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Xbox Game Pass Core vs. Xbox Live Gold: Subscription Changes Coming in September

We break down the differences between the two subscriptions.

Oscar Gonzalez Staff reporter
Oscar Gonzalez is Texas native who covers video games, conspiracy theories, misinformation and cryptocurrency.
Expertise Video Games, Misinformation, Conspiracy Theories, Cryptocurrency, NFTs, Movies, TV, Economy, Stocks
Oscar Gonzalez
4 min read
Xbox Series X in black and Series S in white with respective controllers
Andrew Lanxon/CNET

There's lots to consider when comparing gaming consoles, including available games. The Xbox Series X and S may be a little lacking in terms of current titles and upcoming exclusives, when compared to the PS5 and Nintendo Switch. But the Xbox has a distinct advantage in its Game Pass subscription option, which lets Xbox owners play more than 100 games for a single flat fee, billed monthly, quarterly, annually or even as part of the Xbox hardware purchase price.

Microsoft's gaming subscriptions are about to see a lot of change in September. The company will add another tier to Game Pass while getting rid of the console's original subscription service, Xbox Live Gold. 

Need help untangling the changes? Read on. 

Xbox Live Gold logo

Xbox Live Gold is the online subscription service that started in 2002 for the original Xbox, and it allowed players to play multiplayer games online 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 monthly. A subscription for Xbox Live Gold costs $10 per month (with discounts available if you prepay for three, six or 12 months).

You need Xbox Live Gold to play any online multiplayer games, except for certain free-to-play games such as Fortnite, Rocket League and Apex Legends. 

Xbox Live Gold will come to an end on Sept. 14, with subscribers automatically moved over to Game Pass Core. The price will stay the same, but there will no longer be free monthly games, starting on Sept. 1.

xbox game pass logo
James Martin/CNET

Game Pass is Xbox's "all you can eat" gaming subscription, where one monthly fee gets 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 (aka first-party) and other publishers (third-party). Over the years, it grew to encompass more than 100 games. Microsoft also sweetened the deal by offering every game it published to be available on the service on day one of its release. This includes games from ZeniMax Media, which includes such popular series as The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Doom, Wolfenstein, Dishonored and Prey. Microsoft is also looking to complete its deal to acquire Activision Blizzard, which would add even more titles to Game Pass. 

There are currently three tiers to Xbox Game Pass: Console, PC and Ultimate. The first includes only Xbox games, the second is for Windows PC gamers and the third covers both platforms. Moreover, 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 a month. 

A fourth tier will be available starting Sept. 14. Game Pass Core will cost $10 a month and offer similar features to Xbox Live Gold. Console players will be able to play multiplayer games online, have access to a library of 25 games, and qualify for members-only deals. 

Game Pass Ultimate also delivers access to Xbox Cloud Gaming (formerly known as xCloud), which streams certain titles to Android and iOS devices using a Bluetooth controller or touch controls, as well as stream via supported internet browsers. 

Xbox Game Pass tiers

Game Pass CoreGame Pass ConsoleGame Pass PCGame Pass Ultimate
Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Xbox Series games YesYesNoYes
PC games NoNoYesYes
Online console muiltiplayer YesYesNoYes
Member discounts and perks YesYesYesYes
EA Play NoNoYesYes
Cloud gaming NoNoNoYes
Monthly cost $10$11$10$17

Which tier of Xbox Game Pass should I subscribe to?

This depends on your gaming habits. Xbox Live Gold's (soon to be Game Pass Core) biggest selling point is not the free games, but it's being able to play online. Are you someone who is going to play a few games online and only those games on a regular basis? Then you'll want Xbox Live Gold. 

On the other hand, if you want what is the equivalent to "Netflix for video games," then Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is an easy choice. You have more than 100 games to choose from, and you'll be able to play them from multiple devices. Tack on Xbox Live Gold, and you get a tremendous value for $17 a month. Put another way, you get to play dozens of games per year for the price of just three new console games purchased at retail ($70 times three, or $210 per year). 

Those who haven't signed up for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate yet can take advantage of an introductory $1 for the first-month deal Microsoft is offering. 

What is Xbox All Access?

Xbox All Access is a monthly installment payment option for a new Xbox Series S or X. Customers can sign up for the plan to pay $35 a month for an Xbox Series X or $25 a month for an Xbox Series S. Both plans include 24 months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. There are no upfront fees and 0% APR. Best Buy, GameStop, Microsoft Store, Target and Walmart are all participants in the program.

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 lets them play cloud-based Xbox games on Android and iOS devices. The games are streamed in real-time to the devices via an app or the Microsoft Edge browser.