XBOX SUBS

 

Microsoft®

Xbox Live

Gold

Xbox One / PC

Microsoft®

Xbox Store

Gift Card

Xbox One / PC

Like the name implies, Xbox Live is a “live” service created by Microsoft as a digital media delivery and support system for the Xbox console. While a live service such as this might be standard nomenclature today, back in November of 2002 when Xbox Live officially went online, it was far from it. While in principal providing end-users with a method for interacting directly with Microsoft Xbox services like making a video game purchase or accessing cloud based storage seems easy and straightforward to implement, in practice it was not possible to deliver these services with any sort of quality due to the lack of high-bandwidth infrastructure at the time. Broadband internet was not fully accessible yet. A bit of trivia for all you video game historians out there: who was the first console maker ever to attempt live service features and what console was it for. If you said the Sega and the Dreamcast, then your knowledge of the olden times is better than mine. When the Dreamcast was launched in 1999, it came pre-installed with SegaNet in North America and Dreamarena in Europe. Both were Sega’s attempts at bringing a live service and support feature to their console however was severely let down by the fact that the consoles were shipped out with dial-up modems on board. Ouch. Sega would later release a broadband version, but by then, any chance of users adopting the service was irreversibly diminished as people simply moved on to pc gaming online or stayed dormant by staying off-line entirely. Consider the Playstation 2 that was released in North America in late 2000, did not initially ship with any networking feature at all. The gaming masses were itching for an easy way to consume games online and Microsoft seized on the opportunity to enhance their Xbox platform with broadband networking capability and a control system that really worked. Because of Microsoft’s long history with operating systems like Windows, they had a clearer path to success because of their combined knowledge and experience with how interactivity is built, deployed, and ultimately executed by the end-user. 2004 marked the true beginning of live service or online gaming on consoles when the Xbox 360 came to fruition. The Xbox 360 really demonstrated what live service can mean for console gaming. Xbox live provided features like: a personal account to store contiguous information across a user’s entire game library regardless of publisher, and voice chat. That’s right, something we all take for granted today but online communication over console was not really a thing until Xbox Live and the Xbox 360.

 

Today, the Live service is essential to just about any game you play on the Xbox console, regardless if it is an online game or not and that has to do with added feature sets that come later usually in the form of a DLC. Sure, you can still play the core game without any live service content but you could be missing out on a lot of expandability and enjoyment from your game. You might have also noticed that since the deployment of the Xbox One, a premium subscription otherwise known as Xbox Live Gold, is required to participate in online games. MMOs fall into this category so if you plan on playing games like Fortnite: Battle Royale or Apex Legends from your Xbox, you will need the premium subscription. While this may seem like just another monetization scheme, you do get what you pay for in return. A Gold pass gets you the ability to play the games in your Xbox library across compatible platforms as well as access to cloud storage, and exclusive deals and discounts including free games every month from the Xbox Store.

Microsoft Xbox Store Gift Card

 
 

Microsoft®

Xbox Game Pass

Subscription

Xbox One / PC

 

Considered the "Netflix" of video games, Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass is a subscription-based service in which subscribers receive access to a pre-selected catalog of video game titles. For everything else that isn't free or part of that limited selection, you can expect significant discounts. You might have noticed I used the words "Pre-selected" because after a couple of years of being a member, I've noticed that Game Pass seems to know the games I like to play and is pushing similar titles out to me as often as possible - more on that in a second.

 

Game Pass seemed like a terrific alternative for those looking to rent video games without the hassle of dealing with physical discs, which is why I was an early adopter of the service. Microsoft Game Pass also means the ability to access those games from any location on any Xbox or Windows compatible device. That kind of on-the-fly access means I can try out the games I like to play and test their performance without any pressure to own. Another consumer advantage is that it adds another dimension to your tired game catalog, by continually updating itself based on your recommendations. As mentioned before, these suggested titles delivered to you automatically, is a great way of exposing yourself to games that you would not expect or otherwise never considered. I've been pleasantly surprised on more than a few occasions by the quality of the offerings and at the end of the day; I felt that I had gotten my monies worth. That really is the bottom line when it comes to subscription based video game services. You're essentially paying someone to choose titles for you and if your "secret shopper" isn't any good at their job then chances are you aren't going to continue using them. Xbox Game Pass happens to be good at selecting with variety, and delivers them to you very quickly thanks to a very fast Microsoft infrastructure.

 

Announced in 2017 to some skepticism, the Xbox Game Pass has since proved that a subscription video game service can work simplistically and without having to re-invent content delivery. Within the mobile game industry, it's well understood that downloading a game direct to your local drive(s), while lessening your storage capacity, still gives the end-user the best experience overall and is a minor trade-off because storage capacity is a sector that grows and becomes less expensive to implement over time. Again, this model has been in place for quite a while yet its traits become even more evident today as Google attempts to achieve the impossible with their Stadia- Interactive Live Game Streaming. For now, go with what works and Microsoft's Game Pass just works. It's not a streaming service but it's probably the closest thing to it in terms of concept at this time.

