription ends.

So, Is It Worth It?

Overall, the big benefit to Xbox Live Gold is the multiplayer access. Xbox Live Gold is absolutely worth it if you want to play multiplayer games on your Xbox One. This is now pretty standard. Sony’s PlayStation 4 requires its similar PlayStation Plus service for online multiplayer, and even Nintendo will soon begin charging a subscription fee for online multiplayer features  on the Nintendo Switch. Every game console has started charging for this feature, so the only way to play online games for free is to switch to a PC.

The other features are designed to be a bonus. Microsoft does offer quite a few games through Games With Gold, and you can get access to a steady stream of games to play if you’re patient. However, you’re limited to the handful of games Microsoft chooses for you. Sales are also nice, but only if you actually end up buying the older digital games that are on sale. If you primarily buy used physical games, those may be cheaper on sale than the deals you’ll find through Games With Gold.

Keep an Eye Out for Free Trials

If you’re still on the fence, Microsoft sometimes offers free trials of Xbox Live Gold with new consoles and some games. You may see a “Try Gold For Free” promotion for some free Xbox Live Gold time on your console, or you may have received a prepaid code you can redeem for trail time bundled with a game or console. However, there’s no simple way to get a trial if your console doesn’t offer one to you and you don’t have a prepaid code. You’ll need to sign up for the paid subscription instead.

When purchased from Microsoft, Xbox Live Gold costs $10 per month, $25 per three months ($8.33 per month), or $60 per year ($5 per month). If you plan on sticking with it for the long haul, the yearly subscription is the best deal—although you can’t cancel it and get your money back during the year you’ve paid for. That’s the catch.

RELATED: Xbox Game Pass: How It Works, Cost, and Games List

Overall, Xbox Live Gold certainly seems like a more valuable service than Microsoft’s separate Xbox Game Pass subscription, which costs $10 per month. It offers no discount for buying more time, still requires a paid Xbox Live Gold subscription to play games offline, and offers access to a library of games that includes many games that were previously offered for free via Games for Gold in the past.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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