In the console wars, one of the biggest arguments against Xbox has been the requirement for Xbox Live Gold for online gaming. In the early days, Gold for all games was an easy argument because the cost of managing XBL was high, and all communication ran through Microsoft's system. But, in recent years, more of the communication has happened off-network because of cross-platform gameplay. So, as times are changing, so is Xbox Live.
This week, the most recent Alpha build for Xbox Insiders shows "Multiplayer in Free-to-play games, Looking 4 Groups and Party Chat on Xbox no longer requires an Xbox Live Gold membership." This move brings Xbox Live requirements inline with Sony and Nintendo when it comes to free-to-play games. It is also in line with the actual value that Xbox Live is providing to gamers playing these particular games. Fortnite players put little load on the system compared to Halo.
Along with the change to Gold policies, another big change seems to have come along with the update: a name change. Rather that being referred to throughout the system as Xbox Live, all references now show "Xbox network" with a lowercase n. The Verge received a statement from Microsoft saying,
Xbox network' refers to the underlying Xbox online service, which was updated in the Microsoft Services Agreement. The update from 'Xbox Live' to 'Xbox network' is intended to distinguish the underlying service from Xbox Live Gold memberships.
So, going forward, the actual technology will be referred to as Xbox network, while the paid subscription will retail the original name of Xbox Live Gold. For longtime gamers, the naming change is going to take some getting used to. Xbox Live and its name (while not the logo) have been around for 18 years - since the original Xbox. Like when a sports field changes names, many people will continue to use the original name for years. It is likely that the same will be true about Xbox Live.