Microsoft has been listening to the concerns of its gaming audience. When a free-to-play (F2P) game requires a paid subscription to access online multiplayer… well, it’s no longer free. That’s what players of big F2P titles on Xbox had to contend with for years, but no more: as of April 21st, Microsoft removed the requirement for an Xbox Live Gold subscription to play F2P online multiplayer titles. The decision immediately impacts notable F2P games like Fortnite, Rocket League, Roblox, Call of Duty: Warzone, and more.
As developer of Fortnite and owner of Rocket League studio Psyonix, Epic Games stands to benefit from the potentially broadened Xbox audience for its games. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney, who has long fought for more open ecosystems, praised the removal of the Xbox Live Gold requirement as a “great move” on Twitter. In total, Xbox players will be able to access online multiplayer at no charge for a library of over 50 free-to-play games that support online multiplayer via Xbox Live.
In addition to the F2P news, with the latest update, Microsoft has also made the Party Chat and Looking 4 Groups features free to use. Moreover, in a savvy, consumer-friendly move, the company decided to offer a one-time refund option to any players that have been using their Xbox Live Gold subscription solely to play F2P games online. Credit amounts are pro-rated, as outlined in this FAQ for Xbox Live users.
With the Xbox Live Gold requirement removal, Microsoft is effectively reaching parity with Sony and Nintendo, who both have made exceptions for online multiplayer to support notable F2P games, including Fortnite, Rocket League, Warframe, and others. Exact Xbox Live Gold subscription numbers aren’t publicly available, but Microsoft said recently that Xbox Live as a whole has about 100 million active monthly users.
Ensuring that this audience doesn’t have to pay for the Gold subscription in F2P games is smart considering that there is likely significant pent-up demand to play these F2P titles among the Xbox player base. Interpret’s New Media Measure® shows that only about a fifth of Fortnite, Roblox, and Call of Duty: Warzone players in the US, and less than a third of Rocket League players, currently subscribe to Xbox Live Gold. Enabling unfettered access to these titles will make the Xbox ecosystem that much more attractive to gamers and, in turn, drive downstream monetization of a kind more amenable to the Xbox user.