"Xbox Live" is Microsoft's well-known brand name for online gaming, with its origin dating back to almost a couple of decades. The subscription-based component of the service is called "Xbox Live Gold" and is necessary to play multiplayer games. Now, Microsoft has announced that it is dropping the Xbox Live branding, at least to some extent.
Hints of this process began back in August 2020 when Microsoft updated its Services Agreement to drop mention of Xbox Live, and simply referred to it as "Xbox network". Multiple portions of the software experience on the Xbox also began to show this change recently. In a statement to The Verge today, Microsoft has confirmed the move, saying that:
'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.
The lower case "n" in "Xbox network" indicates that this is more of a case of dropping the brand name altogether rather than a rebranding. Xbox network now refers to all the underlying technology of the online service while Xbox Live Gold will refer to the memberships needed to play paid multiplayer games. Indeed, in a separate statement to Eurogamer, Microsoft clarified that:
Xbox Live isn't going away. We are making ongoing adjustments to create a simpler, more descriptive messaging system for Xbox in different areas. None of these experiences or features will change as part of these updates.
The move also makes sense given the waning importance of the brand in favor of Xbox Game Pass, which is overshadowing the need for Xbox Live Gold with each passing day. Earlier this year, Microsoft announced a price hike for Xbox Live Gold, which many viewed as a move to push gamers to Game Pass, but the company had to backpedal its decision following major backlash.