It appears that Microsoft will not be phasing out Xbox Live Gold to make online multiplayer and related services completely free as previously rumored.
Earlier today, the 12-month subscription package, which was removed from the Microsoft Store a couple of months back, returned in a variety of Latin America regions but with a significant price hike. Microsoft has confirmed (via PureXbox) that Xbox Live Gold as well as Xbox Game Pass prices are being increased across the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, among others. The annual subscription fees of Xbox Live Gold will now cost around 33 percent more in Latin America.
We are continuously evaluating our business and it has been several years since we adjusted the prices of our services in Latin America. We also occasionally review prices in a given market to ensure that products and services are priced correctly, including reflecting changes in market conditions.
Today, we announce updated prices for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, Xbox Game Pass for Console and Xbox Live Gold. We strive to offer players options and will continue to add value to our services and subscriptions.
The price hike appears to have been done to balance pricing across all regions with respect to the changing dollar. The return of the 12-month subscription package of Xbox Live Gold though suggests that Microsoft has no plans to make online multiplayer free, an announcement that many believed would coincide with the launch of Xbox Series X this holiday season.
That being said, removing the online paywall for free multiplayer is only logical when looking at how Microsoft has expanded across a number of platforms and services. While Microsoft may choose to continue offering Xbox Live Gold in the future, adjustments to the service may be done at some point to allow free multiplayer. Similar rumors have been floating about for Sony Interactive Entertainment and PlayStation 5 as well. Though no official acknowledgements have been given from either side.