Gaming subscription services can be a great way to play a lot of games for not a lot of money. But with as many options as there now, choices need to be made. So let’s take a deep dive into the world of gaming subscriptions and see how these services stack up against each other, and which one is right for you.
Table of Contents
The Major Players
Let’s start off by quickly going off the largest services available at the moment, so you know your options before getting into the decision-making.
- Xbox Game Pass: Coming from Microsoft, Game Pass is a straightforward subscription where you pay $9.99 a month (on either PC or Xbox platforms), and you get access to a large library of games you can download to your device. You don’t get to keep them if you stop paying, but the quality library is what makes Game Pass an enticing offer. All of Microsoft’s games are here (and new ones are added day of release), there are tons of great indie games, a bunch of Bethesda’s games, and there’s limited access to many EA titles. And if you’re on Xbox platforms, then Xbox Game Pass Ultimate delivers all these advantages plus an Xbox Live Gold membership for $14.99 a month. It’s also starting to experiment with game streaming, but that’s still under development.
- Humble Choice: Unlike the other services here, Humble Choice’s library completely changes each month, and you get to keep all the games forever. You get 12 games for $12 a month (only for the first year, afterward it’s $19.99 a month), and the selection of games is consistently solid. If you don’t like the idea of losing access to games after you unsubscribe and want to own them outright, Humble Choice is the best (and only) option.
- EA Play: EA Play is exclusively for big fans of EA as a publisher, as that’s all you’re getting here as far as games go. Whether you’re on Xbox, PlayStation, or PC, you can play a wide selection of new and old EA titles from Fifa to Unraveled. There are two tiers of EA Play: Standard, which grants access to a huge library of older titles and 10-hour long demos of more recent games ($4.99 a month, this is included with Game Pass); and EA Play Pro, which upgrades the demos to the full games ($14.99 a month, only on PC).
- Ubisoft+: Using a similar structure to EA Play, Ubisoft+ gives you a library of 100+ Ubisoft titles both new and old. It’s only on PC and costs $14.99, but it comes with the ability to stream certain Ubisoft games through Google Stadia and, eventually, Amazon Luna.
- Nintendo Switch Online: Unlike most of these services, Nintendo Switch Online is limited to, well, the Nintendo Switch. It costs $20 a year and includes a collection of classic NES and SNES games (along with enabling online play on your Switch). While it’s not really a competitor against the other services, it’s still worth bringing up as it’s currently the only subscription available on Switch.
- Google Stadia: Stadia is the main game streaming platform at the moment, despite its fair share of issues. But the streaming quality is higher compared to other options on the market, and you can buy individual games if you don’t want to subscribe (although, the games are only playable through streaming via Stadia). If you subscribe to Google Stadia Pro ($9.99 a month), however, you gain access to a large library of games and discounts on titles not included with the subscription.
- NVIDIA GeForce NOW: While most streaming services require you to buy games from them directly, GeForce NOW allows you to take your existing PC game library to the cloud. It connects with various PC storefronts like Steam and Epic Games Store to enable compatible games (full list on the GeForce NOW website) for streaming, so you can play them on your Android phone, Windows, ChromeOS, or macOS laptop, and Android TV. There is a very limited free version, but it only allows you to play for an hour at a time and you’ll have to wait in a queue to play. Priority Access for $9.99 a month grants longer play sessions, improved visuals, and queue priority—if you want to properly use this service, you’ll definitely want to subscribe.
- PlayStation Now: This is another streaming-based platform for PlayStation and PC (but you can download the games onto PlayStation devices). PlayStation Now grants access to over 800 games from the PS2, PS3, and PS4, all available to be streamed onto either platform. This is the only way you can play PlayStation exclusive titles on PC, and considering how many quality titles Sony has put out over the past generation, there’s a lot of great stuff here. PlayStation Now costs $9.99 a month, which unlocks it on both platforms.
- Amazon Luna: At the time of writing, Luna is still heavily under development and not available to the public yet. It’s going to be another streaming service in the veins of Stadia, so it’ll be interesting to see how it competes once it fully releases. Amazon does have the resources to make something great here (and Amazon has been getting into developing its own games unlike Google), but we’ll just have to wait and see how things pan out.
Streaming vs. Downloads
One of the biggest differences between gaming subscriptions is whether they use streaming (also called “cloud gaming”) or downloaded games. The former runs the games on a remote server while you control it from a variety of devices (it depends on the service, but as an example, Stadia works with computers, Android devices, and Chromecast Ultra). Meanwhile, the latter has you download the game files to your device and run it off the hardware as you normally would (albeit, with a limited license that will usually deactivate if you stop paying).
