Microsoft has made good on its promise from earlier this year, and has taken the first steps required to completely remove the need for an Xbox Live Gold subscription for free-to-play multiplayer games.
At the start of 2021, Microsoft found itself on the receiving end of some pretty intense backlash when it announced a price hike for Xbox Live Gold that would have doubled the annual cost of the membership. In the wake of everyone telling Microsoft what a bad idea this was, the decision was ultimately reversed. The company admitted it had made a mistake, and confirmed that online free-to-play titles would no longer require a Gold membership to access.
"We messed up today and you were right to let us know," Microsoft said in a statement at the time. "Connecting and playing with friends is a vital part of gaming and we failed to meet the expectations of players who count on it every day. We're turning this moment into an opportunity to bring Xbox Live more in line with how we see the player at the center of their experience. For free-to-play games, you will no longer need an Xbox Live Gold membership to play those games on Xbox. We are working hard to deliver this change as soon as possible in the coming months."
Sure enough, those changes are starting to come through, albeit via a phased approach. Microsoft has confirmed to Xbox Wire that testers who are part of the Alpha Skip ring of the Xbox Insider program are now eligible to play free-to-play games without an Xbox Live Gold membership. If you have to ask whether or not you're part of the Alpha Skip ring of the Xbox Insider program, you probably aren't. The good news is that these updates are being tested "ahead of general availability", which means it's only a matter of time before the rest of us can enjoy this new benefit.
It's all change for Xbox at the moment. Earlier this week, Microsoft announced that after 19 years it's renamed the Xbox Live online service to Xbox Network. The company explained in a statement that this is to help distinguish the service from the Xbox Live Gold membership.
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