All About Game Subscription Services: PlayStation vs. Xbox vs. Nintendo
With so many different game subscription services available, we break down what PlayStation Plus, Xbox Game Pass and Nintendo Switch Online have to offer.
With so many different game subscription services available, it can get overwhelming to figure out if you’re choosing one that best suits your gaming needs. The most popular gaming subscription services in the market right now are PlayStation Plus, Xbox Game Pass and Nintendo Switch Online, and all of them are starting to look more and more like Netflix each day. With options to stream games for a monthly price, get exclusive discounts and access online multiplayer gaming, we break down what’s being offered in each of these services, how much they cost and which one is the best bang for your buck.
Let’s get started.
PlayStation Plus: Essential, Extra and Premium
PlayStation Plus was originally a premium membership during the PlayStation 3 period, but it is now required for online play on the PlayStation 4. Without a subscription, you can only play single-player games offline. With PlayStation Plus, you also get 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.
At the moment, Sony offers three different tiers of PlayStation Plus: essential, extra and premium, each costing $9.99, $14.99 and $17.99 monthly. These plans have annual subscriptions set at $59.99, $99.99 and $119.99, respectively.
PlayStation Plus Essential
This one lets you enjoy all the core PlayStation Plus benefits: join your friends in online multiplayer, and add new games to your collection every month. You can also get discounts in the PlayStation Store, plus cloud storage for saved games.
PlayStation Plus Extra
With PlayStation Plus Extra, you get all the benefits included in the PlayStation Plus Essential plan and a catalog of up to 400 of “the most enjoyable PS4 and PS5 games” with new titles added regularly. Available games can vary by market, and the collection changes over time. This is a great tier for those who want to play a variety of PS4 and PS5 games. But if you are more interested in a wide library of titles that includes the classics, the Premium tier would be a better fit for you.
PlayStation Plus Premium
Finally, with PlayStation Plus Premium (the original PlayStation Plus offering from years ago), you have all the core PlayStation Plus benefits and hundreds of games in the Game Catalog. These include PS3 games that are available via cloud streaming, plus original PlayStation, PS2 and PSP games that you can download or stream. You also get exclusive benefits like time-limited game trials. You also get access to the Ubisoft Game Library at this level, which includes both new releases and classic games
Xbox: Live Gold, Game Pass and Game Pass Ultimate
The tiers start to get a bit complicated here, but we've broken it down for you. It is also worth noting that Xbox has dedicated plans for both PC and console gamers.
This isn’t a paid plan, but for clarity's sake, this is where you would create your profile and connect with friends. Microsoft provides more than 50 free-to-play multiplayer games without a paid subscription. The catch is that you can’t play most games online with friends.
Xbox Live Gold
For $9.99 monthly, this subscription lets you play games online with friends. You get two free games to play every month, with discounts of up to 50% on select titles in the Microsoft Store.
Xbox Game Pass for Console
With a Game Pass subscription, you will have access to over 100 console games to download and install. The standard Game Pass subscription is $9.99 a month and has games coming in and out (like how movies and TV shows shuffle on Netflix). You also get exclusive member discounts and deals. The cool thing about Xbox Game Pass is that Microsoft's first-party Xbox Game Studio titles are available on the same day as the release. If you compare this with Sony, you have to wait a certain period until their new games come out on PS Plus.
Xbox Game Pass for PC
This is exactly what it sounds like–you get all the Game Pass benefits listed above, but you can download and play those games on your PC rather than on your console. It also costs $9.99 a month but includes games from EA Play, which means it has more of an extensive game library.
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate
This tier, priced at $15.99 monthly, includes everything mentioned above. It’s a combination plan that consists of the entire Game Pass and EA Play libraries on your PC and Xbox, and online multiplayer and discounts in the Microsoft Store so you don’t have to get a separate Xbox Live Gold subscription.
Game Pass Ultimate has everything that Microsoft offers and also includes the game streaming service Xbox Cloud Gaming (previously called xCloud and not to be confused with Xbox Remote play which is free) that streams games to your Xbox, Windows PC or phone. Bonus points if you have a fiber internet connection that will let you stream and play with no lag and no interruptions. Depending on your habits, if you play a variety of games or have a mix of Xbox and PC gamers in the house, Game Pass Ultimate is worthwhile—but if you tend to stick to only a few titles for months at a time, it might not be as compelling.
Nintendo Switch Online and Expansion Packs
Nintendo Switch Online
This plan enhances your Switch games with features like online play, cloud saves and more. Nintendo’s online multiplayer service costs $3.99 a month (or $19.99 annually) for an individual membership and $34.99 annually for a family membership. You can use voice chat in supported games and get access to a library of more than 100 classic NES and SNES games. You can also receive occasional special offers through the Nintendo smartphone app. The family membership offers up to eight separate accounts and enables your entire family to play and enjoy membership benefits on multiple Switch consoles simultaneously (an option that is currently not being offered on PlayStation and Xbox).
Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack
This newer annual-only Nintendo Switch Online membership plan costs $49.99 per year for an individual membership or $79.99 for a family membership. Everything listed above is included, as well as additional benefits such as Nintendo 64 games, retro Sega Genesis games and access to brand-new downloadable content for games such as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and Splatoon 2.
It’s worth comparing Xbox with PlayStation directly, given the title offerings and the price range. Now that we know what both have to offer, let’s look at some additional features that set them apart. It's important to note that there are a few overall perks that Xbox offers for free that PS Plus does not. For instance, when you buy an Xbox, Microsoft gives you cloud storage for your games for free whereas Sony does not (unless you buy the base essential package).
Both Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Plus have great options depending on your gaming needs. One key differentiator here is that with Xbox Game Pass, you get access to Microsoft's first-party games on launch day, while PlayStation Plus doesn’t offer that. This can be a deciding factor for those who want to play the latest games as soon as they are released. However, in both cases, you only get to keep those games as long as you pay for the service. If you cancel your subscription, your option to stream these games will go away
Nintendo Switch Online has a generous family plan and at $3.99 a month, it’s your best (and by far, the cheapest) option if you’re into casual gaming on a budget.
Overall, each of these game subscription services brings unique features to the table, and your final pick will truly depend on your gaming habits.
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