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Game subscriptions and streaming services: Find the one that’s right for you

Subscriptions are coming for everything, even your video games.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. If you’re a consummate consumer of whatever thing you’re paying a monthly fee for, the deal usually works out in your favor. That’s as true of video game subscriptions as any other, though of course the quality of each individual service is all over the map.

We’re here to help you navigate that map. Pretty much every option that’s out there caters to different types of players. So it’s not really a question of filtering the good out from the bad, but rather figuring out which option(s) – If any! – work best for you.

If you’ve never spent any time immersed in the culture of video games, a brief history lesson is in order. (Go ahead and scroll down to the round-up if you’re feeling all caught up!)

Subscriptions have been kicking around for the past 15 or 20 years as games have increasingly moved online. It started with games like World of Warcraft and eventually expanded to include services, such as Xbox Live Gold being a requirement for Xbox gaming online.

You can still find plenty of individual games that offer a monthly subscription, including WoW. Those aren’t the kinds of subscriptions we’re talking about here, but it’s worth understanding how the industry has pivoted.

Gaming subscriptions these days generally fall into two basic categories. There are the game-focused ones that enhance an otherwise free-to-play experience with everything from purely cosmetic upgrades to time-savers that let you skip ahead in one way or another. Then there are the service subscriptions, most of which give you unfettered access to a library of games alongside a handful of other features (such as streaming, cloud saves, and the like).

We’re going to focus on the latter here. These promise to give most fans of gaming the best bang for their buck. Besides, if you already play something like World of Warcraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic you probably know the pluses and minuses of those individual subscriptions better than we do.

Best For Apple Users

Specs

  • Free trial: 30 days
  • Monthly subscription: $4.99
  • Annual subscription: $49.99

This is easy: If you own one or more Apple products and like video games, you should have Apple Arcade.

There’s something for everyone in Apple’s catalog of more than 100 games. For $5 per month you get a fully fleshed out library of mobile-friendly games spanning all genres, from major publishers and indies alike. You also won’t find any of them in any other app store, including Apple’s, thanks to mobile exclusivity.

You do get a smaller selection of games than some of the other subscriptions offer. But there’s a high bar for quality in Apple’s (entirely kid-friendly) curation, and with Family Sharing turned on you can always have someone to play with. The only catch is that you’ll need an iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, or macOS PC.

Best For Android Users Who Are New To Mobile Gaming

Credit: Shutterstock / rafapress

Specs

  • Free trial: 30 days
  • Monthly subscription: $4.99 per month
  • Yearly subscription: $29.99 per year

Android users have a subscription service of their own in Google Play Pass. It’s $5 per month (or $29.99 per year) and allows for up to six family members to share it, just like Apple’s. But that’s where the similarities end.

Where Apple Arcade delivers a comparatively small library of new-ish exclusives, Google delivers a hefty lineup of more than 350 games (and apps, too). Most of it is older, but you still get a great selection of critically acclaimed and widely beloved titles to choose from. It’s mobile’s greatest hits, basically.

Play Pass might be best suited to new Android users or people who just haven’t picked up tons of popular apps and games over the years. But even if you do own some of the options in the library Google’s assembled, there’s a lot of value here.

Best For Xbox Gamers Or Pc Gamers Who Like Xbox Games

Specs

  • Console subscription: $9.99 per month
  • PC subscription: $9.99 per month
  • Ultimate subscription: $14.99 per month

Microsoft has gone out of its way to make sure Xbox owners know that Game Pass is basically unavoidable. You do get a library of more than 250 games to choose from, and the list spans both Microsoft-published originals as well as Xbox favorites from outside publishers. But that’s not even the highlight here. 

The big draw is Xbox Game Pass subscribers being able to count on having access to any Microsoft-published game or Xbox exclusive right when it comes out. That means you don’t need to buy the new Halo or Gears or Forza (or whatever else) anymore. If it’s an Xbox original, you’re going to have it on day one as long as you’re a subscriber.

Xbox Game Pass also comes with the bonus of many Xbox games supporting “Play Anywhere,” meaning you can download and install them if your PC supports it. Alternatively, there’s a separate “PC Game Pass(opens in a new tab)” subscription, as well as a combo $14.99/month “Ultimate” subscription that gives you both of the Game Passes, along with an Xbox Live Gold(opens in a new tab) subscription (normally $9.99/month, you’d need it to play online with an Xbox console).

