So, how does it stack up to Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus? Let's take a quick look.
|Row 0 - Cell 0
|Nintendo Switch Online
|Xbox Live Gold
|$19.99 (12 months), $7.99 (three months), $3.99 (one month)
|$59.99 (12 months), $24.99 (three months), $9.99 (one month)
|$59.99 (12 months), $9.99 (one month)
|$34.99 (12 months, up to eight accounts)
|N/A (local sharing only)
|N/A (local sharing only)
|Required for Multiplayer
|Yes (Fortnite excluded)
|Yes (Fortnite excluded)
|20+ classic NES titles
|Six titles per month (two PS4; two PS3; two PS Vita)
|Four titles per month (two Xbox One; two Xbox 360)
|Yes (Xbox Live Gold not required)
Naturally, at a third of the price of its competitors, Switch Online ($20 per year) isn't going to offer all the same bells and whistles as the more premium Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus ($60 per year each). But if you own multiple consoles and are wondering which ones warrant paying for online play, here's a breakdown of how Switch Online, Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus stack up.
Switch Online, Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus are all required for playing games online on their respective systems, which is the main reason for multiplayer-minded folks to pay up. One notable exception is Fortnite, which can be played online for free on Switch and PS4 but requires a Gold membership on Xbox One. So, if you only ever hop online on your Switch or PS4 to snag a few Victory Royales, you might be just fine skipping those consoles' services.
The multiplayer experiences on PS4 and Xbox One are pretty much identical; you can join a virtual "party" (of up to eight players on PS4, 12 on Xbox One) for chatting with your buddies, and you can exchange messages and invites via each system's dashboard.
Switch Online and the Switch itself are far more limited by comparison; you can communicate with friends only using Nintendo's cumbersome smartphone app, and the ability to chat and play is currently limited to a handful of games. Those include Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2 and the Switch's NES library. You'll have to pay just to to use Nintendo's smartphone chat, while party chat is free on PS4 and Xbox One, so Switch Online looks especially bad in the communication department.
In addition to online play, all three services offer some form of "free" games that remain in your library for as long as you're a subscriber.
Xbox Live's monthly Games with Gold offering consists of four titles each month: two Xbox One games and two backward-compatible Xbox 360 games. PlayStation Plus' monthly games typically consist of six games: two for PS4, two for PS3 and two for PS Vita, though many of the PS3 and PS Vita games support cross-play on PS4.
Sony will stop adding PS3 and Vita games to the mix in March 2019, though there's no word on whether the company will increase the number of free PS4 games each month as a result.
The quality of PlayStation Plus' and Xbox Live Gold's free games varies month by month. Both services have offered everything from blockbusters like Metal Gear Solid and Assassin's Creed to hit indies like Limbo and The Walking Dead.
Nintendo's approach to free games is vastly different, as subscribing to Switch Online gets you an instant library of 20 classic NES games, each of which supports extras such as screen filters and online play. Those titles include Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda and Donkey Kong. Nintendo plans to add more NES games over time, though no word yet if the service will expand to other classic consoles.
Switch Online and PlayStation Plus are both required if you want to save your data to the cloud on their respective systems. PlayStation Plus offers 10GB of cloud storage, while Switch Online doesn't seem to have any limits.
The Xbox One has the best approach to cloud saves out of the big three, as your console will automatically back up your data to the cloud regardless of whether you have a Gold membership.
PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold frequently offer member-exclusive discounts, as well as betas and trial periods that are exclusive to subscribers.
We're expecting the same from Nintendo's nascent Switch Online service, but as of this writing, Nintendo has only two notable offers. Switch Online members have exclusive access to Nintendo's $60 pair of NES replica controllers for Switch, though you can buy only one pair per membership and can use the controllers with only the system's NES games. Those who purchase a 12-month Switch Online membership will also get exclusive Splatoon 2 gear.
All three services have their own companion apps, but there's a clear divide in terms of functionality. The Xbox and PlayStation apps are both robust, allowing you to message friends, track achievements and even buy games right from your phone. And you can use these apps without a premium membership.
The Switch Online app, which requires a subscription, is barren by comparison. You can currently use it to chat with friends in Splatoon 2, Arms, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Mario Tennis Aces and the Switch's NES classics app. You can also use the app to view stats and buy gear in Splatoon 2. We expect the app to get fleshed out over time, but it doesn't have a whole lot to offer right now.
Price and Value
Switch Online's biggest selling point is its price, which is only $20 for a full year of service (or $4 for a month or $8 for three months). You can also get a 12-month family plan for $34.99, and you can connect up to eight accounts to it.
Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus are pricier, at $60 a year each (with $10 monthly options available), but they offer a whole lot more for the money. Microsoft and Sony don't offer family plans, but they do allow you to share your Gold or Plus perks (and game libraries) with any other accounts on your primary console.
When it comes to the big three online services, you get what you pay for. At its attainable $20 yearly price, Switch Online grants you access to online multiplayer, a nostalgic NES library and cloud saves, though it could benefit from some better communication options.
At $60 a pop, Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus are far more fully featured, and they're nearly identical to one another. You'll get batches of big AAA games every month, enjoy frequent discounts and get to play with your friends without having to whip out a clunky smartphone app. Ultimately, your choice of online service should come down to where you play multiplayer the most and what types of monthly games you'd prefer to have in your collection.
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Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.