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Xbox Game Pass vs. Xbox Live Gold: What's the difference?

Both subscriptions offer more gaming options for Xbox owners, but they're not the same thing. We break down the differences.

Does the PS5 have an edge on the Xbox Series X/S in terms of its lineup of current and upcoming exclusive game titles? Maybe. But where Xbox has a distinct advantage is its Game Pass subscription option, which lets Xbox owners play more than 100 games for single flat fee (billed monthly, quarterly, annually or even as part of the Xbox hardware purchase price). It's a great deal, but the only problem is that Microsoft has some confusing messaging around the available Game Pass options: There are three versions of the subscription, along with a separate Xbox subscription called "Xbox Live Gold." Gold, meanwhile, is included in some versions of Game Pass, but not others. 

Need help untangling the differences? Read on. 

Microsoft

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 games monthly. 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 has heretofore been known as Xbox Live, but will soon be changing its name to "Xbox network." But it appears that Xbox Live Gold isn't going anywhere.

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

But here's the important takeaway: Xbox Game Pass (see below) includes Xbox Live Gold, and adds access to dozens of games, too. 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 one monthly fee gets you full access to dozens of games. It started in June 2017 with a limited catalog, which were 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 titles. 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 its latest acquisition, ZeniMax Media, which includes such popular series as The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Doom, Wolfenstein, Dishonored and Prey. Outriders from Square Enix and Sony's upcoming MLB: The Show 21 are two of the latest third-party games to hit Game Pass on their release day, too. 

There are 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. 

Game Pass Ultimate also delivers access to Xbox Cloud Gaming (formerly known as xCloud), which streams certain 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.)


Xbox Game Pass tiers


Game Pass Console Game Pass PC Game Pass Ultimate
Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Xbox Series games Yes No Yes
PC games No Yes Yes
Xbox Live Gold No No Yes
Member discounts and perks Yes Yes Yes
EA Play No Yes Yes
Cloud gaming on Android devices No No Yes
Monthly cost $9.99 $9.99 $14.99




Should I get Xbox Live Gold or Xbox Game Pass?

This depends on your gaming habits. Xbox Live Gold's 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 $15 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 ($60 times three, or $180 per year). 

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, however, the trick is to sign up when consoles are available. If you're still on the hunt for an Xbox Series X or S, will have the latest restock updates for you. 

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 devices. The games are streamed in real-time to the devices via an app. And starting April 20, some Ultimate members will be invited to begin testing a limited beta of Cloud Gaming on Windows 10 PCs, iPhones and iPads, streamed via web browsers