 
 
 

PLAYSTATION SUBS

 

Sony®

Playstation Network

Plus

PlayStation 4 / PC

Sony®

Playstation Store

Gift Card

PlayStation 4 / PC

Sony’s Playstation Network is the equivalent to Microsoft’s Xbox Live in terms of what it’s supposed to do. Broadly, The Playstation Network or PSN for short is a live service technology that was integrated into Sony’s lineup of consoles starting with the Playstation 3. Like with Microsoft Xbox’s “Live” concept, PSN was designed to provide a unified or universal service that could cover the entire breath of content available for the Playstation. Without a unified service, console developers were not able to provide technical support for games that ran on their own hardware and instead had to rely on the game developers themselves to integrate their own network features and because every game is built different, this led to plethora of compatibility issues and bugs. Even if the developer was able to create a fix, deploying that fix to end-users would be a challenge if there was no network to connect to.

 

Fortunately, broadband internet came to fruition just in time for the Playstation 3 where Sony could finally showcase their solution to the live service wars now underway. Over the last twenty years since its inception, PSN has been a crucial hub for not just Sony’s Playstation console users but a variety of other devices have been integrated thanks to the Playstation Network App available for installation on PCs, Mac, and Android devices. With the app, users can now access their Playstation Network Account across multiple devices, allowing users’ to easily administrate their library of games and media, shop directly on the Playstation Store, and take advantage of communication features like friends lists, text, and chat.

 

This all sounds great especially when you consider that joining the Playstation Network is free and only requires an active e-mail address to sign-up, but you may have noticed that just being a part of Playstation Network is not good enough if you are trying to play online games. MMORPG’s like Final Fantasy XIV which my girlfriend played for many years on the PS4 required a Playstation Plus subscription to work. Starting with the Playstation 4, Sony decided to make Playstation Plus a requirement to play titles online. This decision was met with a lot of criticism at the time, but Sony simply did what Microsoft was already doing in parallel with the Xbox Live Gold service by making it a requirement as well. Today, it is well understood that the premium service is a requirement for those looking to game online and for most part has been accepted as the standard norm. Playstation Plus does have its advantages though like being able to play titles from your library on other hardware compatible devices, exclusive deals and discounts on the Playstation Store, and access to cloud storage where you can store all your saves.

 

A Playstation Plus subscription can be purchased direct from the Playstation Store but you can also buy pre-paid membership cards from many common retailers like Best Buy, Target, and Wal-Mart, or you can order them online from retailers like Amazon.

Playstation Store Gift Card

 
 

Sony®

Playstation

Now

PlayStation 4 / PC

 

In 2014, Playstation Now launched in North America and immediately made an impact with enthusiasts and the industry at large. For the first time in the history of video games, it seems someone has managed to create a legit hardware-agnostic streaming service for video games, but as we all know, appearances can be deceiving. On the surface, Playstation Now seems to the perfect gaming solution for Playstation Owners. Why ever buy a game again when you can pay a monthly flat rate for a library of nearly eight hundred titles spanning all the way back to the Playstation 2. You'll never have to handle a physical disc again and you'll never have to worry about storage capacity because you'll just stream all your games. It all sounds great on paper but in practice, Playstation Now has fallen short of those expectations due to its confusing nature and lack of technical capability.

 

Is it a streaming service, or is it just access to a back catalog of games? Well as it turns out, it's both. You see, all games other than for the Playstation 3 are available for download. Huh? Sony Interactive has not been able to figure out how to make their extensive library of Playstation 3 games compatible with Playstaytion 4's hardware. Games were notoriously difficult to develop on the Playstation 3 thanks to an overly complex and inflexible core processing language and making changes to the code to affect compatibility would cause instability. This tortoise and hare dilemma would lead some to speculate that it's simply not possible to deliver a quality gaming experience with the existing hardware model. Now you might be thinking that an easy solution would be to run the games over an emulator but again, you would be disappointed. Sony Interactive elected to design and build their hardware instead. They reportedly created integrated motherboards equivalent to eight Playstation 3s that could process the games graphics, latent features, and deliver the signal in HD resolution to your console. Users reported bad response times, high server lag, and dropped frames.

 

Fortunately, for all of us, hardware continues to improve and with the Playstation 4 being more pc-like and universal, the public is beginning to see what a real video game streaming service is capable of achieving. It's not perfect yet and what determines your quality of service can be your own internet connection speed, so be sure you have a robust internet plan if you are planning to add Playstation Now to your gaming portfolio. Playstation Now has made significant progress forward and with the release of the Playstation 5 upon us, it's going to be interesting to see how Playstation Now will have matured. Will it continue to be a ghost in the shell or will it finally break out and become the true streaming service that everyone is anxiously waiting for. Despite the sound of despair you might have heard in this review, I recommend Playstation Now because it's good now and will get much better over time.

 
 
 

NINTENDO SUBS

 

Nintendo®

Switch

Online

Nintendo / PC

Nintendo®

eShop

Gift Card

Nintendo / PC

Nintendo Switch Online

Nintendo eShop Gift Card

 

AMAZON SUBS

 
 

Amazon®

Prime

Membership

Android / Windows / Apple OS

 

Amazon Prime Membership

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

2019