Xbox removes Live Gold subscription gate for free-to-play online games

Microsoft has opened up its online multiplayer service for Xbox, no longer requiring a fee to play free-to-play games online.
Xbox Gold subscription

Microsoft has made playing console games with friends online easier, announcing that free-to-play games will no longer require a paid Xbox Live Gold subscription to access online multiplayer, starting today.

Under Microsoft’s previous arrangement, any game featuring online multiplayer required an active Xbox Live Gold membership, starting at AU$10.95 per month. This included popular free-to-play games such as Call of Duty: Warzone, Fortnite, and Apex Legends.

Now, these games, plus any other free titles, are available to play unrestricted without an active subscription.

Paid games, whether they be purchased at a brick-and-mortar store or digitally, still require an active Xbox Live Gold subscription to access online multiplayer features. For example, 2020’s Call of Duty: Cold War requires Xbox Live Gold as it is a paid game, while Call of Duty spin-off Warzone does not, as it is free to download and begin playing.

A full list of more than 50 free-to-play games is on the official Xbox website, which can be filtered to highlight those featuring online multiplayer gameplay.

This change brings Xbox’s online multiplayer service in line with Sony’s PlayStation consoles which do not require its equivalent paid service, PlayStation Plus (AU$11.95 monthly) to access online multiplayer components of free-to-play games.

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Meanwhile, Nintendo is a relative latecomer to the world of online subscriptions for the Nintendo Switch system. The Japanese company launched the Nintendo Switch Online service in 2018 at a comparatively cheaper monthly price of AU$5.95. Like the other services, an active Nintendo Switch Online subscription is required to access online multiplayer in paid games such as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Free-to-play games do not require a subscription.

Aside from granting access to online multiplayer, each console gaming subscription offers bonuses, such as monthly games available to download and play while you are actively subscribed. In Nintendo’s case, Nintendo Switch Online is needed to play limited-time games such as Pac-Man 99.

Online multiplayer on PC usually doesn’t require any paid service, unless you opt to rent a dedicated server to play games like Minecraft or Team Fortress 2 with friends.

In January, Microsoft moved to increase the price of Xbox Live Gold, but quickly opted against it due to negative feedback. The attempted price increase was speculated as a ploy to entice users towards its Netflix-styled game subscription service, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which includes Xbox Live Gold as part of its AU$15.95 monthly subscription.

PlayStation does have an Xbox Game Pass competitor in PlayStation Now, but it is not available in Australia. For those fortunate enough to own a PlayStation 5, a PlayStation Plus subscription does allow you to access a collection of popular PlayStation 4 games.

Although Xbox’s Game Pass offering is widely considered to be good value, it’s a positive move to open up online multiplayer to all free-to-play games and cater to all gaming budgets.

Chris Button
About the Author
Chris Button is an award-nominated writer for Screenhub based in Adelaide, who specialises in videogames and technology. His words have appeared on Junkee, GameSpot, Byteside and plenty more. He loves all things screen-related, sport, and small fluffy animals.   Chris also uses Twitter more than he probably should.