Console Gaming Subscription Services: Which Are Worth It?

man with tablet pc and credit card at home. Photo: dolgachov (Getty).

In today’s world, we have plenty of subscription services to give us the entertainment we all desire. This even goes for current-generation console gaming. Much like video streaming services for television, we have options when it comes to getting our gaming content. Whether you’re an Xbox fanboy, a Playstation enthusiast or a die-hard Nintendo supporter, there’s something for everyone. But which gaming subscription services are actually worth shelling out the extra quarters for? Here’s our take!

1. Xbox Live Gold

Price: $9.99 / month | $24.99 for 3 months | $59.99 for a year

Let’s start with the service that brought online multiplayer to consoles in a big way. Xbox Live pioneered gaming online on consoles with your friends (or against them) via a glorious internet connection. It’s a social playground, really. And boy, has it grown. Xbox Live is now home to all the major video streaming apps (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO, Showtime, FX, etc.) that we look to for our bingeworthy programming. You’ve also got a slew of other apps to download for free, like Pandora Radio, YouTube, VUDU movies and Skype. Even better, if you’re just looking to watch videos this way or buy games and apps through the Xbox Store, the price of admission is free! However, we suggest paying the price for Xbox Live Gold, since it caters more to the gamer. You’re using a gaming console, after all. With Gold, you’ll be able to hop into online multiplayer, record and edit gameplay clips, and access key features like Games With Gold and Deals With Gold that aim to reward the gamer’s commitment. Games With Gold gives you four free games a month with your Gold subscription. That’s 48 “free” games a year! Okay, technically they’re not free if you count your Live membership fee, but that’s still a great haul. Then, you also have Deals With Gold which is well…deals on digital games. Xbox has even made a commitment to bringing their older games from previous generations — 360 and soon-to-come OG Xbox — to the new console via backwards compatibility. And the fanboy crowd goes wild!

Verdict: Yes. A must for Xbox gamers. Playing online or not, key features support the argument, and with four free games per month, my gaming library has grown immensely through Games with Gold alone.

2. Playstation Plus

Price: $9.99 / month | $24.99 for 3 months | $59.99 for a year

Might as well copy paste everything from above and put Playstation instead of Xbox. Well, ALMOST everything. Yes, Playstation Plus is Sony’s answer to Xbox Live. It gives you a lot of the same features. Play online with your friends, get free games every month, and score some exclusive deals and discounts along the way. It even has access to all of the apps you love and enjoy. Like Xbox Live, Playstation offers a free option if you’re not looking to play online at all, but still want to enjoy the apps and games that don’t require an online connection. One thing it doesn’t have that Xbox Live does is backwards compatibility. But they’ve tried making up for that, and we’ll get to how a little later. PS Plus also gives you six free games a month as opposed to Xbox’s four. The catch here is that they give out two games per platform, the platforms being PS4, PS3 and PSVita. So yeah, it rewards you for sticking with their brand for sure, but without backwards compatibility, most of these games (other than some indies) can only be played on their respective platform. Still, for the Playstation loyalist, that’s 72 “free” games a year, and that’s really really awesome.

Verdict: Yes. Even if you don’t play online, this is a must for Playstation gamers for the content alone. An absolute must if you own a PS4, PS3 and a Vita.

3. Xbox Game Pass

Price: $9.99 / month

A recent addition to the Xbox family, Xbox Game Pass’ mission as a service is to give gamers a variety of games each month in a Netflix streaming service type style. Members can choose which games they’d like to play, download them to their console, play them through, and uninstall them the same day. And much like Netflix, Game Pass aims to shuffle titles in and out every month so there’s always something new to play. You can also save 20 percent on Xbox One game purchases and 10 percent on all related add-ons, but only while the base game is currently in the catalog. They’re even throwing in a free trial for Gold members to check out. If you have the time, that’s essentially a freebie game play-through if you are committed enough. Maybe even two or three. Since Blockbuster Videos have faded away, I’ve always been hopeful for a “try before you buy” type service for games. Game Pass appears to be trying for that, but in a Netflix way rather than me being able to select the titles I want to “rent.” Still, maybe this is one step closer to getting there. To someone looking to try more and more titles, this sounds like a great idea on paper. For the guy who is a more casual gamer and can barely get through his ever-growing library of games he’s bought or gotten free through Games With Gold (me), I’d say pass on doing this monthly. Unless there’s a slew of games one month that you haven’t played yet, and are waiting for a price drop on before finally buying, then yeah, go for it.

Verdict: 50/50. If you want more titles and have time to play everything, absolutely. If you don’t, debate it month to month and see what games pop up.

