Microsoft’s refusal to allow free-to-play games to be played online without an active Xbox Live Gold membership has long been a point of contention with gamers. But earlier this year, the gaming giant announced it would be removing this restriction.
That day has finally come for Xbox players. Starting today, free-to-play games on Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, and Xbox One will be completely free to play online with friends, as announced via Xbox Wire. This is a big shift in Microsoft’s handling of its online service and is a well overdue change as none of Xbox’s competitors place similar limits when it comes to free-to-play titles.
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It’ll also come as something of a blow to Sony’s PS5 and PlayStation Plus service, which always had unrestricted access to free-to-play games as a significant advantage over Xbox Live. Now both services offer gamers the ability to play a range of free-to-play titles without needing to fork over a monthly subscription fee. The same is true on Nintendo Switch and, of course, PC.
This change will affect more than 50 free-to-play titles, and while the full list can be found on Xbox.com, the most significant games include heavy hitters like Fortnite, Apex Legends, Rocket League, Roblox and Call of Duty: Warzone. For gamers obsessed with these titles, it’ll surely be a relief that they can now cancel their Xbox Live subscription (and probably funnel that money into more V-Bucks!).
It’s worth remembering that this consumer-friendly change hasn't necessarily come about for purely altruistic reasons. Microsoft announced a significant price increase for Xbox Live Gold back in January this year, which would have seen the service effectively double in price.
It was believed this move was in an effort to persuade gamers to opt for an Xbox Game Pass subscription instead, however, the announcement was met with a fierce backlash and the proposed pricing change was quickly walked back some 24-hours later with the change to free-to-play games announced at the same time.
This Xbox Live policy change definitely feels like a calculated olive branch from Microsoft after overstepping the mark, but nevertheless, it’s still a great addition for consumers. It also moves Xbox Live Gold a step closer to parity with PlayStation Plus, which was just announced to be nearing 50 million active subscribers earlier today.
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Rory is an Entertainment Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on gaming and streaming. When he’s not reviewing the latest games, searching for hidden gems on Netflix, or writing hot takes on new gaming hardware, TV shows and movies, he can be found attending music festivals and getting far too emotionally invested in his favorite football team.