With its new "Home Gold" feature for the Xbox One video game console, Microsoft hopes to alleviate many of the headaches caused by the Xbox 360's account management system.
Beginning with the current console generation, the devices we've normally thought of as being dedicated solely to playing video games have evolved into gadgets that serve many a multimedia purpose. While your brother or son may want to play "Call of Duty" late into the night on the Xbox 360, shown on your big-screen, you might be trying to nudge your way onto the couch this weekend to catch up on the last few seasons of "Breaking Bad."
Problem is, many of these multimedia features on the current-generation Xbox 360 are tethered to an individual Xbox Live Gold membership account that comes with a monthly price tag, leading to many a shameful asking-for-the-password phone call to your roommate when he or she is away, and you have want to catch up on "House of Cards."
On Friday, Microsoft announced what it hopes will be the solution to this problem with a new feature for the Xbox One it calls "Home Gold," which will allow users greater flexibility when it comes to sharing many of the device's premium online features between friends and family members.
As Xbox One chief product officer Marc Whitten spelled out in a post on the official Xbox Blog Friday, Home Gold will allow people other than the main Xbox Live Gold account holder to access the device's premium features. As Microsoft said in another announcement earlier this week, these include many of the console's most promising and heavily promoted services such as Skype calling, gameplay recording and sharing, and the OneGuide in-console live-TV viewing mode, and will cost anywhere from $10 a month to $59.99 a year depending on your subscription level.
The new system "will enable any Xbox Live Gold member on Xbox One to extend many Gold features to others at no additional cost," Whitten wrote. "One Xbox Live Gold account delivering great benefits to everyone in the home."
This is promising news for Xbox fans because while it still demands an additional fee on top of the $499.99 price tag for the new console, Home Gold will give users more bang for their buck. Currently, the Xbox 360's Gold membership accrues many of the same benefits that the Xbox One will offer, but only to the account holder him or herself, meaning that they have to sign into the service to watch Netflix or play "Call of Duty" online.
Whitten stressed that these features were available to an unlimited number of people, provided that they're all using the Gold member's home console.
"Friends and family will simply create their own account and gamertag and be able to enjoy Xbox Live online multiplayer gaming and access to entertainment apps," Whitten said. "Even if you sign off, your friends and family can enjoy multiplayer gaming while they are playing on your Home Xbox One console."
This also means that Gold members will be able to travel with their benefits without having to lug their individual Xbox One unit along with them. While gamers currently have to have a Gold membership to access any online features from an individual console — creating many headaches for gamers who just wanted to play a few matches of "Gears of War" one night when a friend is over but don't want to subscribe to a premium service they won't regularly use — Xbox One users will be able to enable online features for the duration of their stay at a friend's house simply by signing into their Xbox Live account.
As for sharing of digital games, the Xbox One's policy remains largely unchanged from the Xbox 360: Friends and family accessing the same console as the customer will be able to play the game regardless of what account they're using, the main difference being that if you buy a game remotely, it will automatically become available back at your home console. Digital games can also be brought to other people's Xbox One consoles, but like the other features, only so long as you are signed on to their console.
Yannick LeJacq is a contributing writer for NBC News who has also covered technology and games for Kill Screen, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. You can follow him on Twitter at @YannickLeJacq and reach him by email at: Yannick.LeJacq@nbcuni.com.
First published August 9 2013, 3:55 PM