4. Playstation Now

Price: $9.99 1-month introductory offer (new members) | $19.99 / month | $99.99 / year

PS Now is Playstation’s version of Game Pass, with a Sony twist. It still shuffles in new games every month. You can play your games on your PS4, your Windows PC or even some Sony TV’s. Better yet, it contains 500+ PS4 and PS3 games for users to stream from their service. Some key words here already, the first being PS3. Remember earlier when we were saying Playstation wasn’t backwards compatible per say? This is their answer to that. Instead of being able to pop in your old PS3/PS2/PS discs and play your old discs from your PS4, you’ll have to use this service to boot up one of those games, if they have it of course. Another key word in the summary that people are talking about is “streaming” games from PS Now. As we all know, streaming content can have its ups and downs when it comes to video, so this idea has us a little skeptical. Xbox Game Pass has fewer titles to offer, but lets you download the games you wish to play so that there’s no issue. Still, this is a lot of games at your disposal. If more titles is what you want, then this is where you come to. You’ll have to pay a steep price though, but thankfully it also comes with a free 7-day trial if you’d like to try it out before committing.

Verdict: 50/50. If you want more titles and backwards compatible games, sure. But be aware that you’ll have to pay a steeper price to do so, and that’s not taking into account the whole “streaming” aspect.

Also: 7 Video Games The Nerd World Desperately Needs

5. EA Access

Price: $4.99/month | $29.99/year

This Xbox-only service caters to EA’s game library, and does it pretty well. It offers players discounts on all of their games if you’re wanting to purchase it digitally when it comes out. It also gives game trials for new titles soon to be releasing (fingers crossed for Star Wars Battlefront 2). And the crown jewel feature is The Vault, which is basically the free library for EA’s games. The only catch here is that the Vault only gets new games when they’ve been out for a year or so. So we have to wait, but hey, in the end they still end up free to download. At the launch of the service, I thought content was fairly light to justify paying a fee for it. But now? It’s hard to deny, that’s for sure. Blockbuster titles like Star Wars Battlefront, Titanfall 2, and Mirrors Edge have joined the ranks. Plus, now that backwards compatibility has grown for the Xbox, EA’s library could seemingly get huge overnight. We’ve already seen this with the famed Mass Effect series being added to the Vault. And, of course, when you think of EA, you think of sports. As someone who doesn’t like to buy sports games annually — since the features don’t change up drastically — this is the perfect option to get my Madden, NHL or FIFA fix. If you can handle playing the latest Madden title nearly a year after it’s been out, then you’ve come to the right place. Last but not least, let’s not forget that EA has the rights to Star Wars games right now; so beyond Battlefront, we’re due to get some more juicy titles in the coming years.

Verdict: Yes. The deals, the free games (both new and backwards compatible) and the game trials make this Xbox gamer happy. But, if you don’t like sports or Star Wars, then maybe not.

6. Nintendo Switch Online

Price: $4/month | $8/3-month | $20/year

Right now, the Nintendo Switch is fairly new, so its Online service is, too. And that’s a good thing, because that means it’s free. Until 2018, that is. Once that hits, Nintendo Switch joins the console fight in paid online services. At the moment, online gameplay is free for the Switch until the new service launches in 2018. With it, we’ll be getting to continue online play for games that offer it, and be offered an interesting way to use chat and lobbies systems as these key features won’t be available on the Switch itself. Users will instead have to use them through a smartphone app that Nintendo says will be launched this summer. Huh. So I need my smartphone too? Well, that’s… peculiar. Subscribers are also going to receive ongoing access to a library of classic games with added online play. This means we’ll be able to play classic games, including Super Mario Bros. 3Balloon Fight and Dr. Mario. Okay, okay, you have my attention now. Damn you, nostalgia. The classic game library will apparently only include NES games, since Super NES games are still being considered.

Verdict: No. Not yet, at least. I’m a sucker for the classic games, but how many times am I going to pay for these? A subscription just to play NES games hardly seems worth it. It’s a cheap sticker price, but the depth of online Switch games is also too small right now. Perhaps more ports being announced before launch, it could sway me. And let’s see how this whole smartphone app thing goes first…

7. GameFly

Price: One game out at a time $9.50 / 3-months ($15.95 the month after) | Two games out at a time $13.50 / 3-months ($22.95 the month after)

Gamefly — a.k.a. the disc source trying to stay relevant. This one’s a prime option for people who just don’t trust digital. My grandpa, for example. Gamefly takes the old Netflix approach in mailing you games, one or two at a time depending on the type of service you pay for. While this used to be a good option, now that the video store has left us without a decent rental option, the surge of Redbox’s holding games has negated the charm of Gamefly. Though I suppose there’s always the no late fees argument. To debunk that, other cons to Gamefly include extremely dated ones: encountering disc errors via scratches (remember that?), being sent the wrong disc (happened to me before), Gamefly not actually having the game you want to rent (but… but…) and ahh yes, the final stake in the heart, having to wait for them to come to you in the mail. The MAIL. Yes, they offer free shipping, but then you’re dealing with the postal worker, a missed address, etc. So along with the instantaneous results, the convenience is totally lost to us here. One pro is if you’re a disc lover, Gamefly sells their games at a discounted price, and with loyalty to the service in three-month increments, you get Gamefly Credits to spend on said games, But still, it sounds like a lot of needless work. Yes, the times they are a changin’.

Verdict: No. With all of the other options given on your actual console, dealing with the constant mail issues or disc errors seems avoidable. If you want an actual disc to play, it’s best to go to a Redbox. It’s faster that way, anyway.

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