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

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

There are so, so, SO many gaming subscriptions these days. Let us help you understand the differences.

By Adam Rosenberg

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.

Low price • Wide selection of quality games • Everything’s kid-friendly

For Apple users only • Library is smaller than other subscriptions offer

Apple Arcade instantly sets you up with a varied library of excellent games for a low price… but only if you’re an Apple customer.

1. Apple Arcade

You won’t find these games anywhere else in the App Store.

  • Monthly subscription:
  • Annual subscription:

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.

Huge library • Low price • You get apps in addition to games

For Android users only • You probably own some of these apps already

Google Play Pass is a great place to start for new Android users or people who just want a ‘greatest hits’ of all the best games and apps.

2. Google Play Pass

Google Play Pass is like a “greatest hits” of all the best older games – and apps! – available on Android.

  • Monthly subscription:

Android users have a subscription service of their own in Google Play Pass. It’s $5 per month 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.

You get every Xbox original on day one • More than 250 games in all • Great support for PC gamers

Online Xbox play still requires a Gold subscription

Xbox Game Pass is basically a must-have if you only game on an Xbox but there’s a lot here for PC players, too.

3. Xbox Game Pass

Xbox Game Pass is one of the more well-rounded subscriptions in gaming, with options for Xbox and PC users as well as upcoming streaming features.

  • Console subscription:
  • PC subscription:
  • “Ultimate” subscription:

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” 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 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.

Streaming to PS4 and PC • 800+ games span multiple generations • No need for PS Plus on PS Now games • Annual subscription cuts price in half

You often have to wait for new releases

For the cost of one full-priced PS4 release you get a full year of access to more than 800 games on PC and PS4.

4. PlayStation Now

PlayStation Now features some of the best games available for Sony’s console, and you can even play them on your PC.

  • Monthly subscription:
  • Tri-monthly subscription:
  • Annual subscription:

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.

Cloud saves for many of your games • Access to a library of NES and SNES games • Low annual cost

Cloud saves being the only backup option feels like extortion

Nintendo Switch Online is a great deal at $20 per year even if it’s also pretty much necessary for every Switch owner.

5. Nintendo Switch Online

Nintendo Switch Online is necessary if you want to be able to back up your save data, but the low annual subscription price and addition of free games and online play sweetens the deal.

  • Monthly subscription:
  • Tri-monthly subscription:
  • Annual subscription:
  • Annual family subscription (up to 8):

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.

The vault is filled with popular games • Low price • Subscriptions for PS4, Xbox, and PC

The vault is smaller on console • Especially PS4 • You can only get full new games on PC

EA Access is a good, reasonably priced subscription for EA fans but PC gamers get the most value by far.

6. EA Access

EA Access is for you if you live for Electronic Arts releases, though PC and (to a lesser extent) Xbox gamers enjoy the most features.

  • Monthly subscription – Console or PC (Basic):
  • Annual subscription – Console or PC (Basic):
  • Monthly subscription – PC (Premier):
  • Annual subscription – PC (Premier):

The basics of EA Access 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 Access, 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 “Premier” 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 only around 70 games and the PS4 coming in at around 40. 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 Access 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, Origin Access Premier is your only choice.

Day one access to all new Ubisoft games • Includes all add-ons and bonus content • Guaranteed beta access

Uplay+ is a sweet deal if you live and breathe all things Ubisoft, but you can only take advantage if you game on PC.

7. Uplay+

All the Ubisoft games, from the old stuff to new releases on day one, along with all add-ons and bonus content for one monthly price.

  • Monthly subscription:

Uplay+ 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.


This is a great deal if 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.

Any games you get are yours forever • Humble does the work of making a monthly playlist

You won’t get the very latest games here

Humble Choice delivers a diverse offering every month, and even better, you can keep the games you get forever.

8. Humble Choice

Humble Choice serves up a monthly selection of curated picks for you to choose from, and you get to keep whatever you choose.

  • Lite subscription (monthly / annual):
    $4.99 / $44.99
  • Basic subscription (monthly / annual):
    $14.99 / $134.99
  • Premium subscription (monthly / annual):
    $19.99 / $179.99

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.


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. You also get a 10 percent discount on any Humble Store purchases.


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 (again, for PC only) 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.

Massive library of more than 1,000 games • You don’t need a ton of storage for each game

Some major publishers don’t participate • You still need fairly speedy internet • There’s lots of filler in the library

Utomik sets you up with a huge library of games to play and it won’t use up much storage space, but it’s missing some major titles.

9. Utomik

Utomik may not have the biggest games or the top publishers, but it offers a huge library filled with indies and all manner of hidden gems.

  • Monthly subscription (personal):
  • Monthly subscription (family – 4 users):

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.

The streaming tech is impressive

Stadia Pro offers too few games compared to competitors • The need to buy Premiere Edition is a big hurdle • The whole service still feels like a beta test

Stadia’s promising game streaming technology isn’t enough on its own to make the service appealing for anyone other than tech early adopters.

10. Stadia

Google Stadia is still a work-in-progress on the service side, but the tech that powers it is impressive and the games list is small but mighty.

  • Monthly subscription (Pro):
    $9.99 (requires $129 “Premiere Edition”)

Stadia is Google’s game streaming service and it’s best described as a work in progress. In its current form, there’s an up-front cost of $129 for the “Premiere Edition,” which includes a Stadia-compatible Chromecast Ultra, a controller, and three free months of the $9.99/month “Pro” subscription. You’ll also want a fairly fast internet connection; Google recommends a minimum of 35 Mbps for top-quality streaming, but the faster the better.


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.

Works across many platforms • Streams any game you own

Shadow is a pricey option that has you effectively renting a remote gaming PC that streams games directly to your devices.

11. Shadow

Shadow is a great option for people who aren’t quite ready to buy a new PC but don’t mind spending a little more for top-quality game streaming.

  • Monthly subscription:
  • Monthly subscription (with annual commitment):

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, with a monthly subscription starting at $12.99 – though that’s an introductory price, and available only if you commit to an annual plan. Normal pricing is $24.99 monthly for subscribers with an annual commitment and $34.99 for month-to-month subscribers. 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.

Cheap game streaming for Windows, Mac, and Nvidia Shield • Works with your games library • Free option lets you try it out first

Some major games disappeared once the beta ended • Four-hour “premium” play window might be too small for some

GeForce Now is a cheap game streaming service that works with your personal library and can be tried for free.

12. GeForce Now

GeForce Now brings game streaming to everyone with reasonable subscription pricing and a free option, but you have to supply the games.

  • Monthly subscription:

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 $4.99/month you get priority access to streaming (more on that below), four 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.


GeForce Now is still so new that 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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