Subscription services are becoming as integral to your console as HDMI cables. Heading into 2023, which offers the best bang for your buck?
What started out as an optional service for a handful of games with online multiplayer has become a staple of the console gaming experience. Suppose you just received your first Switch, Xbox, or PlayStation. In that case, you might not consider it fully operational until you’ve enlisted in one of its associated subscription services, often enabling access to online play.
As they become essential, however, these platforms have also been sweetening the pot to make their nigh-mandatory fees worthwhile. As we enter a new year, here are our picks for the best gaming subscription services for your entertainment dollars.
5) Apple Arcade
The “big three” console services aren’t the only game in town. If you use an iPhone (or iPad), Apple Arcade might be just what you need to enhance your downtime away from home. Bountiful trial offers aside—like those included when you buy a new iPhone or select mobile peripherals—can give you a taste of what Apple’s subscription service has to offer for $6 a month.
From original exclusives like Fantasian, the latest offering from Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, to PlatinumGames’s World of Demons, there’s some unique experiences on offer from big names in the industry. Even better, these exclusives can be played on Apple TV, if you’re fully invested in Apple’s ecosystem. Otherwise the majority of its content is more standard mobile fare, specifically upgraded versions of classics like Cut the Rope Remastered, and other smaller, simple titles you might pay for individually on other systems’ storefronts.
It may not have the blockbuster titles of other services, but its low price and seamless integration between Apple platforms makes it worth a look.
4) Fortnite Crew
Season passes are becoming an industry standard, thanks in large part to free-to-play games like Fortnite, but some are going an extra mile to help enrich the biggest fans’ experience. Fortnite Crew is an additional service beyond the seasonal Battle Passes which, for $16/month, gives players some top-tier rewards for their dedication.
Each month members receive a new and exclusive skin, unobtainable elsewhere. These come with loading screens, coordinated accessories, and, sometimes, additional style options. Membership allows grants the current Season Pass and 1000 V-Bucks each month; if you own the pass already, you’ll be refunded 950 V-Bucks, and the most essential item to spend that currency on will already be taken care of. The last component is an evolving cosmetic set that gradually expands the longer you remain a member.
1000 V-Bucks is worth about $14 CAD, and a Season Pass costs 950, so this game-specific subscription service is worth double its weight in gold for this alone—at least, when a new season drops, and you need to get into the new pass. Adding the evolving pickaxe (like the new Photonic Legacy set) and the monthly skin makes it an even better value, assuming you’re interested in that skin; best-case scenario, you can always cancel for a month or two if a new skin is unappealing, or you don’t feel the permanent benefits are worth it.
3) Xbox Game Pass
Microsoft paved the path to this future when they instituted Xbox Live, and they’ve only doubled down since the subscription service became a “Netflix-for-games” in recent years. It boasts over 300 games with more added each month for a fairly standard $17/month fee, and Microsoft has secured deals to bring many new games to its library on the same day they release. If for some reason, you only want access to online multiplayer, Xbox Live Gold is still an option too, at a discounted rate.
Game Pass can be a great tool for parents—$17/month to let kids dabble in the variety of options available on the catalogue is much cheaper than taking a risk on a $80 game they might not like or play for very long. Game Pass Ultimate also includes access to PC games, ideal for those with both a Series X and a gaming PC (or even a modest laptop for older games). While I have my reservations with building an entire platform on borrowing games exclusively, the original gaming subscription service is undoubtedly a titan in the industry.
2) Nintendo Switch Online
Nintendo has always been behind the times when it comes to online functionality, but in the case of Nintendo Switch Online, this actually worked out in players’ favour somewhat. Switch Online is cheaper by far than its competitors’ subscription services—only $5/month CAD for a single account or a year for $25. This can be expanded with family plan options for more accounts or the literal Expansion Pass plan, which jumps to $100 CAD for a year of the family plan while granting access to several DLC packs for core Switch titles.
Membership unlocks the subscription service’s catalogues of essential NES and SNES titles (plus N64 and Sega Genesis for Expansion Pass members), including almost every Nintendo-made staple on those platforms. I could go on a tangent about what this library is missing and how it pales to the Wii U’s Virtual Console, but what’s here still packs a ton of nostalgia for anyone who lived in the nineties. Better still, the titles have been subtly updated with features like online multiplayer, and there are exclusive experiences like the battle royale Tetris 99 and (sadly, shortlived) Mario 35.
The price point alone makes Switch Online one of the strongest options among gaming subscription services—still mandatory for online play, but the most affordable of the Big Three, and with some bonus perks thrown in for members.
1) PlayStation Plus
Sony followed in Xbox Live’s wake with their Plus service, and for a long time it didn’t change its MO. Plus grants access to online multiplayer features, and each month 2-4 new, full games are available, allowing members to add them to their library and play them so long as they‘re subscribed.
In 2022, however, the subscription service expanded with two new tiers of membership that make it a direct competitor for Game Pass. The old system, now known as Essential, costs $12/month. The new Extra level, at $18/month, is a direct competitor for Game Pass—offering hundreds of PS4 and PS5 games for a dollar more than Microsoft. PlayStation Plus Premium goes one step further, adding another set of “up to 340 additional games” from previous generations, cloud streaming access for Extra titles, and timed trials for other games. It caps out at $22/month.
It’s a little more expensive than Game Pass, but the new PlayStation Plus tiers feel more curated than Xbox’s offering. Unlike its direct competition, games are not removed from the subscription service’s library regularly. And with three price points (each offered monthly, quarterly, and yearly), players are able to customize their Plus experience to their tastes and budget. The base level gives free games to own digitally (with a small caveat) as a bonus instead of driving PlayStation owners to only “rent” games from their service.
Of course, at the end of the day, you’re essentially required to partake in whatever subscription service your game console of choice utilizes; they could all do better, but all three make it worth your while in the end. In a way, it’s nice to know that in our modern age your console (or phone, or even your favourite online game) can be enriched as a luxury, if you feel like investing a few more dollars into it each month.