As Microsoft puts more and more muscle behind Game Pass and its features shared across console, PC, and xCloud, Xbox Live Gold is increasingly being pushed to the margins. Games with Gold offerings have been eclipsed by the Game Pass catalogue, and when compared to both the PS4's online services and with free multiplayer on PC, Gold puts up paywalls that are Xbox-exclusive. Still, according to Microsoft, Live Gold is sticking around even in light of the recent changes to its subscription offerings and word of Halo Infinite's free multiplayer.
Following up on a change in wording to Microsoft's Services Agreement that swapped "Xbox Online Service" for "Xbox Live," Windows Central reached out to Microsoft to inquire about the future of Live Gold. In response, a spokesperson offered this statement:
The update to 'Xbox online service' in the Microsoft Services Agreement refers to the underlying Xbox service that includes features like cross-saves and friend requests. This language update is intended to distinguish that underlying service, and the paid Xbox Live Gold subscription. There are no changes being made to the experience of the service or Xbox Live Gold.
While this suggests that Microsoft isn't gearing up to get rid of Live or overhaul the service as the launch of the Xbox Series X approaches, it's still clear that growing Game Pass Ultimate (which includes Gold) is a priority for the company. Just last month, Microsoft stopped selling 12-month Gold subscriptions through its store, and September will see the public launch of xCloud on Android devices for Ultimate subscribers at no additional cost.
Free-to-play games like Call of Duty: Warzone and Fortnite still require Live Gold subscriptions on Xbox One, as do Microsoft's first-party titles included in Game Pass like Minecraft Dungeons and Sea of Thieves. Meanwhile, Sony waives the requirement for PlayStation Plus on free-to-play titles; instead, it regularly offers in-game cosmetics for those titles to subscribers as a perk of the service. On PC, Microsoft doesn't require a Live subscription for its multiplayer titles.
Last week, 343 Industries announced that Halo Infinite's multiplayer will be free-to-play. It's still possible that Microsoft could do away with the requirement of Live Gold for Infinite and other free-to-play titles once Halo and the Series X launch later this year.
With Game Pass having amassed over 10 million subscribers, we may yet see the day where Microsoft either folds Live into its newer, growing service or does away with it somehow. For now, online multiplayer access continues to be something you've got to pay for on Xbox, either through Gold or via Game Pass Ultimate.