Eventually Game Pass will offer streaming services as well, from both your console and the cloud. Those features are supposed to arrive in 2020, so stay tuned.

Best For Playstation Owners

Specs

  • Essential subscription: $9.99 per month
  • Extra subscription: $14.99 per month
  • Premium subscription: $17.99 per month

Essentially PlayStation’s answer to Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation Plus has seen some major changes over the years. In June 2022, Sony launched an update that broke the single subscription option into three expanded tiers — Essential, Extra, and Premium. An Essential subscription, the most affordable option, gets users monthly games (two for PS4, one for PS5), the ability to play multiplayer games online, and PlayStation Store discounts.

Step up to the Extra tier and you’ll get the same benefits of being an Essential subscriber, plus ready access to a for-download-only library of PS4 and PS5 games. For those looking to get the most bang for their buck, the Premium tier includes everything mentioned so far, plus an additional “Classics” library of games from the PS1, PS2, and PS3 eras (some for download, some for cloud streaming), as well as time-limited access to demos for upcoming games.

While previously, PlayStation Now subscribers did not require a PlayStation Plus subscription as well, a recent merge has combined the two services. If you’re a previous PlayStation Now subscriber, its services are now incorporated into the PlayStation Plus Premium tier.

Sony’s PlayStation Now technically launched in 2014, but it’s come a long way since then. We’ll skip the history lesson and focus on what you get right now: A selection of more than 800 PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation 4 games, many of which can be downloaded and installed on a PS4 and all of which can be streamed to a PS4 or PC. 

All you need for streaming is a DualShock 4 controller (which you have if you already own a PS4) and an internet-connected computer from the past five years. The PC app for PlayStation Now lacks a search feature and can be challenging to navigate, but the games themselves work well. 

The only place where PS Now really comes up short is with new games. Sony doesn’t give you every new PlayStation original on day one like Xbox Game Pass does. That said, this is still a great deal for PS4 owners who like the idea of having a deep library that’s always available.

One final thing to note: While Sony does require a PlayStation Plus subscription for online gaming (just like Xbox Live Gold), you don’t need PS Plus for PS Now games. Anything you can get from your Now subscription lets you play online, whether or not you’re a Plus subscriber.

Best For Fans Of All Things EA, Especially On PC

Specs

  • EA Play monthly subscription: $4.99
  • EA Play annual subscription: $29.99
  • EA Play Pro monthly subscription: $14.99
  • EA Play Pro annual subscription: $99.99

The basics of EA Play are simple: You get free access to a library of “vault” games, the ability to check out new and upcoming games for up to 10 hours, and a 10 percent discount on all Electronic Arts purchases. On the other hand, the actual value of that package varies depending on where you like to play.

The PC version, called Origin(opens in a new tab), is the best deal. For the same price as the console subscriptions, it gets you the biggest vault out of any other option, with more than 240 games. PC is also the only place you can upgrade to “Pro” membership, which replaces 10-hour trials with unlimited access to all EA games, new and old, along with any add-ons.

The two console subscriptions both have smaller vaults, with the Xbox offering just under 90 games and the PS coming in at around 60. They both also include 10-hour trials and a 10 percent discount on EA titles, but you don’t get quite as much for your money considering they’re priced the same as Origin Access.

EA Play and its Origin equivalents are obviously good choices for fans of EA games. But if you’re looking for a subscription that gets you all the latest games, Ea Play Pro is your only choice.

Best For Nintendo Switch Owners

Specs

  • Free trial: 7 days
  • Monthly subscription: $3.99
  • Tri-monthly subscription: $7.99
  • Annual subscription: $19.99
  • Annual subscription + expansion pack individual membership: $49.99
  • Annual family subscription (up to 8): $34.99

You have to ask yourself something as a Switch owner: Do you want rest easy in the knowledge that your 100-hour Breath of the Wild save data is safely stored away in the cloud? If the answer to that question is “yes” then Nintendo Switch Online is worth the $20 annual commitment. 

You do get some free games as well. Subscribers can download a pair of Switch apps that let you access a library of around 100 NES and SNES games. (Nintendo adds new ones regularly, too.) You’ll find a good mix in there, from widely beloved favorites like Super Mario Bros. 3 to deep cuts like StarTropics.

