If you love a gamer but would rather die than walk into a GameStop and ask an employee what game to buy them, you might want to consider a gaming service as an alternative gift.
First, a primer. A game subscription service is similar to your Netflixes or your HBO Maxes. For a monthly subscription fee, you get access to a library of content (in this case, games) that you can enjoy for as long as you’re subscribed. An online multiplayer service is a subscription fee you pay in order to play with other people online. Two major console manufacturers, Nintendo and Microsoft, have combined those into one subscription (and Sony is reportedly planning to follow suit), but there is a difference.
It’s also worth noting that standard gift cards to a gaming console’s online store (e.g. Nintendo eShop, Microsoft Store, etc.) can also be used for these services, which are always good options as well. And unless specified, the price listed is for a yearly membership. Okay, onward!
The gist: In addition to online play, Nintendo’s subscription service includes a free library of classic NES and SNES games, as well as access to online voice chat via the Nintendo Switch Online app and cloud storage, which allows you to save game data online. Nintendo also recently rolled out an “Expansion Pass” for Switch Online. The $50 yearly subscription adds a library of Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games, as well as the Animal Crossing: New Horizons DLC.
How to gift it: You can buy a digital Nintendo Switch Online gift subscription at most major retailers, or pick up a physical gift card in stores. (Best Buy also has the option to buy a physical gift card online.) A yearly subscription costs $20, but a family membership, which can be used by up to eight people, is also available for $35.
The gist: Unlike Microsoft and Nintendo, Sony is still separating its online service, PlayStation Plus, from its game subscription service, PlayStation Now. (Though Bloomberg reports that the company is planning on merging them soon.) PlayStation Plus is currently the better deal, as it also includes a library of monthly free games in addition to online multiplayer, though admittedly a much smaller library than is offered through PlayStation Now.
How to gift: Digital gift cards are available for both PlayStation Plus and PlayStation Now, in 1-month, 3-month, and 12-month increments. You can also find physical gift cards in stores at most major retailers.
Console and/or PC
The gist: In 2019 Microsoft combined its online multiplayer service, Xbox Live Gold, with its game subscription service, Xbox Game Pass, into one mega service, with EA Play (see below) thrown in for good measure. Yes, you can technically still buy them separately, but Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is by far the best value. It includes online play, a huge library of Xbox games, including access to Xbox Game Studios games on release day, and, notably, can be accessed on both console and PC. Microsoft is also currently offering its cloud gaming beta exclusively to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate members. (Be warned, though: You need an extremely strong and stable internet connection to partake.)
How to gift: Of course Microsoft offers both physical and digital Xbox Game Pass Ultimate gift cards, in 1-month and 3-month increments. (Price listed is for a 3-month subscription.)
The gist: EA’s game subscription service grants access to a library of EA titles, including early access to new releases a few days before they’re released. However, the $30/year base membership only includes up to ten hours of playing those new games. An EA Play Pro membership costs significantly more ($100/year) but it comes with unlimited access to new EA releases.
It’s worth noting that the base membership is included in Xbox Game Pass Ultimate (see above) but you can also buy a subscription separately. That option really only makes sense for someone who’s, like, a huge fan of sports games (and/or just has a PlayStation console.)
How to gift: EA offers physical and digital gift cards, just make sure you’re buying the correct version (PlayStation, Xbox, or PC) because you can’t use EA Play across different platforms.
The gist: Ubisoft adopted the streaming world’s ubiquitous “+” naming convention for its game subscription service, which offers a library of 100+ Ubisoft games on PC. That includes day-one access to new titles, complete with DLC. For an extra $3 a month, you can upgrade to a “multi-access plan” that includes cloud gaming via Google Stadia or Amazon Luna.
How to gift: Unfortunately Ubisoft doesn’t even offer Ubisoft Store gift cards, so your best bet is just handing over $15 cash every month.
The gist: Humble Choice is unique because, unlike the rest of the game subscription services on this list, the games are yours to keep even if you cancel your subscription. Each month Humble curates a bundle of up to 12 PC games — typically indie titles in a range of genres — for $20 a month. (There’s also a more traditional library of Humble Original games, called the Humble Trove, that you can download and play for as long as you’re subscribed.) A “Basic” subscription with three games is available for $15 a month, and if you just want the Humble Trove you can get a “Lite” membership for $5 a month. Humble also donates 5 percent of every membership to a monthly featured charity.
How to gift: Humble makes it super simple to gift a Humble subscription — just scroll down to the bottom of the page and click “Gift a membership.”
The gist: Apple’s mobile gaming subscription service includes a library of exclusive iOS games, with no in-app purchases or ads. The base subscription also can be used by up to five people, making family sharing easy at no additional charge.
How to gift: Apple doesn’t offer specific Apple Arcade gift memberships, but a $50 Apple Store gift card will cover a yearly membership. A 3-month subscription is also included with new Apple devices.
The gist: Basically the Android version of Apple Arcade, Google Play Pass also offers a library of mobile games that can be shared by up to five family members. Where it differs from Apple Arcade is that the games aren’t exclusive to the subscription, meaning you could buy them individually if you wanted. Still, that’d be a lot more expensive than the $30 yearly subscription fee.
How to gift: Also like Apple Arcade, Google doesn’t offer an individual Google Play Pass membership, but you can always buy a Google Play gift card. They’re not offered in the $30 increment that would cover a year of Google Play, but Amazon does let you send digital gift cards in custom amounts.