How Xbox Live Works

Xbox Live Memberships

Gear Tactics skill tree
The Gear Tactics skill tree. Microsoft

Xbox Live has two levels of membership: Free and Gold. Free membership, which used to be called Silver, costs nothing but has limited features. At the Free level, you can do the following:

  • Create a profile and a Gamertag
  • Create a friends list
  • Preview games
  • Download games and add-ons from the Xbox Live Marketplace
  • Send and receive messages with other Xbox Live users as text or voice
  • Make a video call to a friend using Video Kinect (for Kinect owners)

Xbox Live Gold is a subscription service that varies in cost. As of this writing, you can purchase a subscription for Xbox Live Gold at $9.99 per month, at about $25 for three months or at $60 for a year. Your Xbox Live Gold membership gives you the ability to play multiplayer games with your Xbox. You'll also get access to two to four games you can redeem per month at no extra charge. These games are available as long as you maintain your Xbox Live Gold membership. If you'd like to buy others, you can save 50 to 75 percent on Xbox games while you're a paid subscriber [ source: Microsoft].


Although it isn't a part of Xbox Live, Xbox Game Pass is a gaming subscription service for Xbox and Windows computers. Joining gives you access to the Xbox Game Pass library of games, which as of mid-2020 includes more than 100 titles. As with Xbox Live Gold, there is a discount on an additional list of games, which includes additional downloadable content.

Unlike Xbox Live Gold, Xbox Game Pass can be used without an Xbox. The cost to sign up for a Windows computer using the Xbox app is usually the same as if you sign up with an Xbox – $9.99 per month, although at the time of its introduction Microsoft offered a 50-percent discount on the PC subscription. Microsoft offers subscribers access to new Xbox Game Studio games on their launch date.

Some games labeled with the Xbox Play Anywhere label can be played on both PC and Xbox. In fact, you can pause one of these titles on one machine and pick up where you left off on another.

Gamers interested in the full package can sign up for Xbox Game Pass Unlimited, which includes the perks of both programs. Microsoft charges $14.99 per month for access to the Game Pass Unlimited plan.

We've just seen the advantages you'll get by joining a paid Xbox subscription plan. Now let's talk tech about the Xbox Live network.