Subscribers also have the ability to play multiplayer Switch games online (provided the game supports it) and will sometimes receive special offers from Nintendo. But again, the big draw here is really cloud saves and classic games. For $20 per year, that’s an OK deal.

Best For PC Gamers Who Want Help Finding The Good Stuff

Specs

  • Standard monthly subscription: $11.99 per month
  • Standard annual subscription: $129

Humble Choice is another one for the PC gamers, but it works a bit differently than the services we’ve covered so far. The big differentiating point: Any games you get from Humble during a subscription are yours to keep, even if that subscription lapses. 

Previously there were multiple subscription tiers, which determined just how many games you could access and what other perks you received. As of Feb. 2022, however, the tiers were condensed to a single option.

The new single-tier Humble Choice service provides you access to a variety of hand-picked games that you can keep forever, access to the growing Humble Games Collection within the Humble app, as well as access to the Humble app for Windows PC. You also get a growing discount up to 20 percent on any Humble Store purchases.

Games span all types of genres, including first-person shooters, roleplaying games, strategy, horror, and everything in between. Your membership will mostly deliver games specifically for PC gamers, but at times, Mac and Linux-compatible games will be included.

The simplest “Lite” subscription lets you grab anything (and everything) from a “Humble Trove” library, which consists of close to 100 games. Most of them are indies (which isn’t a bad thing!) and they’re all DRM-free, so you’ll be able to run them without connecting to Humble or any other service to confirm you own them.

In addition to the Humble Trove and discount, stepping up to the “Basic” subscription also lets you choose from a selection of yours-to-keep games every month. That monthly selection is curated by Humble and usually consists of 10-15 games that are, for whatever reason, bigger and buzzier than what you’ll find in the Trove. Basic subscribers choose three games from that list and top-tier “Premium” subscribers can choose nine. (Premium also comes with a 20 percent Humble Store discount.)

Humble Choice is a good option if you have varied tastes and an open mind about games but would rather take recommendations on what to play. Getting to keep the games you pick up is a huge bonus, but you should make sure your tastes line up with the (publicly posted) selections cued up by Humble’s curators every month.

Disclosure notice: Humble Bundle is also owned by Mashable’s parent company, Ziff Davis.

Best For Fans Of All Things Ubisoft

Specs

  • PC access: $14.99 per month
  • Multi access: $17.99 per month

Ubisoft+ basically turns Ubisoft, the publisher, into one, big MMO subscription. You get every Ubisoft game that comes out along with all the add-on content and digital bonuses. That means anything Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Watch Dogs, Ghost Recon, Rainbow Six, and a whole lot of others is yours.

The $14.99/month subscription also includes access to a library of all the Ubisoft games and extra content. If there’s any kind of beta test before one game or another comes out, you get into that as well. That’s pretty much it. There’s just one catch: It’s for PC gamers only.

With the $17.99/month Multi-access plan, you’ll have the ability to stream games to the supported devices you own (phone, tablet, TV, etc.) with a high-speed internet connection as well. This gives users more flexibility in how they play, with no system restrictions.

This is a great deal if you must play every single Ubisoft game, and you play them on PC. It’s no big deal if there’s one Ubi franchise or another you’re not a fan of, but the people who benefit most from this service are the ones who always plan to dive deep on the publisher’s most popular properties as each new game comes out.

Best For Pc Gamers Who Like Indies And Hidden Gems

Specs

  • Free trial: 14 days
  • Monthly subscription (personal): $6.99
  • Monthly subscription (family – 4 users): $9.99

Utomik takes a different kind of approach as a PC gaming subscription. It’s not quite a streaming service, but you’re also not installing full games. Instead, the service downloads the bits and pieces it needs in the background while you’re playing. So you never use more than a certain amount of storage for each game, and since it’s all running on your home hardware you don’t have to worry (as much) about streaming bandwidth. 

The games catalog features more than 1,000 titles from a range of publishers, including Warner Bros., Epic Games, and Deep Silver. Brand new releases aren’t necessarily added right away, but the catalog does grow regularly. Utomik also keeps subscriptions pretty simple, with a $6.99/month all-you-can-play tier and a $14.99/month family plan that works the same way, but for up to four users.

