A few months back, Microsoft made the disastrous call to double Xbox Live Gold prices, the subscription service used to gate non-subscribers from playing multiplayer games online. The immediate backlash lead to Microsoft pulling their planned price hike and, to smooth things over, they also announced that they would be easing back some Gold requirements like needing to pay for the subscription to play Free-to-Play games like Fortnite and Rocket League.
As part of the Xbox Preview Program today, which beta tests changes to the systems’ OS and ecosystem, the Free-to-Play requirement has officially been nixed. In addition to that, though, Party Chat and Looking For Group are also now basic features. Party chat is self-explanatory, but Looking for Group allowed players to find likeminded other players to join games with, which I suppose makes sense to lock to Gold when there were zero ways to play games online without it.
The news comes from Brad Rossetti, point man on the Xbox Review Program, in a tweet today.
Xbox Insiders in Alpha Skip Ahead & Alpha today we are flighting some new features. Multiplayer in Free-to-play games, Looking 4 Groups and Party Chat on Xbox no longer requires an Xbox Live Gold membership as we flight and test these service changes ahead of general availability
— Brad Rossetti (@WorkWombatman) March 24, 2021
Free-to-play games had been inexplicably locked to Gold throughout the last generation, despite them being exempt from online subscription rules on PlayStation 4 and Switch. It is unclear what took Microsoft so long to come around to this policy change, but it does bring the service more in line with the console industry standard in this respect.
That said, it’s a little baffling paying for online is still a thing at all. In 2005, when it was a novel concept, I’d absolutely buy that online was big and complicated and a luxury item that required ten hamiltons a year. But now? Nintendo and Sony should also nix their programs, but I’m surprised Xbox is not leading the way on it. Microsoft isn’t even internally consistent about it — Xbox Game Pass games on Windows 10 cost you nothing to play online, but moving a few feet to your console suddenly required the enormous power of Xbox Live Gold.
It’s a tier plan that punished their most loyal customers and it’s inexplicable that backing off from making it worse is considered a step forward.