Prices start at $5 per month, and some services provide games for computers and smartphones
Forza Horizon 4, an Xbox game.
By Nicholas De Leon
Just like watching Netflix and Disney+ for hours on end, playing video games can be a great way to pass the time.
But if you don’t pay close attention to gaming news, you may have missed the arrival of new services that provide access to libraries filled with games—lots of games—that you can play with online friends for a monthly fee.
Consider Sony’s PlayStation Plus, which launched in 2010, and will greatly expand this June, adding the ability to stream older PlayStation titles to the PS4, PS5, and even PC. You’ll find all the details below.
Of course, no two services are exactly the same, and figuring out which one fits best into your life can be confusing and time-consuming. To help, we’ve put together this guide with info on the most popular options, listed alphabetically.
Price: $6 per month
Free trial? Yes, seven days
Supported hardware: Fire TV devices, Mac, Windows PC
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.
Amazon recommends that you have a WiFi connection of at least 10 megabits per second and use the 5-gigahertz band, both of which are key steps you can take to improve the reliability of your WiFi network.
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 downloadable games that can be played on a range of Apple devices.
You can use touch-screen controls or an Xbox or PlayStation controller synced via Bluetooth.
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.
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. 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.
Price: Free to those with a Netflix subscription
Free trial? No
Supported hardware: Android, iOS
Yes, Netflix is now in the video game business. The company recently added a slate of titles to the main Android and iOS apps included free with your subscription. Right now the list is mostly made up of easy-to-play games, including several adventure options based on Netflix’s popular “Stranger Things” franchise, but the company says it plans to expand the offerings in the coming months.
Nintendo Switch Online
Price: $20 or $50 per year, depending on tier
Free trial? Yes, seven days
Supported hardware: Nintendo Switch
Nintendo Switch Online is the service for the manufacturer’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.
In late 2021 the company launched a new Expansion Pack subscription tier that offers even more classic games from the Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis consoles.
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 at once.
Nintendo’s games tend to be family-friendly, making this service a good choice for those with young children.
Price: $10 per month (or $60 per year if you buy a yearly plan)
Free trial? Yes, 14 days
Supported hardware: PlayStation game consoles and PCs
PlayStation Plus is the online service Sony created for its PlayStation game consoles. In June, it will expand from one to three tiers: PlayStation Plus Essential ($10 per month), PlayStation Plus Extra ($15 per month), and PlayStation Plus Premium ($18 per month).
Essential mostly grants you the ability to play games online, but Sony will also give away two free games per month that you can download and play for as long as you’re a subscriber.
PlayStation Plus Extra adds some 400 games from the PS4 and PS5 back catalog that you can download and play for as long as you’re a subscriber, too.
PlayStation Plus Premium adds about 340 more games from the PS1, PS2, and PS3 catalog; some will be available to download, while others must be streamed instead. While Sony has not specified which titles will fall in which category, the games that stream can be played on PCs in addition to PlayStation game consoles.
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 and iOS 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 and iOS mobile devices via cloud streaming. You lose access to games if you cancel your subscription.
Also Consider: 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 popular digital stores such as 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 Android TV, Chromebooks, and the iPhone and iPad. Prices for this range from free (though this offers only limited functionality) to $100 for six months.
Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2022, Consumer Reports, Inc.