Every TV network is making its own streaming app, and every major game publisher wants its own subscription. EA, Microsoft, and Ubisoft have already launched their subscriptions—but are any of them worth it?
PC Gaming: An Embarrassment of Riches
There are several PC gaming subscription services. Some offer all-you-can download buffets, while others are streaming services for which you don’t even need a gaming PC.
We’re not including Nvidia’s GeForce Now or the upcoming Google Stadia. Those services focus on streaming games from remote servers to your hardware at home.
The idea of a subscription to a library of games isn’t particularly new. EA’s service for PCs has existed since 2016, and Xbox Game Pass for the console rolled out in 2017. Still, it took Microsoft and Ubisoft until 2019 to catch up to EA’s lead on PC. Other game makers with desktop launchers, such as Activision Blizzard and Epic Games, have yet to follow suit.
How Do They Work?
The basic idea is you download an application for your Windows desktop that houses the service. Most of these apps include a game launcher, a game store, announcements, and social features, such as chat. Once you download the app and sign in to your account, you can download games from the service. It’s similar to Steam or the Epic Games Store, except you don’t pay for individual titles.
Below are all the options available from the three leading game subscription services:
- EA Origin Access Basic: The oldest of the services we’re looking at, it launched in 2016 and has become a multitiered service. The first tier is Origin Access Basic for $5 per month, or you can pay $30 for a year. Basic gives you access to what EA calls “The Vault”—a large trove of games for PC that includes (at this writing) more than 200 titles, such as Battlefield V, Battlefield I, Star Wars Battlefront II, and Madden 19. Also, Origin members get 10 percent off their purchases from the Origin games store.
- EA Origin Access Premier: At $15 per month or $100 per year, this tier adds just an extra ten games at this writing. However, you also get early access to the full version of upcoming games. Basic, by comparison, has a 10-hour time limit on early access titles. If new EA games are important to you, then Premium is the better buy. It also doesn’t force you to pay for a game like Anthem, which seemed interesting and exciting at launch, and then, well, had issues.
- Xbox Game Pass for PC: With Xbox users happily using Game Pass for two years, Microsoft finally remembered the PC gamer in June 2019 when it released this service. At $10 per month, it offers access to more than 100 games. Microsoft promises to include all its first-party titles with Game Pass as it does with the console version. Like EA’s service, it offers a boatload of older games, as well as some newer titles, such as Metro Exodus and the forthcoming Gears 5. Also, Xbox says members get “exclusive member discounts and deals.”
- Xbox Game Pass Ultimate: This service gives subscribers Xbox Live Gold (a must-have for most Xbox owners) and Game Pass for both PC and console. That’s a fantastic deal for anyone with a gaming PC and Xbox at home, as new first-party titles from Microsoft are cross-platform compatible. This means you can start playing on the console, carry over your progress to your PC, and then return to the console.
- UPlay Plus: This is the newest service—it debuts September 3, 2019. UPlay Plus will cost $15 per month for access to 108 games, including The Division 2, Rainbow Six Siege, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (and older Assassin’s Creed titles), and the Far Cry series, beginning with Far Cry 2. This is by far the most expensive of the services we’ve covered. However, the subscription fee not only covers the base games but also extra content and expansions for most titles. Neither EA Origin Access or Xbox Game Pass cover any of that. It would be nice if Uplay Plus offered a lower-priced, “without DLC” version, but maybe that will show up in the future.
Are They Worth It?
Now, here’s the hard part. Because there are so many gameplay styles out there, we can’t say any of these services is a one-size-fits-all option. So, we’ve invented a few theoretical profiles to compare and contrast the needs of various gamers.
For this list, we’re assuming the average gamer buys about three AAA titles per year, not counting games he might pick up on sale. That’s admittedly our best guess, as there isn’t a lot of current information about game-buying habits. Still, around $180 per year on new releases seems about right.
Here are the best services for certain types of gamers:
- The bargain hunter: If you pay for one option of all the services we covered at the advertised prices, it will set you back $330. That’s a little more than buying five games per year, but you get the benefit of a wide catalog.
- The brand fan: If you’re all about Xbox, Ubisoft, or EA, then buying your particular brand’s service is a no-brainer. One year of Xbox Game Pass for PC would set you back about $120 for the minimum service. Origin Access Basic would be $30, while Premier is $100. Uplay Plus would cost $180 every year.
- The completionist: Gamers who are more interested in finishing campaigns probably won’t find it a value to subscribe to all three services. A better option would be to choose either Xbox Game Pass with Origin Access Basic, or Uplay Plus by itself. Either of those would equal close to three AAA title purchases per year. The downside for the completionist is— except for Uplay Plus subscribers—extra content will cost more.
- Cross-platformers: If you have an Xbox and a PC, you should consider Xbox Game Pass—especially if you’re a fan of Microsoft’s first-party titles, like the Gears of War series and (coming later this year) Halo.
- The schemer: No matter which service(s) you choose, the bonus is you can cancel at any time. So, if EA’s got a game coming out you’re dying to try, sign-up for Origin Access Premier, play the game, and then cancel the service when you’re done. It’s easy to do with a month-to-month subscription and ideal for those who don’t want to commit to an entire year.
What You Won’t Get
While these offerings are great, they don’t even come close to covering all the upcoming titles PC gamers are excited about. Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t available on any of these services, nor is the same studio’s instant classic, The Witcher 3. Games from Epic and anything new from Activision Blizzard will also be limited.
The Bottom Line
Again, it’s hard to say across the board which (if any) of these subscriptions is worth it—so much depends on your gaming taste and style. That’s why we used the basic profiles above to consider various options and look at the value from a few angles. Another thing to consider is, once you stop paying your subscription, you lose access to the games.
If you’re a gamer who doesn’t have a lot of time to play, you might be better off buying a few titles outright and playing at your own speed. This way, you have no timers or monthly subscriptions hanging over your head.
Still, for gamers who like to play a lot but balk at paying full price for AAA titles at launch, these services are worth a look.