Xbox: at long last, free online games are actually free
Microsoft is dropping the Xbox Live Gold requirement, long overdue move imminent
For the longest of time - well, since always, actually - Xbox owners have had a number of great online games available to them for free but were unable to play them because Microsoft chose to charge for them anyway. That's right: online games such as Fortnite, Rocket League, Call of Duty Warzone, Apex Legends, Roblox, Warframe, Smite and a lot more do not cost a dime to get on the Xbox (just as they are on PlayStation or PC) but people can't play them for free on Microsoft's system because of the Xbox Live Gold requirement, a €50/$50 yearly subscription imposed on all online multiplayer functions of that platform.
It's an anachronistic limitation, not at all aligned with Microsoft's stance on crossplay or its future plans regarding Game Pass - so it's good to see that the Redmond giant is finally ready to let go: the Americans confirmed that beta testers of its next Xbox system update are now able to enjoy online multiplayer without being Xbox Live Gold subscribers. As this is extended to the "last step" of beta testing of system software before release (all Xbox Insiders), chances are that the limitation will be lifted for all Xbox owners in May or June.
Not all free to play titles are ready to take advantage of this important change as of yet: many of those will probably need to be updated by their development teams in order to be played on Xbox Live without strings attached, but this is to be expected and not an issue once Microsoft has officially lifted this limitation. The Xbox Live Gold requirement not being a thing anymore for free to play games might even encourage publishers that did not support Microsoft's platform - such as Genshin Impact's MiYoHo or Let It Die's Grasshopper Manufacture or even Heartstone's Blizzard - to now do so.
With Microsoft dropping the Xbox Live Gold requirement at long last, Nintendo will become the only platform holder who's still charging for online multiplayer functions even on games that are officially free to play. The one exception is Fortnite - at Epic's request, no doubt - but there's a number of extremely good free-to-play games that still require a Nintendo Switch Online subscription.
This is a company that was never big on offering something for nothing, of course, but in this case, it might just have to - if for no other reason, then in order to not be seen as the one industry player holding crossplay back for free-to-play titles. To be fair, the €19.99/$19.99 yearly subscription cost is much lower than the Xbox Live Gold cost ever was (it comes with a few extras too), but it may be high time for the Japanese to drop this artificial, nonsensical limitation regardless. The ball's in your court now, Nintendo!
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Have a nice weekend!