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, Nvidia, and more that provide tons of games for a monthly price, or even stream them without the need for a long download. Between Xbox Live Gold, Game Pass, 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.
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Updated April 2022: We’ve added the new PlayStation Plus membership tiers and updated Xbox Cloud Gaming.
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Plus 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. Existing PS Plus subscribers will automatically go onto the Essential tier when the updated service launches in June 2022.
For $10 per month (or $60 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 two free games each month, 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 $100 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 will be available to download and play and is set to include blockbusters from PlayStation Studios and third-party partners. Sony has revealed that Death Stranding, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and Returnal will be included at launch. Available games will vary by market, and the line-up will change over time.
For $18 per month (or $120 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 will be assimilated into this Premium tier, so you also get cloud streaming access to all PlayStation, PS2, PSP, and PS4 games offered in that. You can stream to a PS4, PS5, or PC. One last perk of the Premium tier is time-limited game trials. The Premium tier will only be available in countries that currently get PS Now. Other markets will get PS Plus Deluxe, which will be cheaper and offer 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.
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.
For $10 per month (or $25 quarterly), this subscription allows you to play Xbox games online with friends. (A Gold subscription is not required to play Microsoft’s PC games online.) You get two free games per month as a part of your subscription, 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 $10 per month and includes “more than 100” games, with some titles occasionally rotating in and out, Netflix-style. Microsoft’s first-party Xbox Game Studios titles will appear on the service as soon as they launch, while others may take longer to show up.
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 costs the same $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 $15 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 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. 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—though that really depends on your habits. If you play a lot of different games, it’s worthwhile—but if you tend to stick to a few titles for months at a time, it might not be as compelling.
If you have Xbox Live Gold credit, you can convert it to Game Pass Ultimate at the rates described on this page—which is actually pretty great if you can find Xbox Live Gold codes at a discount.
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.
Nintendo Switch Online vs. Expansion Pack
Your options with Nintendo are straightforward. Nintendo is the only console manufacturer that currently offers a family 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 the 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 Services
Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass
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? 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 compelling, exclusive games in Apple Arcade, and the company keeps adding a few new titles each month.
Got an Android phone or tablet? Google Play Pass includes more than 800 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.
Google Stadia Pro vs. GeForce 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.
Google’s game streaming service costs $10 per month. You get a small library of free games (currently more than 30) with new titles added every month, exclusive discounts on other games, and the option to stream in 4K with HDR and 5.1 surround sound (if your internet connection can handle it). You can play Stadia on most Android devices, iPhones, iPads, Windows PC, Mac, and Chromebooks; on select smart TVs running Android TV or Google TV; and with a Chromecast Ultra or Chromecast with Google TV. The free tier gives you access to a few free games, trials, and demos, but doesn’t include any free monthly games and restricts you to 1080p and stereo sound. You can use the Xbox One and PS4 controller instead of Google’s Stadia controller on any tier.
If you have high-speed internet but no console, Stadia could be for you, though we must note that there have been persistent rumors for the past year that Google may shut Stadia down at some point. Either way, a Chromecast with Google TV device is one of the best ways to stream TV.
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, but you can pay $10 per month for Priority service, or $100 for six months of access to a RTX 3080 graphics card.
Amazon has a game streaming service much like Stadia, but it’s still in early access, so you need to request an invitation to try it. Luna is segmented by Channels: The Luna+ channel is $6 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. It works on Windows PC, Mac, Fire TV, Fire tablets, iPad, Chromebooks, and phones. Like Stadia, you can use Luna’s controller or those from Xbox One or PS4.
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).
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