Streaming might seem like the best call right off the bat—if you’re playing on PC you don’t need powerful specs to get great visuals out of games, you never need to worry about updating your games, and your game progress syncs between platforms seamlessly. However, streaming isn’t perfect and is susceptible to latency (meaning, there will be a delay between your inputs and what happens on screen).
For competitive games, this is immediately a no-go, but any title is going to feel the effects of it to some extent. How much latency you feel is largely based on your internet connection, and the inherent quality of the service—Google Stadia, for example, recommends a bare minimum connection speed of 10 megabits per second. If your internet can’t keep up with it, streaming games can be a pretty awful experience. Not to mention if your internet provider forces a data cap, game streaming will burn through it quickly.
On the other hand, downloading games sidesteps that issue but comes with the usual bog of downloading updates, dealing with storage limits, and, if you’re on PC, making sure your hardware is powerful enough to run what you’re playing. If the internet where you live is excellent, then streaming games can be an incredibly convenient way to play. But with the technology still heavily under development, downloading games is a far safer option.
Quality Over Quantity
At the end of the day, these subscription services should be a way to play a ton of new games for less than it would cost to buy them individually. So if a service is mostly filled up with a ton of games you’ll never touch, it’s not really worth it. Some of these can be tricky as well, boasting library counts in the hundreds but padding out that library with filler games most people aren’t going to care about.
PlayStation Now is a good example of this; while it’s a great service, you’ll see it proudly boasts a library count in the multiple hundreds. But a lot of these PlayStation games are from older generations and weren’t even notable releases in their heyday. That’s not to say old games are bad, many are fantastic, but you can’t get to a count of over 500 games like PlayStation Plus has without a lot of filler.
On the flip side, something like Xbox Game Pass may only have 100 – 200 games, but a lot of those are recent, substantial releases. Having a smaller, curated selection of games you’ll actually be excited to try out is far superior to having hundreds you have to sift through to find the ones you actually want to play.
The Limits of Publisher-Specific Services
There are multiple services out there owned by specific game publishers that rarely (if ever) include games not made by that publisher. EA Play and Ubisoft+ are the main examples of this, but Nintendo Switch Online is a similar case where it only has games from older consoles (namely, the NES and SNES). This makes sense, as publishers would have to pay to get the license to include games outside of their own library, but it does make the service less desirable than something like Humble Choice, which can include games from all sorts of studios.
Publisher-specific services offer less variety, but if you really like the games from the specific publisher it can be fine—it’s just important to remember that this will never change. You shouldn’t subscribe to one of these services hoping it expands in the future; you should only subscribe to them if you’re a big fan of the publisher’s library. And to be fair, both EA and Ubisoft have many substantial game releases under their belts.
Which Is the Best?
Which service you should subscribe to comes down to personal preference and circumstance. If you only have a Nintendo Switch or PlayStation console, for example, you’re locked into getting whichever service is available on those. But if you’re on PC or any other platform that gives you multiple options, that’s when decisions can be made.
Going with a service that has a decent-sized library of games from a variety of studios is going to the best bet for most people. In that vein, I think Humble Choice and Xbox Game Pass are easily the best deals around at the moment. Choosing between those two basically just comes down to whether you care about owning the games you pay for or not. If you don’t mind losing access to titles after you’ve unsubscribed, go with Game Pass (it has more games, and Microsoft just announced 27 more titles coming to the service at E3). On the other hand, Humble Choice lets you keep everything while still providing a solid library.
I also want to give a quick mention to Stadia as it’s definitely the best option when it comes to streaming games at the moment. While streaming in general still has its issues, Stadia guarantees the best performance if your internet can keep up with it. Being able to hop into a game immediately without worrying about updates or performance is wonderful, and things will only get better as the technology develops. But if you still want access to your normal game library, then GeForce NOW is also a great option even if the streaming isn’t as fine-tuned as Stadia.
Besides that, any other service you use is a matter of asking yourself whether what it offers is worth the asking price. If you’re really into Ubisoft games, then the $14.99 a month you spend on Ubisoft+ can be worth it, but I wouldn’t call it a general recommendation by any means.
It’s great to see more and more gaming services pop up, especially since a few years ago the idea of a gaming subscription was pretty limited. We have access to some great options now though, and you can save a decent amount of money not needing to buy as many new games. And if things keep moving as they have been, things are only going to get better from here.