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Xbox Game Pass vs. Buying the Game: What's Cheaper? We Do the Math

Is it worth it to buy an Xbox Game Pass subscription, or should you just keep paying for individual games? Here's the cost breakdown.

An Xbox console and controller
Andrew Lanxon/CNET

I grew up with a video game controller in my hands. Video games have gone through a major evolution since then -- and so have their price tags.

We Do the Math badge

Then, in 2017 Microsoft launched Xbox Game Pass, followed by Xbox Game Pass Ultimate in 2019. These are subscription services that give players unlimited access to an expanding library of over 400 new and old games, and costs $120 or $180 for one year, respectively. XBGP lets you play on console or PC, and XBGPU lets you play console, PC and cloud gaming. These prices make either Game Pass plan attractive, but in the end, is it cheaper to buy physical copies of games? 

I did the math and found a year of XBGPU with an Xbox Series S is a better value than buying physical copies of games to play on an Xbox Series X, especially if you play a lot of games.

You can also check out if streaming services or cable offer a better deal, and whether it's cheaper to buy groceries or meal kits

Xbox Game Pass vs. physical game copies


Series S + XBGPSeries S + XBGPUSeries X + XBGPSeries X + XBGPUSeries X + XBGP + gameSeries X + XBGPU + gameSeries X + game

Console

$300

$300

$500

$500

$500

$500

$500

Subscription (1 year)

$120

$180

$120

$180

$120

$180

N/A

Physical game (1)

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

$60-70

$60-70

$60-70









Total

$420

$480

$620

$680

$680-690

$740-750

$560-570

How I did the math

To calculate the costs, I started with the cost of the Series S -- $300 -- and Series X -- $500 -- since you need a console to play games on. The Series S is a digital-only console with no disc drive, so it can't play physical copies of games. The Series X has a disc drive, so it can play either digital or physical copies of games. It's important to include both, since the Series S is the more budget-friendly option, but the Series X has more gaming capabilities. If you already own either console though, you can scroll down for a yearly price breakdown of just the gaming service versus buying physical copies of the games.

Next, I found the price of each Xbox Game Pass plan without promotional deals, $10 and $15 a month. I multiplied both costs by 12 to give us the cost of the subscription over a one-year period. This is how we get $120 for XBGP and $180 for XBGPU.

Then, I found the price of new physical games. Many new games are $60, but game publishers are starting to increase game prices to $70, as was the case for NBA 2K21. That's why there are two prices for new physical games.

xbox-series-x-s-console-hoyle-studio-promo-8

The right Xbox for you depends on your budget and preferences.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

A Series S with either Game Pass plan is budget-friendly gaming

We have two columns reflecting a Series S with one year of either game pass plan. A Series S with XBGP costs $420, the least expensive option. The Series S with XBGPU is $480, the second least expensive option. Both of these cost less than the Series X, and that's before you buy a game or a subscription.

A Series X with either Game Pass plan and physical games cost more

There are five columns to show the Series X with one year of either Game Pass plan, Series X with one year of either Game Pass plan and physical games and Series X with just physical games.

As you might expect, the Series X with XBGPU and one physical game costs the most, at $740 or $750. Next, the Series X with XBGP and one physical game costs $680, and the Series X with XBGPU costs $680 or $690 with a $70 physical game. The Series X with XBGP costs $620. Finally, an Xbox Series X with one physical game costs $560 or $570.

What if you already have a Series S or X?

As you can see above, the consoles are responsible for the majority of the costs in the first year. For the second year, we remove the cost of the consoles, and this also gives us an idea of what the cost will look like moving forward.


XBGP (1 year)XBGPU (1 year)Physical game (1)

Total

$120

$180

$60-70

As a reminder, one year of XBGP is $120, one year of XBGPU is $180 and a physical copy of a new game is between $60-70. You could buy up to three new $60 games in a year to equal the cost of XBGPU. If you buy $70 games, you can get two for the price of XBGPU or just one for the cost of XBGP. If you usually play more than two or three games a year, either Game Pass plan is worth it.

With both Game Pass plans, subscribers have access to over 400 games. Some of those games are new, like A Plague Tale: Requiem, while others are classics, like Doom. Games are added to the Game Pass library periodically, but they are also removed, like how Netflix adds and removes shows and movies over time. The number of games has also increased from when Microsoft launched the subscription service, so it's safe to say that number will continue to rise.

Xbox Game Pass on an Xbox Series S

Xbox Game Pass gives you hundreds of games for your monthly subscription fee.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Online play included with XBGPU, not physical games

Another important thing to consider is whether or not you plan on playing games online. If you want to do that with physical games, you need to subscribe to Xbox Gold Live.


XBGP (1 year) + Xbox Live Gold (1 year)XBGPU (1 year)Physical game (1) + Xbox Live Gold (1 year)

Total

$180

$180

$120-130

Xbox Live Gold is $10 a month, or $60 a year. You would need to pay for a physical copy of a new game ($60-70) and then add the cost of one year of Xbox Live Gold ($60) to get $120-130.

If you have XBGPU then Xbox Live Gold is included with your subscription, so you don't have to include that cost with your plan and you have access to the game library. However, an XBGP subscription doesn't include Xbox Live Gold, so you'd have to pay for that separately or upgrade to XBGPU for the same cost.

Is either Xbox Game Pass plan worth it?

If you're on a budget and want access to hundreds of games and online play, you should consider a Series S with XBGPU. And if you already have a console, XBGPU is still a great deal. You have unlimited access to over 400 games as compared to buying a few physical games, plus you can play online with your friends. If money isn't an issue, then ball out with a Series X, XBGPU and as many physical games as you want.

For more We Do The Math, check out if Trader Joe's is cheaper than other grocery stores, whether a meal kit is cheaper than buying groceries at the store or how much you could save by going meatless for one day a week.

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