A Primer on Video Game Subscription and Streaming Services
See which service is right for you.
The internet is a major part of our day-to-day lives, yet existence with the vast digital realm continues to be much like living in the Wild West. New options, new spaces, new ideas and new services seem to pop up on an almost daily basis. From the early days of email to the modern era of high-speed streaming, the internet is always evolving.
One of the most recent trends is the availability of video game subscription and streaming services. These give gamers the opportunity to access dozens (or even hundreds) of titles at any given time … usually for a fee. The games are streamed in real time, but some platforms also offer players the ability to download titles to their devices and continue to access them as long as they continue to subscribe. With a streaming service, one can theoretically play any game on any compatible device at any time — much like watching a TV show on Netflix® whenever you like via your phone, tablet or television.
We covered the pros and cons of discs versus game downloads in a previous posting, but there is much more to consider when discussing subscription and streaming services. In this article, we’ll describe the main features offered by several prime options. First, however, let’s start with some background.
THE EMERGENCE OF GAME STREAMING SERVICES
The first major video game streaming service was Google Stadia™, which was released in November of 2019. It offered gamers the chance to play anywhere via any device, dictated by Google’s servers. Ultimately, though, the venture failed to make the impact the company hoped, and was recently abandoned.
To date, no company has quite conquered the world of video game subscription and streaming services. Gamers, though, remain confident that one or more companies will eventually emerge as the leaders in the field, much like the most popular television and movie streaming services we have today. For now, though, internet speeds and limited controller compatibility are the main limiting factors. That said, let’s take a closer look at the main players in this arena.
Xbox™ Game Pass
This affordable service (packages start at just $9.99 a month) boasts a large library, which even includes titles from outside publishers. Subscribers can download both new and older games onto their Xbox One’s storage device, which means that, once the game is downloaded, even compromised internet speed is no longer a hindrance to gameplay. New games are made available immediately and the service is compatible with both Xbox consoles and personal computers. Soon, experts say, Game Pass users will be able to access and play these games seamlessly on cell phones and other devices as well.
Sony™ PlayStation® Now
Like Xbox Game Pass, this subscription service costs about $10 monthly and offers many legacy games that players will already have familiarity with due to Sony’s decades in the market. Subscribers can opt to stream or purchase games and they are compatible with PlayStation 4 (or higher) consoles and PCs. As with Game Pass, gamers can download titles onto their system, so they don’t have to rely on internet speeds for results.
The retail giant’s hat is officially in the ring. While this streaming service currently only offers fewer than a hundred games, it does offer some new titles and the “early access” price is just $5.99 a month. (Those interested in grabbing that deal will have to get an invitation to join.) While Luna has yet to gain much traction with gamers, that’s not to say Amazon won’t corner the market at some point in time.
So many of us have Apple devices in our pockets. That’s why it was a no-brainer for Apple to create a service for gamers that’s compatible with those mobile devices. With over a hundred titles from well-known publishers, this is an easy-to-use and popular (almost by default) option that allows users to play games easily on their iPhones® and iPads®.
NVIDIA GeForce Now
Unlike other services that have their own library, this one is BYOG: bring your own game. It’s not a content service; instead, users must purchase games through a digital store like Steam or Uplay. The catch is the super-high-speed internet connection required for gameplay. But GeForce’s cloud-based processors allow gamers to run the title on any device, no matter their specs (old computers welcome!) — and in addition to subscriptions that start at $49.99 for six months, there’s also a free option, albeit with session length limited to an hour.
Known for its retro gaming, this free streaming service is perfect for those players who never left the 1980s and its cherished arcades. Antstream offers a giant library of more than a thousand titles that can be played on your computer or on a smart TV equipped with an Amazon Fire Stick, NVIDIA Shield or Atari VCS™, as well as on the go via an Android™ mobile or tablet device. So take a walk down memory lane while you fight 8-bit ghosts and goblins!
Nintendo Switch Online
Here’s another streaming service that offers a nostalgic library. While it may not be as vast as some Nintendo fans may want, it only costs $20 per year — total. The service is compatible with the popular Nintendo mobile gaming system, the Nintendo® Switch™, which is a plus for many.
This strictly PC-compatible subscription service is a favorite amongst gamers-in-the-know. This outfit is adept at finding and offering its users diamonds in the rough — those lesser-known, smaller games that sometimes end up as favorites — as well as bundles of games, books and software. It’s a tastemaker service as much as anything else, and socially responsible too: 5% of the affordable subscription fee ($11.99 monthly or $129 annually) goes to charity.
As mentioned previously, this early offering gave users the ability to stream games on any device, from phone to television. In this way, it subverted and made unnecessary the traditional console. But it was also ahead of its time and has yet to catch up with expectations. Rumors abound about Stadia’s possible connection to YouTube in the future. The problem is that, to date, users need super-high-speed internet, with Ethernet, not Wi-Fi, recommended. That said, some believe both its service and slim gaming library will improve soon.
Launched in November 2021, this could be the one everyone’s been hoping for — the service that puts all of the best aspects of the others into one perfect model. For one thing, gamers simply need a Netflix subscription to get started. For another, the titles are mobile-friendly (compatible with both iOS and Android devices) and are offered in many languages, defaulting to the user’s Netflix settings. Some require internet connection and others do not, but they are all child-safe (i.e., they’re not available on kids’ profiles unless you enter an overriding PIN). What the future holds for game streaming could well be wrapped up in Netflix … stay tuned to this space!