Best Video Game Subscription and Streaming Services
Prices start at $5 a month for some services and provide games for both computers and smartphones
Price: $6 per month
Free trial? Yes, seven days
Supported hardware: Fire TV devices, Mac, Windows PC
Introduced in the fall of 2020, Amazon Luna is a cloud-based platform that streams popular newly released games over the internet to a variety of devices. If you have a Fire TV, you can try the service immediately; otherwise, you have to request an invite.
Games are currently streamed in 1080p, though Amazon says it will offer 4K support in the future. The company has also developed its own controller for the service, which costs a separate $50, though you can use an Xbox or PlayStation controller as well. When Luna launched in late 2020, you needed an invite to be able to purchase the Amazon-developed controller, but that's no longer necessary.
Amazon recommends that you have a WiFi connection of at least 10 megabits per second and use the 5GHz band. Click here for more on how to improve your WiFi connection.
Price: $5 per month
Free trial? Yes, one month
Supported hardware: Apple TV, iPad, iPhone, Mac
Apple Arcade is a subscription service that unlocks more than 100 games that can be played on a range of Apple devices.
You can use touch-screen controls or a controller for Xbox One or PS4. An upcoming version of iOS will add support for Xbox Series X and PS5 controllers.
Apple Arcade's lineup consists mainly of high-quality games such as Sonic Racing, Rayman Mini, and Pac-Man Party Royale, a four-player version of the classic puzzle game. Games are downloaded to your device, but you lose access to them if you cancel your subscription.
The games don’t have ads or in-app purchases, which can make them particularly appealing for parents concerned about their kids spending money on virtual items.
Price: Free or $10 per month for Pro tier; games are purchased separately
Free trial? Yes, one month
Supported hardware: Computers, smartphones, tablets, TVs
Google Stadia is a streaming service, so you don’t have to wait for games to download to begin playing them. You do need a robust internet connection, though, for a good experience. Google recommends at least 10 megabits per second to stream in 1080p and 35 megabits per second to stream in 4K.
The future of the service is somewhat unclear, however, after Google said in February that it was largely shutting down its in-house game development efforts to focus on creating streaming technology for use by other game developers.
There are two subscription tiers: a free one and a $10 per month one called Pro. The free tier allows up to 1080p streaming, and Pro lets you stream up to 4K HDR, with 5.1 surround sound, too. Most games must be purchased separately, but you can often get a discount if you’re a Pro subscriber. The price for games varies, but expect to pay around $60 for new releases like Cyberpunk 2077. Pro subscribers are also occasionally given games free.
Stadia excels in its compatibility with a wide variety of devices. It works on just about any computer as long as you’re using a recent version of the Chrome web browser. It can also be used on smartphones and tablets through the Stadia app. You can play on your big-screen TV if you have a Chromecast Ultra streaming device.
Microsoft Xbox Game Pass
Price: $10 or $15 per month, depending on which tier you choose
Free trial? No, but the introductory price is $1 for the first three months
Supported hardware: Android smartphones and tablets, Windows PCs, Xbox game consoles
Xbox Game Pass represents a real value for anyone who plays a lot of video games. For $15 per month, you get access to more than 100 downloadable titles, many of which can be played on Xbox game consoles and Windows PCs. A $10-per-month tier is also available if you plan to play on only an Xbox or PC (but not both). The games can also be played on Android mobile devices via cloud streaming. You lose access to games if you cancel your subscription.
Microsoft regularly adds new games to the service, including popular titles like Skyrim and Fallout: New Vegas, which was introduced following its acquisition of the publisher Bethesda in March.
GamePass will be available for the iPhone and iPad this spring.
Nintendo Switch Online
Price: $4 per month; $35 per year for families with up to 8 accounts
Free trial? Yes, seven days
Supported hardware: Nintendo Switch
Nintendo Switch Online is the online service for Nintendo's popular Switch console. A subscription grants you access to more than 70 classic games from older Nintendo consoles, including Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Super Metroid. As with other services, Nintendo yanks your access to the games if you cancel your subscription.
The service also lets you play select games online against other players. Those titles include Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Tetris 99, a version of the classic puzzle game where you compete against 98 other players simultaneously.
Nintendo's games tend to be family-friendly, making this service a good choice for families with younger children.
Sony PlayStation Plus (and PS Now)
Price: $60 per year (for each one)
Free trial? Yes, 14 days (7 for PS Now)
Supported hardware: PlayStation game consoles and PCs
PlayStation Plus is Sony's online service for PlayStation game consoles, including the PS4 and PS5. Primarily, it lets you play games online. You don't get a Netflix-like library of games, but Sony does provide two games per month free to subscribers. Those games are yours to keep for as long as you’re a subscriber.
Sony also periodically gives away free digital downloads of select games as part of its Stay at Home initiative, launched in mid-2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The streaming service PS Now costs a separate $60 per year. It lets you stream a mix of old and new games to your PS5, PS4, PS3, and Windows PC. How well that works largely depends on your internet connection. Sony recommends at least 5 megabits per second, which isn’t a particularly demanding speed.
Various Digital Stores
Price: Varies by store
Free trial? Yes, free demos are frequently available
Supported hardware: Varies by store
In addition to the subscription services described above, you can download games à la carte from several popular digital stores. These include Steam (PC/Mac), Epic Games Store (PC/Mac), GoG (PC/Mac), the Microsoft Store (PC), and of course the iOS and Android app stores. Prices vary for games, but you'll encounter frequent sales throughout the year, particularly around major holidays.
A separate service called Nvidia GeForce Now can stream games already purchased on Steam and the Epic Games Store to devices like Chromebooks, Android TV, and the iPhone and iPad. Nvidia greatly raised the price of the premium tier in this month, going from $5 per month to $10 per month (or $100 per year). A limited free tier is still available.