Like many people, I went a bit console-crazy during lockdown: I figured that if I would be spending all that time indoors I deserved to have a great games console to spend time with, and I knew my kids wouldn't complain. Because part of my job is to write and broadcast about consoles and games that persuaded me to buy not just one console, but three: the PS5, the Nintendo Switch and the Xbox Series X. And naturally I decided that the financially sensible thing to do would be to subscribe to their various gaming services instead of spending huge sums on boxed games.
So I did, and then I spent huge sums on boxed games anyway.
I had to, because they weren't coming to those subscription services. And from the haunted house of Luigi's Mansion 3 to the mechanised monsters of Horizon: Forbidden West I've had a rare old time – but that time has been time I haven't been spending on the subscription services that I've been paying for. So it's time to tighten my gaming belt and cut at least one streaming service out of my life. But which one should it be? Xbox Game Pass? PS Now? Nintendo Switch Online?
Here I compare the different services and what they offer in my opinion, based on what I've got from them, before trying to make a pick for a video game service to cancel.
Nintendo Switch Online
I can't help thinking that Nintendo Switch Online is designed much more for my ageing-gamer nostalgia than it is for my kids: the big draw here is the ability to play over 100 NES and Super NES games including bona fide classics such as Double Dragon, Donkey Kong, Metroid and Star Fox.
But when I try to get my kids interested they do that patronise-the-parent thing I also get when I try to share classic comedy or sci-fi movies with them: they'll pretend to care for a little while before suddenly deciding they urgently need to do something else somewhere else.
The other big feature here is online play for the likes of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but that proved to be less than a seven-day wonder: all their school friends are playing Fortnite, which we have on other platforms.
PlayStation Now (often shortened to PS Now) offers a streaming library of over 800 PS3, PS4 and PS5 games for £8.99 a month. Like PS Plus it gives you online multiplayer, in this case for any of the titles you have as a subscriber, and unlike PS Plus it also enables you to play PlayStation games on PC and carry your saves between the two.
It's essentially Sony's current equivalent to Game Pass – a revamped Sony service, dubbed Project Spartacus, will launch soon – and like Game Pass it's a bit of a mixed bag. Many of the titles are available on both services, so for example the recently added section for PS Now includes the definitive edition of GTA V and Crysis 3 Remastered, both of which are also on Game Pass, and like Game Pass titles come and go from the service.
The selection is bigger than Game Pass, though, and includes a lot of big names including multiple Final Fantasies, the original F.E.A.R. (one of my very favourite games), various Killzones, Metal Gears and Warhammers and the schlocky, gory fun of the two Darkness games. It lacks the day-one releases that make Game Pass so compelling, but it more than makes up for that in terms of choice.
Xbox Game Pass
Game Pass is £10.99 a month for the best version, Ultimate. It's brilliant and occasionally annoying: having dropped the best part of fifty quid on Guardians of the Galaxy for my PS5 I may have said a few bad words when I saw that it was coming to Game Pass next week.
The catalogue here is much smaller than on PlayStation – around 100 games – and games typically disappear again after a year, so for example Nier Automata and The Surge 2 are leaving this month after coming to the service this time last year. If you want to keep them you can get a 20% discount on the Microsoft Store, although you'll often find eBay is cheaper.
Where Sony goes for numbers, Microsoft is going for newness: for example I was able to play Halo: Infinite on day one and snowboarding fans can play Shredders on day one this month. With Microsoft apparently buying the entire games industry there will be plenty more day-one releases where they came from.
The other thing I really love about Game Pass is Microsoft's Cloud Gaming, which enables me to play games without installing them on my Series X. As someone who's just dropped a lot of cash on one of T3's best PS5 SSDs to boost its storage space, cloud gaming on Xbox has been a real money saver – and because my internet connection is pretty fast and pretty solid I can't say I've found it particularly lacking compared to installing games and running them locally.
Which video game service should get the chop?
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I'm in an unusual position: because I write and broadcast about consoles and games pretty regularly for my job, I need to have all the current consoles. That's great news for my kids but not so great when it comes to my bank balance. If you're a dedicated PS5 gamer, Xbox gamer, PC gamer or Switch gamer each of the streaming services here is excellent value for money: you get a lot of games for a lot less cash.
But in order to play a lot of games you also need a lot of time to play them, and that's something I don't have much of – especially when big new releases come out. I'm immersed in Horizon: Forbidden West right now, and many of my friends are the same in Elden Ring. So having any game service subscription is probably a waste of money for me right now, let alone having three.
So which streaming service is surplus to requirements? For me, Xbox Game Pass is the keeper: my youngest and I have been teaming up on Minecraft: Dungeons since the first COVID lockdown and it's still the most-played game in our house, and my eldest wants to play Halo: Infinite. If I hadn't already bought Guardians of the Galaxy on PS5 I'd be playing that on Game Pass, too.
So that leaves Nintendo Switch Online and PS Now. Nintendo's option is a third of the price of Sony's – the most expensive way to subscribe, a month to month subscription, is £3.49 a month and a year's membership is £17.99, the same as two months of PS Now. But while it's not a lot of money for a lot of NES and SNES games, it's a lot of money if I'm not playing those games – and right now, I'm not. But I could say the same for PS Now, too. As impressive as its catalogue is, I'm not playing any of those games either.
One thing that does complicate things is the PS Now is rumored to soon be being folded in with PS Plus to create Sony's new PlayStation Spartacus gaming subscription service, but letting a future development that may still be months away dictate my decision would be foolish.
I think for me the solution is much the same as it is for TV: to subscribe only to the service or services I use constantly, and to dip in and out with one-off subs to the services I only need occasionally. On TV that meant I paid for Now TV to watch Gomorrah and Yellowjackets, cancelling my sub again once I'd watched them, and on console the smart money would stick with Game Pass and keep an eye on Sony and Nintendo, signing up when there are any new additions I simply don't want to miss.
Fancy signing up to Xbox Game Pass? Then check out today's best deals on a subscription below.