What are the Best Video Game Subscription Services?
Xbox Game Pass is a subscription service like no other. I’ve subscribed to many different games services—Twitch, Humble Choice, and PlayStation Now, to name a few. Growing up, I even subscribed to Love Film, a UK-based DVD-by-mail service that was acquired by Amazon in 2011. The service was definitely in that awkward transition from Blockbuster to digital streaming. However, now that we have made the transition, video game subscription services have become a reliable way to experience big-budget titles at a fraction of the asking price.
Yet, with so many different types of video game subscription services, which one is right for you? Or, perhaps more importantly, which is the most cost-efficient? As a student living day to day, I don’t have time nor money to dish out on so many different services. So I did some research and turned it into this article. Hopefully it saves you time and energy deciding which subscription, if any, is good for you.
With so many different types of services, we’ll be focusing on the most popular ones today. I’ve whittled the list down to five selections:
- Xbox Game Pass
- PlayStation Now
- Humble Bundle
- EA Access
Let’s dive in.
Xbox Game Pass
Starting with Xbox Game Pass, we have a steal of a deal at $1 for the first month. From there, the price reverts to a monthly fee of $9.99 on Xbox, $4.99 on PC, or $14.99 for Game Pass Ultimate. The latter option bundles the Xbox and PC subscriptions, throwing in Xbox Live Gold on top of it.
The initial price is a great way to introduce people to the service, as I’m sure it’s pocket change for most people. At that price point, you might expect the Microsoft service to be extremely limited in the games it offers. Yet, week after week, brand new AAA games are introduced to the platform with very few ever leaving. I started this service when The Outer Worlds was added to the platform the same week as its release, meaning I could play a $60 game for a buck. It was a steal, and honestly Game Pass has yet to make the service impractical to keep.
While the drawbacks of the service are few and far between, they’re still there. Though admittedly rare, games do cycle out; having a subscription does not guarantee permanent access to them. Some games may be on the service for years, while others are available only for a matter of months. To counteract this issue, Game Pass titles typically offer a discount for subscribers looking to buy to own. Microsoft also tends to give advanced notice when games are leaving.
If you love playing most game releases but don’t have the money to keep up with them, Game Pass is a great way to experience this year’s AAA games at a relatively low price. As an example, here’s a list of games currently on Game Pass that I recommend:
- Sea of Thieves
- Gears 5
- Forza Horizon 4
- Halo: The Master Chief Collection
- The Outer Worlds
- State of Decay 2
- ARK: Survival Evolved
- Metro Exodus
This small list of what Game Pass has to offer has a total MSRP of $379.92, which is a huge investment for eight games. As for how much you’d save using the subscription: At $9.99 per month, it’ll take around 40 months or three years to pay what it’d cost to straight up buy each of these releases. As a student, these price savings are certainly welcome.
Yes, some games will leave, but more are always on their way. Here’s what has come to Game Pass just in May 2020:
- Red Dead Redemption 2
- Final Fantasy IX
- Alan Wake
- Cities Skylines
- Minecraft Dungeons
Personally, I’m extremely excited to finally experience Final Fantasy IX.
Next on the list is Twitch Prime. This service is included with an Amazon Prime subscription, so it’s not just a gaming subscription, which is important to keep in mind.
The price for Amazon Prime is $12.99 a month, or $119 a year, which is more expensive than Xbox Game Pass. However, Twitch Prime has its own unique selling point—exclusive in-game items and bonuses. By playing certain games, such as League of Legends, Warframe, or Dauntless, you’ll earn exclusive Twitch packs. By redeeming these packs, you’ll receive cosmetics and add-ons you can’t get anywhere else.
Twitch Prime also provides free games every month. And unlike Xbox Game Pass, these games are yours to keep, even if you cancel your subscription. However, don’t expect the same sort of AAA titles you might receive on Microsoft’s service. You’ll typically receive older or even retro games, the majority of which are indies.
If the price is too high for Twitch Prime, you could always split the subscription with someone who uses Amazon a lot and would benefit from Prime. Although, if you’re a student, you can get a pretty sizable discount on the service. Right now, with the student discount, I’m paying $6.49 a month, or $59 a year. That’s less than Game Pass, and a steal if you want game packs and free indie games. Free two-day shipping on Amazon is a nice bonus, too.
Right now, the games offered on Twitch Prime are:
- Anna’s Quest
- Avicii Invector
- Fractured Minds
- Snake Pass
- The Last Tinker: City of Colors
- The Little Acre
- Urban Trial Playground
There are a lot of games here, but like I said, don’t expect the same quality of games as rival subscription services. Also, if you have a favorite streamer, you can subscribe to them for free every month, which is a nice added bonus.
In conclusion, I’d only recommend Twitch Prime to those who A) use Amazon a lot, B) are students, or C) can split the price with someone who wants to use Amazon Prime for books, movies, or other services.
