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Lost in the hubbub of Microsoft’s decision to sell an Xbox One version without Kinect (along with the dropping of its Xbox Live paywall for many apps) was a significant change Microsoft made to its “Games with Gold” promotion. And it could finally mean some real competition between Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus.

halo-spartan-assaultFirst off, “Games with Gold” is coming to the Xbox One. That news was confirmed today, and the first two titles will debut next month: Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, and Halo: Spartan Assault. These are digital-only games — on the 360, they’d likely be considered “Arcade” — but they’re free and on the Xbox One nonetheless.

But the big change comes in the way Microsoft will treat games that you download on the Xbox One through “Games with Gold.” In order to play them, you’ll need an active Xbox Live subscription — much like you need a PlayStation Plus subscription to play “Instant Game Collection” titles. This sits in stark contrast to how the program works on the Xbox 360, where you can download and keep a game even if you drop your Xbox Live subscription.

What does it mean? Since Microsoft isn’t just giving games away, but is instead “renting” them to you as an Xbox Live customer, the company could possibly offer newer and higher-quality games in the future. Xbox owners have often fawned at the PlayStation Plus offerings — I know I have — and wished that Xbox Live could come anywhere close. Thanks to this change in the “Games with Gold” approach (at least for the Xbox One) this has a shot at happening.

The next few months are definitely going to be interesting to watch. The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are now at price parity, and each company’s subscription service is in a position to offer some good titles for free. It’s a great time to be a gamer, isn’t it?

Now, if only we could get Nintendo to right its ship…

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