Gaming is starting to look more and more like Netflix: Instead of buying a disc at the store and popping it in at home, you have a bevy of services from Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Nvidia, and even Netflix itself. Services provide access to tons of games for a monthly price, or allow you to stream them without the need for a long download. Between Xbox Game Pass Core, Game Pass Ultimate, Xbox Cloud Gaming, PS Plus Essential, PS Plus Extra, PS Plus Premium, Nintendo Switch Online, and everything else, it’s hard to know what's worth paying for. Let’s break it all down.
Updated September 2023: We updated prices throughout, added mention of Xbox Live Gold becoming Game Pass Core and the end of the Friends & Family trial, and updated details for Nvidia GeForce Now, Amazon Luna, and Ubisoft Plus.
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PlayStation SubscriptionsPlus Essential vs. Plus Extra vs. Plus Premium
If you have a PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 5, you can subscribe to PlayStation Plus, with three membership tiers.
For $10 per month (or $80 per year), you can play online multiplayer. Without a subscription, you can play only single-player games offline. PS Plus also sweetens the deal by giving you at least two free games each month (usually, one PS5 title and two PS4 titles), which you can keep as long as you're a subscriber.
If you have a PS5, the PS Plus collection adds 20 of the best PS4 games for you to catch up on. There are also exclusive discounts in the PlayStation Store, and you get cloud storage for saved games. Best of all, you can often get PS Plus super cheap from reputable sellers on eBay or buy codes from Amazon, so it's an easy purchase.
For $15 per month (or $135 per year), you get everything the Essential tier offers, but the Extra tier adds a catalog of up to 400 of “the most enjoyable PS4 and PS5 games.” This library of games is available to download and play and includes blockbusters from PlayStation Studios and third-party partners. Membership includes games like Assassin's Creed: Valhalla, Death Stranding, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and Returnal. Available games vary by market, and the line-up changes over time. This is probably the best tier for most people.
For $18 per month (or $160 per year), you get everything in the two tiers above, plus 340 additional games, including PS3 games available via cloud streaming and original PlayStation, PS2, and PSP games that you can download or stream. The PlayStation Now streaming service was assimilated into this Premium tier, so you also get cloud streaming access to all PlayStation, PS2, PSP, and PS4 games offered as part of your membership. You can stream to a PS4, PS5, or PC.
One last perk of the Premium tier is time-limited game trials. The Premium tier is only available in countries that currently get PS Now. Other markets get PS Plus Deluxe, which is cheaper and offers a similar library of titles to download and play.
Note: PlayStation's cloud streaming service is different from PS Remote Play, which lets you stream games from a PS4 or PS5 in your house to another PS4 or PC. Remote Play is free for everyone as long as you own the console and the games.
Xbox SubscriptionsGame Pass Core (Live Gold) vs. Game Pass vs. Game Pass Ultimate
Xbox's stable of services is a little more confusing. There are three separate subscription services, some of which have separate tiers and include other subscriptions bundled into them.
Formerly known as Xbox Live, Xbox Network doesn't cost anything, but in the interest of clarity, we are including it here. This is where you create your online profile and friends list, send and receive messages, and so on. Microsoft allows online multiplayer without a paid subscription for more than 50 free-to-play games. You cannot, however, play most games online with friends unless you have a paid subscription to one of the tiers below.
Xbox Game Pass Core (Xbox Live Gold)
Xbox Live Gold becomes Game Pass Core from September 14, 2023 (existing subscribers will be automatically moved onto the new service). For $10 per month (or $60 a year), this subscription allows you to play Xbox games online with friends. (A Game Pass Core subscription is not required to play Microsoft's PC games online.) You get access to a library of 25 games as a part of your subscription (instead of the two games a month you got with Live Gold), as well as discounts on other games in the Microsoft Store.
