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Microsoft tests lifting Xbox Live Gold paywall for free-to-play multiplayer games

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The change is currently in testing for Xbox Insiders

a three-quarters view of the top of the Xbox Series X, with a green piece of plastic visible just beneath the system vents Image: Microsoft

Microsoft is currently testing a change to Xbox Live Gold that would allow players to access certain online multiplayer features — such as multiplayer gaming in free-to-play titles — without an active Xbox Live Gold subscription, the company announced Wednesday on the Xbox Insider Twitter account.

The company originally announced plans to make this change alongside a rollback of a planned Xbox Live price hike in January. This news comes two days after Microsoft confirmed a rebrand for Xbox Live, announcing plans to call it the Xbox network instead.

Xbox Insiders — specifically, those in both the Alpha Skip Ahead and Alpha programs — are currently testing a new version of the Xbox network that removes the Gold requirement from multiplayer in free-to-play games, Looking 4 Groups, and Party Chat. Microsoft said on Twitter that it is lifting the Gold paywall for Insiders as a test ahead of rolling out that change for everyone.

This shift would let players engage more directly with games like Destiny 2 and Fortnite, both free-to-play games that currently require players to have Xbox Live Gold to access multiplayer. This change is a recognition by Microsoft of the way games have changed over Xbox Live’s 18 years of existence. Now players who may not have the means to pay an extra $60 a year can — eventually — play with their friends.

The shift is something that both Sony and Nintendo started undertaking years ago, removing the requirement for a PlayStation Plus or Nintendo Switch Online subscription, respectively, for free-to-play games like Rocket League. Microsoft’s grip with Gold has always been a bit tighter. The company required players to have Xbox Live Gold to use entertainment apps like Netflix until 2014. This move is another loosening of that grip, bringing the Xbox more in line with its competitors.

The Xbox Insiders program offers new Xbox features to players before they’re available to the general public. It’s like beta testing for a game, but it’s for your entire console’s interface and user experience instead.

These restrictions are already gone for Xbox Insiders, as of March 24. It’s currently unclear when Microsoft will remove the paywall for all players.