*** UPDATED 1/22/21 DUE TO MICROSOFT XBOX GOLD PRICE INCREASE***
2020 console gaming was a dice roll – there’s plenty of folks that were eyeing one of the many flavors of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S but weren’t able to procure one because of the ridiculous skew of traditional supply and demand theory. We here think that scalpers should be challenged to console by combat Game of Thrones style because it’s a gross mechanism that makes the rich richer and crippled families during the holiday, but that’s another story for another time.
Bottom line is that in addition to the consoles they (thankfully) both amped up their subscriptions services, and we have some options to still have the ability to get our hands on the exclusives we want and next-gen gameplay. This is also pretty important for folks that opted for the digital-only Xbox Series S or PlayStation 5 Digital, since you’ve chosen to eliminate a physical game library.
But the thing is there are just so many to choose from, and we’ve been getting some questions from our fair gaming public. So to hopefully answer some of them, we’ve put together a handy guide that breaks it down for you a bit better.
On the PlayStation Side:
- Requirements: PS4 / PS5 Console
- Price: $9.99 for 1 month, $24.99 for 3 months, $59.99 for 12 months
PlayStation Plus is Sony’s service that allows online multiplayer with your friends and frenemies. While that wouldn’t be a huge thing on it own, Sony also throws you a couple couple of games every month as long as your subscription is active. This isn’t just access for the month – they’re permanent adds to your library. For example, January 2021 gives subscribers Shadow of the Tomb Raider and GreedFall. December 2020 had Just Cause 4, Rocket Arena, and Worms Rumble.
If you were one of the lucky ones that got your hand on a PS5, a PS Plus subscription also nets you a bonus called the “PlayStation Plus Collection.” These are 20 of what Sony calls genre-defining games – and with titles like God of War, Final Fantasy XV, and Uncharted 4 plus many more, it’s a great additional value.
- Requirements: PS4 / PS5 Console or PC, reliable broadband internet service
- PC Specs: Intel i3 3.5GHz or better, NVIDIA GeForce 730 or equivalent, 300MB space, 2GB memory
- Price: $9.99 for 1 month, $24.99 for 3 months, $59.99 for 12 months
- PlayStation Plus for online multiplayer
The short description of PlayStation Now is pretty much the Netflix of PlayStation. A subscription to this service allows streaming access to over 800 PS2/3/4 or Windows PC games, with rotating titles every month. If streaming’s not where you feel like you need to be, there’s also a library of over 300 games you can download to play. Click here to check out the game list.
What’s nice about this services is that you do not need a PS console to access the game libraries. Members can download the PS Now app for Windows, giving players the same access to their library, with download and streaming options. PlayStation claims the system specs are an i3 with 300MB of free storage since most of the power is going to be in the strength of your broadband for streaming.
Our recommendation on the Sony side: If you definitely are going to play multiplayer on console, but don’t play through a large games library with focused interests. PS Plus is going to be your pick. You’ll still get two free games per month to expand your library, but breadth of games isn’t your top concern.
If you want all of the new hotness on console or PC but aren’t going to be playing online, PS Now is going to be your best bet.
To get both, you’ll need both PS Now and PS Plus, which will come down to $19.98 for 1 month, $49.98 for 3 months, or $119.98 for 12 months of both services.
And now, from Microsoft:
- Requirements: Xbox Console
- Price: Free
For those that remember their One, 360, and original Xbox consoles, this is what used to be called Xbox Live Silver. Xbox Live is simply what their online platform is called, with the non-paid edition letting you make your online profile with avatar as well as connect and communicate with your friends list. This is the most basic of basic service, and while it lets you send messages and communicate, you cannot play online multiplayer games unless you shell out some bucks.
