There was a time when Netflix completely dominated as the one and only video service you needed, but as time has passed by, a number of other players have challenged Netflix's dominance with their own exclusives and special deals.
Something similar is happening in the video game subscription market, but unlike Netflix, which had an early mover's advantage, there is no such player in the video game subscription space. Today, we've got a plethora of video game subscription and streaming services, each with its own merits and demerits. This guide will help you to choose the best video game subscription service for your need in 2021.
Before we dive into all the video games, you need to understand the two different types of video game subscriptions currently available.
1. Publisher Subscriptions
Publisher Subscriptions are basically video game subscription services from a specific publisher, hosting all (or nearly all) the titles of the publisher. EA Play and Ubisoft Plus are good examples of publisher subscriptions.
We'll not be discussing these types of subscription services here because we think they're simply not worth your money. EA Play's entire catalogue is available on Xbox Gamepass, while Ubisoft's subscription is simply not a good deal at the moment.
2. Non-Publisher Subscriptions
Non-Publisher Subscriptions are basically video game subscription services that host video games from a variety of publishers. Think about Xbox Gamepass, Amazon Luna or Google Stadia.
Now let's take a look at all the video game subscription services that you can buy in 2021 and the best ones for your needs.
Platforms: Windows PCs, Xbox Consoles, and Android smartphones and tablets (mobile only for cloud gaming)
Cost: $10 for Standard, $15 for Ultimate
Xbox Gamepass is hands down the best video game subscription service in 2021. Gamepass boasts thousands of new titles in its catalogue. There was a time when Xbox Gamepass was just good enough for indie games, but in 2021, it contains a ton of both indie and AAA games.
The way it works is that you pay a monthly subscription fee, which unlocks a huge catalogue of games. You'll have to locally download all the games and you lose access to them when your subscription expires. But don't worry, your progress will be saved and you can pick up the game exactly where you left it when you resubscribe.
You can opt for either a PC or a console subscription, both of which are priced at $10, or you can opt for an Ultimate subscription for $15 which you can then use on your Xbox as well as PC. The Ultimate Subscription also includes Xbox Gold, which is required to play multiplayer games on the console, as well as EA Play's complete catalogue.
If you have a console or a console as well as a PC, we'd strongly urge you to opt for Ultimate. If you're just playing on a PC, then the $10 PC subscription is equally fine. There's also a cloud play feature that allows you to stream a few selected titles on your Android devices, but that's still in its infant stages.
PS Now & PS+
Platforms: PlayStation Consoles (PS+) and PC (PS Now)
Cost: $60 per year
Taking a look at Sony's subscription models, first, you've got the Playstation Plus on Playstation consoles that give you access to multiplayer as well as two free games every month. Then there is PS Now, which can be availed on PC to access more than 800 games on-demand.
While PS Now proudly boasts the marketing tag line "PS Exclusives on PC," you're not going to find God of War 2018, Spider-Man or Ghost of Tsushima here. The PS Exclusives that Sony is packing with PS Now are from the PS2 era, which makes the actual selection of PS Exclusives quite limited. On top of that, Sony doesn't seem to care about PS Now as much as Microsoft cares for Gamepass. If you're on PC, we'd advise you to stay away from PC Now, but if you've got a PlayStation, then a PS+ is essential.
Nintendo Switch Online
Cost: $3.99/ month; $35/ year for families with up to 8 accounts
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Nintendo is playing in a league of its own, unaffected by its console rivals when it comes to subscription services. Nintendo Switch Online is the cheapest video game subscription service on this list, and rightfully so. For $4 a month, you get access to some odd 90 NES and SNES classic titles, as well as the ability to play online multiplayer on Switch.
The offer isn't really alluring in terms of titles. However, online capabilities and the low price, especially if you buy an annual family subscription, almost justify Nintendo Switch Online.
Cost: $5 per month
Platforms: Apple TV, iPad, iPhone, Mac
Apple Arcade is the best video game subscription for non-gamers. "But why would a non-gamer ever need a gaming subscription?" I hear you say. Well, let me put it this way. Apple Arcade allows you to play over 100 casual games without any ads or in-app purchases on iPad, iPhone, Mac and Apple TV.
You won't find titles like DOOM, FIFA, Yakuza or anything that's even slightly demanding. All you've got is a healthy selection of games to crank up when your non-gamer mates are over.
Platforms: PCs, Smartphones, Tablets, TVs, Samsung Smart Fridges
Cost: Free or $10 per month, Games need to be purchased separately
Google Stadia can be hailed as the OG of video game subscription services, but it's not really a video game subscription service at its core.
Basically, it's an online rental computation service dedicated to a video game. In simple words, Google Stadia aims to replace your console or PC and runs the games on Google's server. There are some free titles with several noticeable titles, such as Sniper Eliter 4, on the pro tier. However, you'll have to buy most of the AAA titles on Stadia, such as Cyberpunk 2077. While you have to buy most of the games you wish to play, you'll always own them even if your Stadia pro subscription expires, or if you never bought it in the first place.
Cloud Streaming may be the future of gaming, but it's currently in its infant stages. Stadia demands a stable connection of 10 Mbps to play any game but coming from my personal experience, you need at least 80 Mbps to play games at a 4K resolution. You can not expect to play Cyberpunk 2077 on Stadia during your daily commute on the bus.
All in all, Stadia is a unique subscription service model. While on one hand, you don't have to pay any subscription fees, you have to buy games and make are you have a solid internet connection.
If you've got an Xbox or a PC, then Xbox Gamepass is the best video game subscription service you can buy in 2021. A huge selection of games, easy on-boarding and affordable pricing makes it a great deal. It's the true 'Netflix of Video Games.' You pay once and have complete access to the library until your subscription expires.
If you're not on Xbox or PC, then pray that Sony and other platforms allow Microsoft to run Gamepass on their platforms (yeah right!). On a serious note though, you'll have to get PS+ and Nintendo Switch Online to play multiplayer games, the extra games are just an added benefit.
Apart from that, I personally do not see the point of buying any other video game subscription service. PS Now is neglected by Sony. Apple Arcade does not feature any overtly special titles at the moment. You can find fabulous casual titles on Apple's App Store, most of which are free and even the paid ones are a better deal than $5 per month.
I also admit that I have certain prejudices against cloud gaming, but that bias comes from experience. Stadia is amazing when it works but it's only reliable as long as you've got a stable and ultra-fast broadband connection. Luna, Stadia's competitor by Amazon, looks promising but it's currently only available in the United States, so I haven't had the chance to try it out.
I do look forward to a future where gaming is not bound by demanding hardware but until that time, Xbox Gamepass is the best video game subscription service out there.