One of the best bits of news last week, besides people's penchant for donating pizza, is the return of Halo to PC. But with the Master Chief Collection getting a wider release, it led people to wonder: will they need a Xbox Live subscription as well? Fortunately, you won't.
Some of the confusion arose following a note Halo's Steam page, which noted that the game would require a third-party Xbox Live account:
Not all Microsoft published games through Steam have had the same warning, although that's because they haven't always had cross-play with the Windows Store versions. Halo Wars on Steam only works with other Steam versions, and as a result a third-party Xbox Live account isn't required. Killer Instinct's Steam release also has cross-play with the Xbox One and Windows Store editions of the game, without requiring Steam users to have an Xbox Live account. So in a way, the confusion is a little natural especially for PC users who haven't touched the Xbox platform at all.
So what is Xbox Live Gold is actually for? The service is a subscription specifically for the Xbox family of consoles. It's a recurring subscription that allows all users on that console to enjoy access to multiplayer games, but it's not needed for PC.
It's worth reiterating that, because the Xbox Live Gold page doesn't explicitly say that the subscription isn't valid (or required) for PC. There's a lot of mentions of getting free games for Xbox consoles and some tacit mentions, but the description itself merely says that subscribers get "advanced multiplayer" and exclusive discounts in the Microsoft Store - which arguably makes it sound like the subscription has some benefit on PC.
As an Xbox Live Gold Member, you get the most advanced multiplayer, bonus games and exclusive member discounts in the Microsoft Store. With Xbox Live Gold, you can stay connected with friends, family and Xbox Live members around the world. Sign in for your available offers. Promotional offers may not be valid for all members. Your membership will continue to be charged at the then-current regular price (subject to change) plus applicable taxes, unless cancelled at www.microsoft.com/accounts. Additional subscriptions and requirements apply for some Xbox Live Gold features.
Even the Xbox page explicitly advertising Windows 10 games has a banner advertising Xbox Live Gold, right under "Xbox games coming soon to Windows 10" and "The Xbox Experience on Windows 10". It doesn't directly say Windows 10 users need Xbox Live Gold for multiplayer, and the photo shows people holding Xbox gamepads rather than using a mouse and keyboard, but there's an implicit association.
The actual store listing has a more upfront admission that Xbox Live Gold is a console-only affair. And there's also another tacit note underneath Xbox Live player-generated tournaments. But the most straightforward response is from Larry Hyrb himself, who said on Twitter four years ago that Windows Phones and Windows 10 users would not require Xbox Live Gold subscriptions for multiplayer games:
@haydencd Not charging. Xbox Live Gold will not be required for online multiplayer gaming using our service on Windows 10 PCs and Phones
— Larry Hryb (@majornelson) March 5, 2015
So if you're connecting through Steam, you won't need a separate third-party subscription. The likely process is that Steam users will get a separate prompt upon loading asking them to login to their existing Microsoft account, which is the same as what you'd get anyway if you loaded up Forza Horizon 3 or 4 through Windows. Those games authenticate using the Xbox Live network, enabling cross-play and lobby support with Xbox One users.
So for anyone who's confused - and a surprising number on social media were following the Halo: MCC announcement - don't sweat it. You'll only have to pay once for Halo: MCC, and if you buy it through the Microsoft Store you'll get access to it on Xbox One as well. The game will functionally be the same regardless of where you buy it, and games through UWP are a lot better than they used to be (Forza Horizon 4, in particular, is fantastic). That doesn't mean it can make up for the extra social features you get as a byproduct of having a game native to your Steam library. But the important thing to know is: once you've bought it on PC, wherever that may be, that's all you'll have to pay.
Well, until microtransactions come into the mix. But that's for another time.