Xbox Live Gold
- Requirements: Xbox Console, Xbox Console with Game Pass for Console subscription
- Price: $10.99 for 1 month, $29.99 for 3 months, $59.99 for 6 months ($119.98 per year) *** UPDATED 1/21/20 ***
This is the paid upgrade to Xbox Live that allows you to play multiplayer games over the Xbox Live network. But as you’ll see as we move on, its relationship with other Xbox subscription becomes a bit complicated. If you subscribe to Xbox Game Pass for Console, you need to have an Xbox Live Gold subscription to be able to play those Game Pass games in online multiplayer. If you have an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription, Live Gold is already included in that package. For Game Pass for PC, you do not need Xbox Live Gold to play those games online in multiplayer mode. Granted, there have been some rumors about this service being phased out, but we have yet to see anything concrete on that front. *** UPDATE: As of 1/22/21, the prices for Xbox Live Gold have been increased and are reflected in the current text ***
You follow so far?
Like Sony’s PlayStation Plus program, Xbox Live Gold also gives you some free games per month as their Games with Gold perk. For January 2021 we’re looking at Little Nightmares, The King of Fighters XIII, Breakdown, and Dead Rising. Their December 2020 list was The Raven Remastered, Bleed 2, Saints Row: Gat out of Hell, and Stacking.
With that, let’s get into their different tiers of Game Pass:
- Requirements: Xbox Console, Xbox Live Gold for online multiplayer
- Price: $9.99/month
Xbox Game Pass Console, is the first tier of service for those with an Xbox console. Game Pass offers access to over 100 console titles with rotations in the list happening monthly. Again, for a basic analogy, like Netflix for Xbox. This includes exclusive titles from Xbox Game Studios the same day they release for retail sale, as well as member discounts and deals. You can check out the games list here.
Xbox Game Pass for PC
- Requirements: Windows 10 PC (Windows 10 in S Mode or ARM editions not supported)
- Minimum Intel i5-8300H or equivalent, 8GB memory, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 or equivalent
- Price: $9.99/month
Like we said up top, depending on what you like to play, you may not even need a console to get your Xbox fix. Game Pass for PC provides the same games and perks as Xbox Game Pass for Console with a bit of an upgrade – starting this year it will include EA Play on PC, bringing an additional library of games for PC from Electronic Arts. Unlike Game Pass for Console however, this service doesn’t require Xbox Live Gold to play online multiplayer.
Xbox Games Pass Ultimate
- Requirements: Xbox Console and/or Windows 10 PC, and/or Android mobile device
- Price: $14.99/month
Ultimate is the top tier of the Xbox Game Pass family, and includes all of the features of Console and PC with some added features. As a combination of the two previous plans, Ultimate allows access to the Game Pass library of games on both your Xbox console as well as a Windows 10 PC. This includes same-day access to Xbox Game Studios exclusives and access to the EA Play library. In addition to that, Ultimate includes Xbox Live Gold as part of your $14.99/month, saving you the $9.99 a year by not having to pick it up as a separate subscription to be able use online multiplayer capabilities as well as providing the monthly Games with Gold.
For me the real value of this deal is the ability to access the Xbox Game Pass library on your Android device on the go. This is made possible with Xbox Cloud Gaming (xCloud technology) so you can stream games wherever you can pick up signal. You can use an Xbox Series X|S controller, but we’ve found Razer’s Kishi controller to be a much more compact and clean solution for your Android-based gaming (you can check out our Kishi review here).
Our recommendation on the Xbox side: If you have a console and have no intention of online multiplayer, grab Game Pass for Console for $9.99/month ($119.88 per year). If you want online multiplayer on console, save yourself the money and just go with Game Pass Ultimate. At $14.99/month, you’re looking at $179.88 per year, as opposed to paying $239.86 by combining a Game Pass subscription with Xbox Live Gold (assuming you buy 6-month subs of Gold for the discount – this will go up if you pay monthly or quarterly).
If you live in PC Land without a console, and don’t need Android gaming, Xbox Game Pass for PC is your subscription for $9.99/month ($119.88 per year).
And of course if you want to play on Android, you really have to go with the Ultimate ($179.88 per year).
We hope this helps you parse all of the subscription services available and make a better decision for what’s best for your gaming style. Like we said, there a number of combinations for these services to either augment your current console gaming setup, or for allowing you to use your PC.
Good luck getting your hands on that console you want in 2021, and happy gaming.