What are the differences between Xbox Live Gold and Silver?

Microsoft's online subscriptions are confusing at best.

What are the differences between Xbox Live Gold and Silver  Everybody Plays
20th September, 2011

What is Xbox Live?

Xbox Live is the Xbox 360's online service, which gives you access to a wide range of online features. Along with letting you see what games your friends are playing, message them, use voice chat, and play online, Xbox Live also allows you to access the Xbox Live Marketplace, where you can purchase, and download entire games, or add-ons to make your other games last longer. You can also download demos for upcoming games, stream high-definition films, and even watch Xbox's regular Inside Xbox channel, which brings you videos of upcoming games, and features several regular shows. Like everything in life, though, Xbox Live isn't all free - although the vast majority of it is. Split into Xbox Live Free, Xbox Live Gold, and now, the Xbox Live Family Pack, there are three types of Xbox Live membership on offer - find out what the differences between the choices, and what you get with each below.

Zuma Screenshot

Zuma's just one of hundreds of Xbox Live Arcade games you could download

The Different Subscriptions: Xbox Live Free

Xbox Live Free – or Silver as it used to be known - is your standard subscription to Xbox Live. In order to get this, all you have to do is own an Xbox 360, connect it to the internet, and sign up for Xbox Live - there are no charges, hidden or upfront, that come with having a free account. With an Xbox Live Free account, you get access to pretty much everything Xbox Live has to offer - all entirely free of charge. You can:
  • Download demos and trials of new and upcoming games
  • Download online-exclusive Xbox Live Arcade games, digital copies of full games from the Games on Demand store, or take your games further with add-ons from the Xbox Live Marketplace
  • Rent and stream high definition films from the Zune Video Marketplace
  • Voice and text chat with your friends, as well as MSN conversations
There's really nothing to lose by signing up for Xbox Live Free – all you need is a Windows Live ID, like you use to sign into MSN or check your Hotmail emails, and a connection to your broadband internet, either directly through your modem, or (more likely) through a wired, or wireless router). Even if you don't have a Windows Live ID, they're easy enough to create, and you can even use your existing, non windowslive/hotmail email address as one in the sign up process.

The Different Subscriptions: Xbox Live Gold

For an annual price of about £40 (or less if you shop around), you can get access to all the stuff in the Xbox Live Free subscription and a whole lot more:
  • Get weekly discounts on selected items off the Xbox Live Marketplace with Microsoft's Deal of the Week – these could be games, add-ons, films, avatar clothes or whatever
  • Play games online, either with friends or against random people from around the world
  • Access to Facebook and Twitter from your Xbox dashboard
  • The ability to form 'parties' with your friends, letting you all chat together, even if you're all playing different games – which also make it easier to jump into games together
  • Video chat, using Video Kinect (Kinect Sensor required)
Some of the other features included in your Xbox Live Gold subscription also require additional subscriptions or fees on top of your Gold account, as follows:
  • Watching the Sky Player (features Sky Sports, Sky Movies and more) – requires a Sky subscription
  • Unlimited streaming of music from the Zune Music Marketplace – requires a Zune Pass subscription
If you're not sure how much you'd use Xbox Live Gold, but like the look of the features and fancy trying it out, you might want to look into getting a three-month subscription, which retail at about £14.99 – making them cheaper and therefore less of a loss if it turns out you don't use it much. If you buy them from a shop, there's no recurring fee involved, either, and when your time runs out, you'll revert back to a Free account.

The Different Subscriptions: Xbox Live Gold Family Pack

For £69.99 per year, the Xbox Live Gold Family Pack gets you all the benefits of Gold membership, four times over, letting you have four separate Xbox Live Gold subscriptions in the one pack, with all the usual benefits – plus some special family-orientated features:
  • Comes with four simultaneous Xbox Live Gold subscriptions
  • A special 'Family Centre' where you can manage the memberships and monitor your family members' activities on Xbox Live
  • Grant people Microsoft Points 'allowances', giving them a certain amount of 'money' to spend on stuff they want off the Xbox Live Marketplace
  • Special monthly discounts on a particular games Microsoft deems as 'family friendly'
At the moment, you can only sign up for the Xbox Live Gold Family Pack through the Xbox 360 Dashboard, meaning you'll need to at least have a Free subscription to be able to find it. There are a few precautions you might want to bear in mind when letting Microsoft have free reign over your credit card details, however, as it's currently incredibly difficult to remove your credit card from your Xbox Live account - we'll be posting a full how-to in coming weeks.

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