Online multiplayer isn't an "extra" feature in many modern titles, but rather a core aspect of gameplay. Fortnite, Rocket League, PUBG, Overwatch, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Roblox, Rainbow Six: Siege and other top games of the day are online-only or online-focused. All three of the games bundled with the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition -- Sea of Thieves, Minecraft and Forza Horizon 3 -- require Gold to access their complete experiences. Xbox Live Gold, it could be argued, is essential for anyone who wants to fully enjoy the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition.
Plus, as a disc-less console, the All-Digital Edition is clearly a vessel for the Xbox Game Pass. For $10 a month ($120 a year), players get access to a library of more than 100 games, which they can then download and play as long as their subscription is active. Microsoft just combined this service with Xbox Live Gold in the Game Pass Ultimate bundle, which runs $15 a month ($180 per year). When everything is said and done, Game Pass Ultimate costs the same as an annual Gold subscription and monthly Game Pass access.
The Xbox One S All-Digital Edition is built for an online ecosystem, though it costs just a little bit extra to access its complete suite of online features. In response to Engadget's request for clarification about subscription services on the All-Digital Edition, a Microsoft spokesperson sent the following statement:
Yes, you'll need to purchase Xbox Live Gold just like you would on any other Xbox One console to access features like multiplayer, Games with Gold and Deals with Gold. The difference with the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition is that it does not come with an optical disc drive. The Xbox One S All-Digital Edition comes with a 1-month membership to Xbox Live Gold, so you can play on the most-advanced multiplayer network right out of the box.
The Xbox One S All-Digital Edition was built for disc-free gaming and entertainment. As part of the Xbox One family, you will have access to join exclusive Xbox memberships like Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Live Gold and take advantage of features like Xbox One Backward Compatibility.
The gaming industry is in a period of transition; major companies are attempting to tailor old business models to new scenarios. Online play wasn't a necessary or expected facet in most games until recent years. Hell, when Microsoft revealed the Xbox One in 2013, it tried to sell the new hardware as an "always-online" console and was ridiculed so harshly that it reversed course entirely, eventually releasing a more traditional box with less of a focus on digital features. With this hardware, and with online play still viewed as a premium experience, it made sense to charge extra for access to multiplayer or the cloud. It's a tougher sell post-Fortnite, with a console designed specifically for digital gaming.
Selling hardware and then charging for specific or expanded services isn't a new idea -- in fact, it's largely how the smartphone marketplace operates. The gaming hardware cycle is beginning to mirror this mobile landscape, thanks to an expanded broadband ecosystem, rapid advancements in hardware and the establishment of robust cloud networks, and subscriptions are bound to play a big role in this future.