Next up, we have PlayStation Now. Not only does the service offer a huge game library to subscribers, but it does so by streaming straight to your device, a la Netflix. Unfortunately, it’s a huge letdown.
I’ve always wanted to go back and play my PlayStation 3, but I didn’t want to plug everything back in and buy more games to clutter my room. I thought PS Now would solve that for me. Instead, it created an even bigger headache than if I just hooked up my old console.
Looking through the library, I found Legends of Kay, a small PS2 title that made its way onto the PS3 as a remaster, and later the PS4. This game was my childhood and will forever be ingrained in me. (This is rather unfortunate: Looking back, it’s hard to forgive the game’s glaring racism toward eastern culture. Just listen to some of the voice acting, and you’ll realize how far gaming has come.)
Launching the game, I knew something was off. Despite having a smooth frame rate on PS2, the game fluctuated wildly on PS Now. Then, I pressed jump. An entire second passed before the game registered what had happened. That’s when it hit me: PS Now was going to cause far more pain than ease.
While the library is extensive, housing 650+ games across PS2, PS3, and PS4, the lack of effort given to the technology is hard to ignore. Even with great internet, you’ll likely experience some of the issues I struggled with. As if the input delay and frame lags weren’t bad enough, frames per second are directly linked to your internet connection. This means the already-low 30 FPS of most games on the service will average more like 20-25 FPS.
As a service, PS Now is simply something I can’t recommend to anyone looking to play their childhood games. Its monthly price of $9.99 a month—down from a laughable $19.99—is hardly worth the investment, given the tech constraints. Within 10 months of saving that money, you could buy a PS3 system and a few cheap games.
Granted, PS Now has come a long way since it first launched. You now have the option of downloading PS4 and PS2 games. (Though PS3 games remain stream-only, perhaps due to technical limitations.) Throw in the recent pricing change, and it’s clear Sony wants to compete more directly with Xbox Game Pass. Your mileage may vary, but for me, saving up was honestly the only option here.
What’s better than receiving a boatload of games every month? How about helping charities alongside it?
That is exactly what Humble Choice (previously Humble Bundle Monthly) does. Each month, the service presents a collection of 10+ PC games. Subscribers may then pick up to nine titles they would like to add to their library. Even better, 5% of your subscription cost goes to charity.
As the name suggests, Humble Choice provides a certain level of freedom that other services lack. It helps that you can feel good about where your money is going. (Humble rotates charities each month, and is transparent about where each dollar is going.)
Also, just like Twitch Prime, these titles are yours to keep forever. However, if there’s one drawback to the service, it’s that the games provided by Humble aren’t always available on the same launcher. While most games are redeemable via Steam, others may only be available on services like Origin, GOG, or Epic Games Store. For those who enjoy having all their games in one place, this means your library will essentially be split up.
I’ve come to learn that for some people, this is a really big issue. But if, like me, you can look past the inconvenience, then Humble Choice is an amazing platform that supports good causes while also providing a great selection of games each month.
This past month, Humble Choice offered its subscribers:
- Jurassic World Evolution
- XCOM 2 (+ DLC)
- Rise of Industry
- Niche: A Genetics Survival Game
- Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War
- The Swords of Ditto
- Heave Ho
- MO: Astray
- Chess Ultra
Luckily, all these games are on Steam. And while some are fairly unheard of, the two headliners—Jurassic World Evolution and XCOM 2—are worth the sub by themselves.
The cost of Humble Choice depends on how many games you’d like to select per month. For $14.99 a month, you can choose three games per month, whereas for $19.99, you get to choose nine titles. (You can save 25% on either tier with an annual subscription.)
Most gamers would recommend the $14.99 tier, as it’s the cheaper of the two, and Humble typically has one to three headliners each month. In other words, if you don’t care about picking up the smaller titles, you shouldn’t pay for the higher tier.
For example, this month’s Choice is worth $23.98 for just Jurassic World and XCOM alone. And that doesn’t include the value you’re adding for whatever third game you get.
Humble Choice also offers a growing catalog of games known as the Humble Trove. These games are DRM-free, meaning you can download and play them without need to verify a license. In other words, they live independently from services from Steam, and are yours to keep forever. You just download the file, and you’re good to go.
As of writing, there are more than 90 titles in the Trove library, with more scheduled to arrive each month. The library is available to all Humble Choice subscription tiers. (There’s also a “Lite” tier. For $4.99 a month, you gain access to the Trove, but nothing else. Since you can download all 90 Trove games upon subscribing, you’re better off either paying the five bucks once, or sticking with one of the higher tiers.)
Is Humble Choice for everyone? Not necessarily. The service is extremely dependent on what’s offered month to month, and charges more than Xbox Game Pass or PlayStation Now. But if you have the extra money, and value the aspect of choosing your own games each month, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better bargain.
