How to choose the best gaming subscription service (2021): Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo, Stadia

Games have started To look more and more like Netflix: Instead of buying a disc in the store and popping it at home, subscription services from Sony, Microsoft, Nvidia, and others let you access tons of games for a monthly price, or even stream them without the need for a lengthy download. But between Xbox Live Gold, Game Pass, xCloud, PS Plus, PS Now, Nintendo Switch Online, and everything else, it’s hard to know what it does and what it’s worth to pay for. And that’s before we mention mobile games. Let’s break it all down.

Updated November 2021: We’ve expanded this guide to mention Nintendo Switch Online, Apple Arcade, Google Play Pass, Google Stadia, GeForce Now, and Amazon Prime Gaming subscriptions.

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PS Plus vs PS Now

Sony playstation 5.

Photo: Sony

Let’s start with Sony, which has a slightly simpler set of offerings. If you have a PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 5, you can subscribe to two different services: PlayStation Plus and PlayStation Now.

This is an online multiplayer service from Sony. For $10 a month (or $60 a year), you can play online with friends and competitors. (Without a subscription, you can only play single-player games offline.) PS Plus sweetens the deal by giving you some free games every month, which you can keep for as long as you’re subscribed. If you have a PS5, the new PS Plus collection adds 20 of the best PS4 games for you to catch up. There are also exclusive PlayStation Store discounts – best of all, you can often get the PS Plus very cheap from reputable sellers on eBay or buy codes from Amazon, so it’s an easy purchase.

PlayStation Now is Sony’s streaming and gaming subscription service. For $10 a month (or $60 a year) you get access to hundreds of PS4, PS3, and PS2 games – 800 of which you can stream directly to your console or PC online, without having to download and install them. Or you can download over 400 PS4 games and play them in a traditional and offline way. You’ll need a stable internet connection for streaming to work, but other than that, it’s like Netflix for PlayStation games – and it’s also the only way to play PS3 and PS2 games on your modern console. You don’t need a particularly powerful computer either.

Noticeable: PS Plus and PS Now are separate subscriptions, so if you want to stream online multiplayer games and stream games online, you’ll have to get both. PS Now streaming is also different from PS Remote Play, which lets you stream games from the PS4 or PS5 of your home to another PS4 or PC. Remote play is free for everyone as long as you own the console and the games.

Xbox Live Gold vs Game Pass vs Game Pass Ultimate

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.

Image: Microsoft

The stability of Xbox services is even more confusing — there are three separate subscription services, some with separate tiers and others bundled with subscriptions. Here’s everything you can subscribe to from Microsoft.

Xbox Network

Formerly known as Xbox Live, Xbox Network isn’t actually a paid subscription, but for the sake of clarity, we’re including it here. This is where you create your online profile and friends list, send and receive messages, etc. Microsoft allows online multiplayer without a paid subscription for over 50 free-to-play games. However, you cannot play premium games online with friends unless you have a paid subscription to…

For $10 per month (or $25 quarterly), this subscription lets you play Xbox games online with friends. (No Gold subscription is required to play Microsoft PC games online.) You get two free games per month as part of your subscription, plus discounts on other games in the Microsoft Store.

Sign up for Game Pass on your Xbox and get access to hundreds of games to download and install. The standard console Game Pass costs $10 per month and includes “100+” games, with some rotating occasionally, similar to Netflix. Microsoft’s first-party Xbox Game Studios titles will appear on the service once launched, while others may take longer to appear.

This is the same as Xbox Game Pass for consoles, but – as the name suggests – allows you to download and play those games on your computer. It costs the same price as $10 per month but includes games from EA Play, which means it has a slightly larger library.

As the name suggests, this subscription includes everything we’ve mentioned so far. It’s a bundled service for $15 per month that gives you access to the entire Game Pass and EA Play libraries on PC and Xbox, along with online multiplayer and discounts in the Microsoft Store (no separate Xbox Live Gold subscription needed). This also includes Microsoft’s new game streaming service, xCloud, which is in beta and streaming games from the internet to your Android phone. If you want everything Microsoft has to offer, you can get it all in Game Pass Ultimate. It’s one of the best deals in gaming right now – although this title really depends on your habits. If you play a lot of different games, it’s worth it – but if you tend to stick to a few titles for months at a time, it might not be convincing.

If you have Xbox Live Gold credit, you can convert it to Game Pass Ultimate at the rates shown on this page – which is really nice if you can find Xbox Live Gold codes at a discount.

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