Two decades on, and Xbox Live remains a staple of Microsoft’s gaming efforts, fundamental to its Xbox home consoles, and touching PCs and mobile too. That’s coupled with its long-running Xbox Live Gold subscription, a monthly membership unlocking its full suite of online features, including multiplayer, party chats, and exclusive bonuses. But the gaming network, and Xbox Live Gold, undergo a significant revamp this year, laying out wide-reaching changes for all.
Here’s what’s about to change with Xbox Live and Xbox Live Gold in 2021.
What’s changing with Xbox Live Gold?
The upcoming changes for Xbox Live Gold impact its online multiplayer, the subscription’s primary draw since its inception. Microsoft plans to lift the requirement for Xbox Live Gold to play free-to-play titles online, making these true no-cost experiences on the platform. That mimics a similar policy seen on PlayStation consoles, with no PlayStation Plus requirement for free-to-play games.
This massive policy shift impacts a considerable slice of Xbox owners, with free-to-play titles among the top games played today. Experiences include Fortnite, Call of Duty: Warzone, and Apex Legends, all drawing millions with no upfront cost. When Microsoft rolls out these Xbox Live Gold changes, multiplayer will automatically work across these titles, subscription-free.
While Microsoft didn’t hugely publicize how this impacts Xbox Party Chat, the feature is also set to go free to all this year. The voice chat feature currently requires an Xbox Live Gold membership but will soon be complimentary on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S consoles. Up to 16 Xbox users can talk over a private voice chat, ideal for communicating while playing various games.
Microsoft is also dropping the Xbox Live branding, steadily adopting the Xbox network branding moving forward. However, the Xbox Live Gold name will remain as is — a move designed to help better distinguish the service from the paid subscription.
When will these Xbox Live Gold changes arrive?
Source: Epic Games
Changes to Xbox Live Gold have already rolled out to some users, with a staged release underway through the Xbox Insider testing program. Changes were initially trialed among a subset of users, now available to Alpha Skip Ahead, Alpha, and Beta rings. We expect these to hit Delta and Omega testers over the weeks ahead, before a full public rollout.
You can already play free-to-play games without Xbox Live Gold by joining the Xbox Insider program and joining a supported testing ring. However, it’s worth stressing this comes alongside pre-release software with bugs and other issues associated with work-in-progress software. For most, we recommend waiting an extra few weeks for the imminent public rollout.
Which multiplayer games will be free-to-play online?
Microsoft looks to make a sweeping change across the Xbox platform, unlocking multiplayer across all free-to-play content on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S consoles. That includes many of today’s best Xbox games, including Fortnite, Call of Duty: Warzone, and Apex Legends. Other highlights include Destiny 2, Hyper Scape, ROBLOX, SMITE, Warframe, and World of Tanks, to name a few. Future titles that launch for free on Xbox consoles will come with the same exemption from Xbox Live Gold restrictions.
Is the cost of Xbox Live Gold increasing?
Microsoft first outlined plans to change Xbox Live Gold pricing back in January, citing “changes in regional marketplaces,” and increased investments in the Xbox network. The negative response saw it backtrack less than 24 hours later, with no planned changes to the value of Gold. It also used the opportunity to announce changes around free-to-play titles, which set work in motion over the following months.
While Xbox Live Gold pricing could increase later, Microsoft remains committed to current prices, at least right now. That further distances the subscription from the all-inclusive Xbox Game Pass Ultimate tier, currently costing $15 monthly or $180 a year, including Xbox Live Gold alongside other benefits across the platform.
Is Xbox Live Gold worth it in 2021?
These latest changes to Xbox Live Gold represent its biggest evolution since its launch on the original Xbox, leaving some to question whether they need the subscription in 2021. It’s fair to say there’s less reason to purchase the membership once changes go into effect, with previous member-only benefits now freely available on the consoles. But Xbox Live Gold still plays a crucial role, underpinning the online multiplayer for all other titles on the platform.
For those who exclusively play Fortnite, Call of Duty: Warzone, or other free-to-play games on Xbox, these changes could net some savings on that monthly cost. These top titles can all be played subscription-free, coupled with free Party Chat access to communicate with friends. But straying beyond the small pool of free games, Xbox Live Gold is essential for online multiplayer. That’s a decision unique to you but worth consideration once launched later this year.
We may earn a commission for purchases using our links. Learn more.