The Xbox Series X launch is fast approaching, getting ready to go up against the PS5 this holiday season. The console war shouldn't be quite as ferocious this time, given that Sony and Microsoft seem to be courting different audiences with the strategies they've adopted; Sony is all about nabbing those platform exclusives, while Microsoft has taken the onus off the need to upgrade to the Xbox Series X at all, telling players they can enjoy new titles that will be optimised across its family of consoles.
Microsoft has even taken this as far as ensuring its titles can be played on "every screen that someone can stream games to" via xCloud, but the latest report could see the console manufacturer shake up the status quo entirely.
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Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo all offer subscription-based services that players need to sign up for if they want to play games online and enjoy the multiplayer portion of various titles. Microsoft's version of the service is Xbox Live Gold, and has been around since the Xbox 360, giving players the option to buy membership bundles of anywhere from one to 12 months, in specific increments.
However, there are signs that Microsoft could be about to do something revolutionary - by scrapping the fee and by proxy, the barrier to online play for those who can't necessarily fork out every month, don't want to if they're not playing online consistently, or perhaps have multiple gamers with their own consoles in the same household.
The first inkling of this popped up via IGN (opens in new tab) with a Halo Infinite listing on UK retailer Smyths Toys (opens in new tab)' website (since amended to remove all mention of it), that explicitly states:
"[Halo Infinite offers] a groundbreaking free-to-play multiplayer experience. Enjoy up to 120 FPS and greatly reduced load times creating seamless gameplay with Xbox Series X."
Xbox Live Gold is going away and playing online multiplayer will be free. They will not force you into Ultimate to play online.July 31, 2020
VentureBeat's Jeff Grubb has since taken to Twitter (opens in new tab) to say that Xbox Live Gold is being done away with, and that Game Pass Ultimate won't be required to play multiplayer online either.
When asked if it was being removed entirely, or just in the case of free-to-play games, Grubb doubled down, saying (opens in new tab):
"I think it's going away entirely."
Elsewhere, the purchase options for Xbox Live Gold (opens in new tab) on Microsoft's website have changed - you can no longer buy a 12-month subscription, with three-months being the maximum on offer right now, seemingly bolstering the speculation.
If this is true, it's a milestone shift in the industry, and will give the Xbox Series X a huge advantage over the PS5; Microsoft appears to be cultivating an ecosystem that's inclusive and removes as many barriers to entry as possible, and that's going to be hard for Sony to beat.