Yesterday, Rocket League developer Psyonix announced that when the game goes free-to-play later this year you’ll no longer need a paid subscription to play it online on PS4 or Switch. Unfortunately, that won’t be the case on Xbox One.
Rocket League will instead be the latest in a long line of free-to-play online games that aren’t truly free on Microsoft’s consoles. Just as with Fortnite, Dauntless, and Apex Legends, you’ll be able to download and install the game for free, but will still need to pay Microsoft for a monthly Xbox Live subscription in order to actually play it. Sony and Nintendo also require monthly subscriptions to play games online, but make an exception for free-to-play games. The winter release of Ubisoft’s free-to-play battle royale Hyper Scape is another example. It’s free to play online on PS4, but almost $15 a month on Xbox One.
While this doesn’t necessarily impact people who play a ton of games and therefore already subscribe to things like Xbox Live Gold or Game Pass Ultimate, people routinely post on the Xbox support forums and related subreddits asking if they can play “free” games like Destiny 2 for, well, free. And the answer is always no. It doesn’t help that Microsoft recently mothballed its $80 annual Xbox Live Gold memberships. Now if you want to subscribe you have to do it in pricier one- or three-month increments (meaning $140 to $160 a year).
It’s also still not clear why this is the case. Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment. When Kotaku asked Psyonix why Rocket League will require Xbox Live but not PS Plus or Switch Online, a spokesperson simply responded, “It’s based on platform policies.”
We’re now headed into a new console generation in which expectations are changing and the ways of the past don’t necessarily hold sway over the future. Where upgrading games from PS3 to PS4 cost money back in 2013, this time around most such upgrades are free. When Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War comes out in November, it’ll support cross-play between generations and between platforms. This next console generation could be a chance not just for Microsoft to stop requiring Xbox Live for free-to-play games, but for all the console manufacturers to stop requiring paid memberships to play games online, period.
After all, that’s the way it’s been on PC for over two decades. Not to mention that it’s going to get awkward when Xbox Series X players are forced to pay extra to play Halo Infinite’s free-to-play multiplayer, while PC players don’t get charged a dime.