Utomik has some blind spots when it comes to major publishers – Activision, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, and Square Enix don’t participate – but the service is home to a range of quality games, from big blockbusters like the Batman: Arkham or Metro series to indies like the recently released Kunai and Coffee Talk.

Best For PC Gamers With Great Internet But An Older Computer

Specs

  • Shadow subscription: $29.99 per month
  • Shadow power upgrade (available Fall 2022): $14.99 per month
  • Extra storage blocks: $2.99 per block per month

If streaming your games seems appealing, you might want to give Shadow a peek. Your subscription pays for what is essentially a gaming PC rental that streams games to an app you install in Windows, MacOS, or Linux on PC; as well as Android, iOS, Apple TV, or Android TV. You don’t get any games when you subscribe, but Shadow can download, install, and stream to you any games you happen to own or purchase yourself.

It’s pricier than Stadia — normal pricing is $29.99 monthly for subscribers with extra power or extra storage available at an additional fee. The ostensible advantage for paying this higher price is having a gaming PC in Shadow’s network that is entirely your own. It won’t ever come home to you, but it also won’t be streaming multiple games to multiple people all at once.

Shadow is something to consider if you’ve got great internet at home and a desire to play PC games that your current machine can’t handle. Maybe it’s out of date. Maybe it broke down. Maybe you don’t even own one! Shadow positions itself as an alternative to buying or upgrading a computer of your own.

Best For Tech Early Adopters Who Like To Game On The Go

Specs

  • Free trial: 30 days
  • Stadia Pro subscription: $9.99 per month
  • Stadia controller: $69

Stadia is Google’s game streaming service that lets you instantly play video games on screens you already own. It’s best described as a work in progress. You can stream games directly to your favorite compatible devices — which currently include phones, computers, TVs, and streaming devices — as long as you have an internet connection of at least 10 megabits per second (Mbps) for a 720p experience or at least 35 Mbps to play in 4K.

The Stadia controller (which you’ll have to purchase separately) is required if you’re planning on streaming games to your TV using Google Chromecast Ultra. To play on a computer using Google Chrome or on a mobile device, other control options are available. It’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all system quite yet.

Subscribers get unfettered access to a small selection (Google’s been updating it every month since the Nov. 2019 launch), as well as high-definition streams (up to 4K, 60fps, 5.1 surround sound) and discounts on Stadia Store purchases. There’s not much in the store yet, but not every game you’ll find there is part of that Pro subscription.

Google plans to eventually launch a free Stadia Base option which caps streaming at 1080p and stereo sound. Base users won’t get free games, but they’ll be able to make purchases in the store. At that point, the required up-front purchase of a Premiere Edition kit will also go away for new Pro subscribers. Currently, Stadia games can be played on PC, Chromecast Ultra, and a select lineup of more recent Android smartphones and tablets.

Best For Budget-minded PC Gamers Who Aren’t Ready To Upgrade

Specs

  • Basic membership : Free
  • Priority membership: $9.99 per month
  • RTX 3080 membership: $19.99 per month

GeForce Now is the newest player on the game subscriptions scene, and it’s another streaming service. Nvidia ran a semi-public beta test for more than a year before the service formally launched in Feb. 2020, but now anyone can subscribe.

GeForce Now is similar in a lot of ways to Shadow. There’s no ready-made games library for subscribers, it’s just streaming. For an introductory price of $9.99 per month, you get priority access to streaming (more on that below), six hours of playtime (though you can immediately queue up again after a session ends), and some fancier graphics turned on in your streams. 

There’s also a free tier that limits your play sessions to one hour before forcing you to queue up again. Free users also lose priority access, so you’ll probably wait a little (or a lot) longer than paying subscribers before it’s your turn to play. For free and paid subscribers both, any game you play comes from your personal library. For the highest performance, you’ll have to pay an extra $10 per month, which can definitely add up over time. With the RTX 3080 membership, though, you can enjoy eight hour sessions, exclusive access to RTX servers, better resolution and fancier graphics.

GeForce Now is still pretty new, so some basic features remain in flux. Certain games that were available during the beta, including titles from Activision, Rockstar Games, and others, are now unavailable to stream post-release. Keep that in mind if you’re thinking about committing long-term.

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