Subscribe to Game Pass on your Xbox and you can access hundreds of games to download and install. The standard Game Pass for console costs $11 per month and includes “more than 300” games, with some titles occasionally rotating in and out, Netflix-style. Microsoft's first-party Xbox Game Studios titles appear on the service as soon as they launch, while others may take longer to show up. Note: Game Pass for Console does not include online multiplayer.
This is the same as Xbox Game Pass for consoles, but—as the name implies—it lets you download and play those games on your PC. It is slightly cheaper at $10 per month but includes games from EA Play, meaning it has a slightly larger library.
This subscription includes everything we've mentioned so far. It's a combo service for $17 per month that lets you access the entire Game Pass and EA Play libraries on your PC and Xbox, along with online multiplayer and discounts in the Microsoft Store (no need for a separate Xbox Live Gold or Game Pass Core subscription). This also includes Microsoft's game streaming service, Xbox Cloud Gaming (previously called xCloud), which is in beta and streams games from the internet to your Xbox, Windows PC, or phone.
Even with the recent price rise, Game Pass Ultimate is one of the best deals in gaming right now. If you play a lot of different games, or have a mix of Xbox and PC gamers in the house, it's worthwhile—but if you tend to stick to a few titles for months at a time, it might not be as compelling. Check out our picks of the best Xbox Game Pass games to get an idea of what's on offer.
Note: Xbox Cloud Gaming is not to be confused with Xbox Remote Play, which is free and lets you stream Xbox games you own from a console to your phone, PC, or another Xbox over your home network.
This service was only available in Colombia and Ireland, and it enabled up to five friends and family members to share Game Pass Ultimate benefits. It cost €22 per month in Ireland. Unfortunately, this service is no longer available, though this statement from Microsoft gives us some hope that it might launch globally one day:
“On August 15, 2023, the Xbox Game Pass Friends & Family preview program will end as we review what we’ve learned over the past several months and investigate how to build an offer which we can launch worldwide.”
Nintendo SubscriptionsNintendo Switch Online vs. Expansion Pack
Your options with Nintendo are straightforward. Nintendo is the only console manufacturer that currently offers a family gaming plan.
Nintendo’s online multiplayer service costs $4 per month ($8 quarterly or $20 per year) for an individual membership or $35 per year for a family membership. You can play games online with friends, save games in the cloud, use voice chat in supported games, and gain access to a library of more than 100 classic NES and SNES titles. You can also use the Nintendo smartphone app to receive occasional special offers. A family membership covers up to eight separate accounts in your family group and enables you all to play and enjoy membership benefits on multiple Switch consoles simultaneously (an option that is sadly lacking on PlayStation and Xbox).
This newer offering costs $50 per year for an individual membership or $80 per year for a family membership. It gives you everything listed above but adds a library of Nintendo 64 games, Sega Genesis games, and the Happy Home Paradise downloadable content (DLC) for Animal Crossing: New Horizons (you don't need to subscribe to access the Animal Crossing DLC).
Mobile Subscription ServicesApple Arcade, Google Play Pass, and Netflix Games
Mobile games get a bad rap, but the quality of these titles has slowly begun to change for the better. The services below also strip out ads and in-app payments.
Looking for a library of games for your iPhone or iPad? Step into the Apple Arcade. Boasting more than 200 premium games with no ads or in-app purchases, Apple's mobile gaming subscription is easy to recommend. The subscription service costs $5 per month or $50 per year, and you can use family sharing to give up to five family members access. Better yet, you can get three months of Apple Arcade for free if you buy a new iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Apple TV, or Mac. There are some compelling, exclusive games in Apple Arcade, alongside some premium titles that are available in the App Store. Apple adds a few new titles each month, but sometimes removes games, too. Apple Arcade is also included as part of any Apple One subscription.
Got an Android phone or tablet? Consider Google Play Pass. The service includes close to 1,000 games and apps. It costs $5 per month or $30 per year and can be shared with up to five family members. Just like Apple Arcade, Google's service is free of ads and in-app purchases, but there are no exclusives here. It simply offers access to some popular games you usually have to pay individually for.
