Xbox is testing a long-awaited multiplayer feature

Back in January, Microsoft announced that it would ditch the need for an Xbox Live Gold subscription to play free-to-play multiplayer games – and it’s now making good on that promise.

Xbox Insiders in the Alpha Skip Ahead and Alpha rings will notice that multiplayer in free-to-play games, ‘Looking 4 Groups’ and Party Chat will no longer require an Xbox Live Gold membership to access.

As it stands, an Xbox Live Gold subscription is required to play any Xbox games online, even those that are free-to-play like Fortnite, Rocket League and Call of Duty: Warzone. This is in stark contrast to the situation on PlayStation, where free-to-play games do not require a PS Plus subscription to play.

Microsoft also used to require Xbox owners who wanted to use streaming services like Netflix to have an Xbox Live Gold membership, but it thankfully did away with this requirement a few years ago.

The move to remove the need for an Xbox Live Gold membership to access free-to-play games came about under controversial circumstances. Microsoft previously announced that it would be increasing the price of a six-month Xbox Live Gold subscription by 50%, which was met with widespread criticism. Thankfully, it quickly backtracked on this decision and instead revealed that Xbox Live would be brought “more in line with how we see the player at the center of the experience”.

Goodbye, Xbox Live

Xbox Live itself is undergoing a rebrand from Microsoft, and will now be referred to as the Xbox network. Xbox Live Gold will still remain, but the new name for the suite of Xbox online services was brought in to “create a simpler, more descriptive messaging system for Xbox in different areas,” according to a Microsoft spokesperson.

It’s worth noting that Xbox Live is included as part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, Microsoft’s highest subscription tier which costs $14.99 / £10.99 / AU$15.95 and lets users download hundreds of games, access EA Play, enjoy cloud gaming on Android devices and access Xbox Game Pass on PC.

Removing Xbox Live Gold will certainly be a boon to developers of free-to-play games on Xbox. Users may have been put off the idea of paying for an online subscription on Xbox Series X or Xbox Series S when the same game is entirely free to play elsewhere, so the move will only benefit games like Fortnite and Warzone, which continue to be extremely popular. 

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