While originally discussed at the May launch event and again at E3, Microsoft hasn't provided much clarity on how multiple users would share a single Xbox Live Gold account. Today, the company is announcing "Home Gold," which will allow Xbox Live Gold members to share their subscription with other users on a specified home console.
With Home Gold, Xbox Live Gold access is tied to both your gamertag and your home console. That means that others users in your household will be able to take advantage of Gold features — like multiplayer, entertainment apps and new features like Game DVR — using their own gamertag, accessing their own friends list and collecting their own Achievements.
"So how it works is, on your console, anybody else on the console, whether it's a babysitter that's come over or a friend or your family, can participate in all the experiences like they're on Gold," Xbox chief product officer Marc Whitten told Polygon. "It's with their gamertag so they're not on your gamertag, you don't even have to be there, they're not messing up your gamerscore or your storage or your queues or anything like that. It's their full account experience, but it really gets to take full advantage of many of the Gold features."
"We didn't want people to have to understand a specific set of rules around how Gold works different from content"
If you login to your gamertag on another Xbox One (for example, at a friend's house or a second console in your house) all of your digital content travels with you, but is only available while you're logged in. Once you sign out, whatever you downloaded is still on that console but will need to be purchased by other users.
If this sounds familiar, that's because it is. This is how the Xbox 360 handled digital content licenses, providing multiple gamertags access to content on a home console while reverting to "demo" status for Xbox Live Arcade games when logged out at a friend's house. "The way that the home console works is the same way it works for your content," Whitten said. "You play any of your digital content that you downloaded on that home console and we wanted that experience to extend not just around the benefits of the digital system but also what's going on with your [Xbox Live Gold] membership.
"We didn't want people to have to understand a specific set of rules around how Gold works different from content , we just wanted it to be really simple. And we wanted to give that full advantage to people in your house that are coming in to use your console or your content, to be able to play that content in the full way."
Sorry 360 owners, Home Gold is Xbox One-only for now
For most users, the addition of full Xbox Live Gold services for an "unlimited" number of users on your home console is an improvement over the previously available Xbox Live Gold "Family Pack" which was discontinued in March. That plan offered four 12-month Xbox Live Gold memberships for $99.99 — less than the price of two $59.99 single-user accounts.
Existing Xbox Live Gold members on Xbox 360 will find their memberships extend to the Xbox One and "will be able to enjoy Xbox Live Gold features on either console." In fact, those users "can even be logged in to Xbox 360 and Xbox One at the same time." There have been complications with the simultaneous use of both Xbox Live and the struggling Games for Windows Live services, so it remains to be seen how Microsoft tackles that complexity here.
Unfortunately, the Home Gold service won't be available to Xbox 360 owners and there are no plans to bring back the Family Pack. " We'll continue to evaluate for what we're going to do on the 360 but that's an Xbox One feature right now," Whitten said.
After reversing its policy on allowing disc-less play with a 24-hour check-in requirement, Microsoft also removed a promising "Family Sharing" option that would allow sharing a game library with family members, even when they're roaming off of the home console. Whitten later said that feature could return and we asked him about the motivation behind it.
"I just want [...] to replicate the experience that a typical family has with physical content with digital content."
"As we move forward, I think we will continue to refine the best way to make it work but I'll say that it comes down to a pretty basic set of ideas," Whitten said. "I just want, as much as possible, to replicate the experience that a typical family has with physical content with digital content."
For Whitten, that means reproducing the expectations we have with physical media in a digital way. "It's a really easy thing and people understand it," he said.
"Let me give you an example, if I go to the store and I buy Halo, I come home and I can play Halo whenever I want, I just put in the disc and it just works. My son can play that game because he has the disc; in fact, he can even go downstairs and play it on our second [console]. In fact, he could even go to his friend's house and if takes the disc he can play it."
"That's the beauty of the disc itself because the disc, of course, is a license too"
The issue for Microsoft is "replicating that simplicity" — "We all understand the rules of that physical disc exchange," Whitten said. "At the same time, you need to do a good job of managing that there's only ‘one copy' of the game and this isn't some unbounded sharing club that isn't fair for the game creators.
"It would be cool if I could still see my family's content when I'm somewhere else and I can start playing that content, assuming no one else is playing it."
This relates the company's struggles with explaining its initial vision for a disc-less, internet-authenticated experience — it's a complicated metaphor for ownership compared to a disc. "That's the beauty of the disc itself because the disc, of course, is a license too," Whitten said. "It's just a lot less abstract because it's sitting there in your hand."
Of course, not all families look the same and defining what is and isn't a "family" is a complicated process for a large company, especially one focused on simplicity.
"One of the things we discovered with some of the stuff we've done with our family stuff in the past is that it was too limited and didn't fit enough family styles or where people were," Whitten said. "We're working across Microsoft to think about how do you manage family accounts and how do you both enroll in that family and how does that feel right and simple from a user perspective.
"The thing I don't want is a whole bunch of complex UI that you have to do to both enroll in and manage a family."
"Part of that is what we're doing with Home Gold, to make it very simple to cover a very large base case."