Xbox owners soon won’t need to pay for an Xbox Live Gold subscription to enjoy otherwise free-to-play games on their consoles. Wednesday’s update to the Xbox Alpha Insiders Update Preview program (version 2104.210323-0000) notes that “Multiplayer in Free-to-play games, Looking 4 Groups and Party Chat on Xbox no longer requires an Xbox Live Gold membership.” These features are being tested with Insiders “ahead of general availability,” according to the update.
Microsoft first announced this move back in January as the company was busy rolling back a controversial planned increase in Xbox Live Gold prices. Back then, Microsoft said the free-to-play change was coming “as soon as possible in the coming months,” but the rollout to Insiders suggests it will be reaching all Xbox players imminently.
Microsoft’s decision here brings the service in line with its major console competitors. When Sony started charging for multiplayer gameplay on PlayStation Network in 2014, it included a specific carve-out for “a selection of free-to-play multiplayer titles [that] will be available without a PS Plus membership.” Nintendo included a similar carve-out for free-to-play titles like Fortnite when it started charging for its Switch Online service in 2018.