EA Access is unlike the other subscription services on this list, as it’s entirely focused on games published by Electronic Arts. So if you’re not a big fan of EA Sports or multiplayer shooters, you likely won’t be needing this subscription.
I’m not a big sports fan, either in the virtual or real world. But I can see the appeal of spending just $4.99 a month to avoid the annual $59.99 price tag of a FIFA, Madden, or NHL entry. Think of it this way: If you plan on playing one of these titles every year, you’re basically breaking even. And since people rarely return to older sports titles, you save shelf space, plus the hassle of trying to trade it into a retailer for two bucks.
At least, that’s what you would think. Unfortunately, EA Access operates quite differently than a service like Xbox Game Pass. With Game Pass, users gain access to first-party Xbox titles upon release (Gears 5 even launched early). But with EA Access, users may have to wait upwards of half a year to see a sports title enter the catalog.
Case in point? FIFA 2020 launched in September 2019. The game only arrived on EA Access in May 2020. That is, unless you are an Origin subscriber. Then you would have had full access to the game back in September. But only if you subscribe to Origin Premier, not Origin Basic. And either way, neither of these options are available to console owners—only EA Access…
Confused yet? I certainly was.
To put it simply, EA Access lets PS4 and XB1 owners play legacy EA titles for $4.99 a month or $29.99 a year. They can also play 10-hour trials of upcoming releases, but must then pay for the full game if they wish to continue. Origin Access Basic offers a similar service at the same price point, only for PC gamers.
However, for $14.99 a month, or $99.99 a year, you can subscribe to Origin Access Premier. This option is the one you want if you’re looking to play EA games day and date with their release. You’ll also get access to the Apex Legends season pass, along with in-game loot for other titles. However, as of writing, this tier is only available to PC users.
So, where does that leave you? If you use the Origin client, $99.99 a year may be worth it if you plan on playing at least two EA games a year. And if you’re a console gamer, well… stands to reason you might elect to skip this one unless EA makes changes to how it rolls out titles to the platform.
Wrap-Up: Are Video Game Subscription Services Worth It?
On the whole, video game subscription services have really blown me away. Not only are they easy to grasp, but they’re simple to set up and are relatively cost-effective. Many of them even give you games to keep, albeit at a premium.
In cases like Xbox Game Pass or PlayStation Now, I understand the issues of not “owning” a game like if you bought it through the Xbox Store or PlayStation Network. But, when you think about it, you don’t really own anything you buy through digital marketplaces. All you’re paying for is the license to use it. Which is a whole other can of worms—and an article for another day.
Best Video Game Subscription Services, Ranked
So, overall, how would I rank these video game subscription services?
At number one, I have Xbox Game Pass. This is the only service I would encourage every gamer to get. It’s a fantastic value. Regardless of whether you own an Xbox or a PC, you’re getting some great bang for your buck. And with more Xbox Game Studios titles on the horizon (especially as we head into next gen), there’s plenty of additional value to come. Expect more on Xbox Game Pass in future articles.
My follow-up choice would be Humble Choice. While it’s a solid service, it’s on the pricier side. (In fact, the only reason I have it as high as I do to because some of the proceeds go to charity.) If you have the money for it, the amount you save is huge, especially since you keep the games. But if you don’t like the games offered, then this will feel like a huge amount of money to throw toward the two to three AAA available each month.
Third place goes to EA Access (specifically Origin Premier), simply because it offers a lot of value for fans of EA games. While you won’t see me giving EA a dime personally, the service is a decent choice for those who will invest a lot of time into the annual FIFA and Battlefield releases.
In fourth, we have Twitch Prime. When you compare the cost to the games you get each month, the service simply isn’t worth the price of admission. (That is, unless you’re a student or splitting the price with an Amazon user.) While Amazon Prime is amazing as a whole package, if you want just games, then the service becomes the second-least cost-effective of the bunch.
The honor of least cost-effective service goes to PlayStation Now. While I recognize the service may have improved in recent months, based on my experience, I simply can’t recommend it. When the service barely works, any benefits become irrelevant, leaving you with just the costs. I’d love to be proven wrong, but as far as I see it, stick to Game Pass.
Bonus: Epic Games Store
This isn’t a subscription service, per se, but I wanted to give a quick shout-out to Epic Games. If you’re looking for value with little to no downside, Epic is providing free games every month to build users for its desktop client.
In May alone, Epic has provided the following games, completely free:
- Death Coming
- Grand Theft Auto V
- Civilization VI
- Borderlands: The Handsome Collection
- Sludge Life
Those are some big titles! All you need to do is have an Epic Games account. (If you’ve played a match of Fortnite in your life, you probably have one.)
Which of these video game subscription services is your favorite? Share your thoughts in the comments below.