You may be surprised to learn that Netflix includes mobile games as part of any Netflix membership. Don’t get too excited—there are only around 50 titles to choose from, though they are all exclusives and some of them are pretty fun. Learn how to play Netflix games to find out for yourself.
Game Streaming ServicesGeForce Now vs. Amazon Luna
Microsoft and Sony have ways to stream games from the internet to your PC, console, tablet, phone, or laptop, but there are a few dedicated services that focus entirely on this game-streaming business model.
Nvidia's game streaming service is slightly different. It requires a strong internet connection (at least 50 Mbps for the highest quality) and you have to bring your own games. It can plug into your Steam or Epic library, but not every game is supported. This is one of the easiest ways to play the latest games with the best graphics possible if you don't have a kitted-out PC (graphics cards are still hard to find). There's a limited free tier that lets you play on a basic rig for up to an hour, but you can pay $10 per month ($50 per year) for Priority service for a decent setup offering 1080p at 60 frames per second for up to six hours, or $20 per month ($100 for six months) for access to an RTX 4080 graphics card for 4K gaming at 120 fps for up to eight hours.
Amazon has a game streaming service much like Google's ill-fated Stadia. Luna is segmented by Channels: The Luna+ channel is $10 per month and includes a wide variety of games in different genres, but the Ubisoft+ Channel is $18 per month for access to dozens of Ubisoft games, like Assassins' Creed. There's a party game channel called Jackbox for $5 per month, and if you're an Amazon Prime member, you can play a rotating selection of games for free. It works on Windows PC, Mac, Fire TV, Fire tablets, iPad, Chromebooks, and phones. You can use Luna's controller to play, an Xbox One or PS4 controller, or a keyboard and mouse.
This is Amazon's fledgling service, and it's a bit weird. There certainly isn't enough here to justify an Amazon Prime subscription ($15 per month or $139 per year), but if you already have one, then it's worth a look. You can get in-game loot in some popular games, free game downloads, free DLC, and a free Twitch subscription (subscriptions to specific Twitch streamers).
Sadly, Google's Stadia has shut down. The service ceased operating completely on January 18, 2023.
The RestHumble Choice, EA Play, and Ubisoft Plus
We have an alternative type of membership from Humble, and some game publishers have decided that their catalogs are big enough to be offered up as subscription services (though many of their titles are also available through services we already covered).
Unlike the other game subscription services on our list, a Humble Choice membership at $12 per month gives you access to a fresh mix of mainstream and indie PC games every month that are yours to keep forever. You also gain access to the Humble Games Collection (a curated library of interesting indies) and special discounts. And 5 percent of every Humble Choice membership is donated to Humble’s featured charity of the month.
Pay $5 per month or $30 per year and you get access to EA titles like FIFA 23, Madden 23, Mass Effect Legendary Edition, and Titanfall 2 on Xbox, PlayStation, or PC. You can also play select new releases for up to 10 hours before launch, get access to in-game challenges and rewards, and snag a 10 percent discount on game downloads, Season Passes, and DLC. The Pro tier at $15 per month or $100 per year upgrades you to premium game editions. For most folks a Game Pass subscription makes a lot more sense.
Note: EA Play is included at no extra cost as part of Xbox Game Pass PC or Game Pass Ultimate subscriptions.
For a hefty $15 per month you can play Ubisoft’s library of more than 100 games and get access to new releases the day they launch. You also get premium editions, DLC, and in-game rewards. Currently the basic service is available only for PC. Upgrade to Multi Access for $18 per month and you can play selected games on Xbox or via the cloud on Luna. This service feels way too expensive for what you get, so it’s only really for die-hard Ubisoft fans who can’t live without all the premium editions and extras.
Note: You can play more than 50 of Ubisoft's best games through Sony’s PS Plus Extra and Premium subscription services.