Much ado has been made of Nintendo and Sony's upcoming online services -- which we know precious little about -- and a select few (I'm looking at you, GFLPraxis) who take every opportunity to diss the paid Xbox service, Live. Now, ultimately I don't know what service is going to be the "best" and since I may end up having all three consoles it may also end up being a moot point. In any case, I do want to defend Live and the pay-to-play model because it's getting a bad rap I feel, from those who've (probably) never used it. 1. Paid = Better Service. This is a pretty easy line to draw, as its in Microsoft's best interest to keep the service running and stable as you've paid for it. As a Live Beta Tester back in 2002 (?) who's always had Live, I can not remember one outage. In fact, the only problem I ever had with Live was resolved and Microsoft provided me with a credit (1600 Marketplace points) for my inconvenience. Microsoft Live has been more reliable than my phone service the past four years! Note that there's nothing to say that a free service couldn't be just as good; it clearly isn't as high a priority to the company, however. 2. Less Asshats. It's a simple fact that if you have to pay-to-play then you've raised the barrier to entry. I'm fine with that. In fact, I welcome it. That means less 12-year old griefers, profanity-strewn online matches, or any of the wildcards that exist on any online service. By raising the barrier it helps shave off an additional layer of those that, frankly, I probably don't want to be gaming with anyway. 3. For Pennies a Day . You cheap bastards, if you add it all up, the cost of a pay-to-play service is just over one game throughout the course of a year. Is that really -- honestly? -- going to break the bank? 4. Banworthy. Purchasing a pay-to-play service makes you less likely to modify or risk being banned: you paid for the service! So, two gamers, all things being equal, and they have the opportunity to cheat/be an asshat online: who do you think is less likely to do so? That's right, the guy who paid for his service. The ability to have other players leave feedback and adjust your rating also helps keep players respectful and focused on having fun. On a free service you can be the biggest jerk in the world; you've got nothing to lose! 5. Value-added. The revenue from a pay-to-play service also finds its way back to the customers. It makes the justification of server upgrades easier, new content, etc. On a free service the infrastructure is just hemorrhaging money; the company has little impetus to keep it state-of-the art. Not so with pay-to-play. Now for the anecdotal parts. Those who know me also know that I hate anecdotal evidence. It's crap and tells you nothing. So, here's mine: in the 4+ years I've owned my Xbox and Live I've never had a friend/buddy/acquaintance who did not think Live was worth every penny. Everyone I know has Live (20+ Xbox owners). The only ones that don't wish they could but don't have broadband. For a recent coworker who just went nuts and bought a 360 with everything, I counseled him to hold off on Live if he wasn't interested in online play. A week later I get a Friend Request from him on my Dashboard and I ask if he likes Live (remember, we can voice chat even though I'm in Utah and he's in Oregon) and he says "How could I not? Live is awesome!" Joe Newbie, total convert with his first-ever console. So we all just happen to be drinking the same KoolAid or is it possible, just possible, that the service is that good and is worth it? Think about it.... Sure, the other companies can replicate all of the above but my point is, all things being equal, a pay-to-play service offers you more than a free service in quality, service, and uptime and it is in the company's best interests to keep you happy; you're a paying customer after all!