Is the PS5 have an advantage over Xbox Series X and S in terms of its range of current and upcoming exclusive game titles? Maybe. But where Xbox has a distinct advantage is its Game Pass subscription option, which allows Xbox owners to play over 100 games for a single plan, billed monthly, quarterly, annually or even as part of the Xbox hardware purchase price.

That’s a lot, but the only problem is that Microsoft has some confusing messaging around the Game Pass options available: There are three versions of the subscription, as well as a separate Xbox subscription called Xbox Live Gold. Gold, meanwhile, is included in some versions of Game Pass, but not others.

Need help sorting out the differences? Continue reading.

Microsoft

Xbox Live Gold is the online subscription service that started in 2002 for the original Xbox, and it allowed gamers to play online multiplayer games with voice chat. Since then, it has offered more benefits such as special discounts and four free Xbox 360, Xbox One, or Xbox Series games per month. Microsoft will stop including Xbox 360 games on October 1, saying it has reached its limit by introducing games from the older console into its catalog. A subscription for Xbox Live Gold costs $10 per month (with discounts available if you prepay for three, six, or 12 months).

Adding to the nomenclature confusion: the online network was previously known as Xbox Live, but will soon change its name to “Xbox Network.” But it looks like Xbox Live Gold isn’t going anywhere.

For now, you need Xbox Live Gold to play any online multiplayer games. But recently, it looks like Microsoft might change the rules to allow Xbox players to play free online games such as Fortnite and Apex Legends.

But here’s the big takeaway: Xbox Game Pass (see below) includes Xbox Live Gold and also adds access to dozens of games. Anyone interested in Gold should check out Game Pass first.

James Martin/CNET

Game Pass is Xbox’s “all you can eat” gaming subscription, where a monthly subscription gives you full access to dozens of games. It started in June 2017 with a limited catalog, which was a mix of titles published by Microsoft (i.e. first-party) and other (third-party) publishers. Over the years it has grown to encompass over 100 titles. Microsoft also sweetened the deal by offering every game it released to be available on the service on day one of release. This includes games from its latest acquisition, ZeniMax Media, which includes popular series such as The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Doom, Wolfenstein, Dishonored and Prey. Sniper Elite 5 and Pac-Man Museum Plus are also two of the latest third-party games to hit Game Pass on release day.

Xbox Game Pass has three tiers: Console, PC, and Ultimate. The first only includes Xbox games, the second is for Windows PC gamers, and the third covers both platforms. Additionally, the PC and Ultimate tiers include access to EA Play, which consists of access to EA games, rewards, and other members-only content. A subscription would normally cost $5 per month.

Game Pass Ultimate also offers access to Xbox Cloud Gaming (formerly known as xCloud), which streams select titles to Android devices using a Bluetooth controller or touch controls. (Microsoft is also working on a browser-based version that will offer compatibility with Windows PCs and Apple devices – see below for more info.)

Xbox Game Pass Tiers

Game pass console

PC game pass

Ultimate Game Pass

Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Xbox Series Games

Yes

Nope

Yes

pc games

Nope

Yes

Yes

Xbox Live Gold

Nope

Nope

Yes

Discounts and benefits for members

Yes

Yes

Yes

EA game

Nope

Yes

Yes

Cloud games on Android devices

Nope

Nope

Yes

Monthly cost

$10

$10

$15

Should I get Xbox Live Gold or Xbox Game Pass?

It depends on your gaming habits. The main selling point of Xbox Live Gold is not the free games, but the ability to play online. Are you someone who is going to play a few online games and only those games on a regular basis? Then you’ll want Xbox Live Gold.

On the other hand, if you want what amounts to “Netflix for video games”, then Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is an easy choice. There are over 100 games to choose from and you will be able to play them from multiple devices. Tack on Xbox Live Gold, and you’re getting amazing value for $15 a month. Put another way, you can play dozens of games a year for the price of just three new console games purchased at retail ($60 times three, or $180 a year).

Xbox All Access is a monthly payment option for a new Xbox Series S or X. Customers can sign up for the plan to pay $35 per month for an Xbox Series X or $25 per month for an Xbox Series S. Both plans include 24 months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. There is no upfront fee and 0% APR. Best Buy, GameStop, Microsoft Store, Target, and Walmart all participate in the program, however, the trick is to sign up when the consoles are available. If you’re still on the hunt for an Xbox Series X or S, you’ll get the latest restock updates.

Can I really play Xbox games on phones and tablets?

Yes, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate members currently have access to the beta version of Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud Gaming service, which allows them to play cloud-based Xbox games on Android devices. Games are streamed to devices in real time via an app. And starting April 20, select Ultimate members will be invited to start testing a limited beta version of Cloud Gaming on Windows 10 PCs, iPhones, and iPads, streamed through web browsers.

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