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Tech

Oof, when did streaming movies, games, and music get so expensive?

Streaming service options on a TV in a dark living roomImage: Nicolas J Leclercq / Unsplash

Cable used to be the only game in town for wide entertainment. Sure, if you wanted to subscribe to a game like EverQuest or World of Warcraft, you could (and well, guess the rest of us were never seeing you again). But for variety, cable is what you had—and it wasn’t cheap.

So when streaming services came along, they seemed like an answer to everyone’s budget prayers. These days there’s a digital subscription available for most interests, including gaming. And individually, they’re affordable.

Or at least, they were.

Xbox Game Pass just went up in cost. (Even if you use the conversion hack to get it cheaper.) So did PlayStation Plus. GeForce Now so far is exempt, but PC gamers haven’t been able to sit assured about much these days.

Meanwhile, on the TV and movies side of things, Netflix is rumored to be raising prices yet again. Disney+ and Discovery+ have already announced hikes. And in an extremely annoying variation of shrinkflation, Amazon Prime Video and multiple services are adding adverts to their basic streaming plans (or have already done so). As for music, Spotify also got more expensive, sending notice to subscribers with little fanfare.

Streaming was great when you were paying less than $25 per month for all the content you could want. But now subscribing to even three services ad-free runs almost $50 per month. Let’s say you want regular access to Game Pass, Netflix, and Disney Plus—that’s already $40 to start with, if you’re only a PC gamer. If you’re a multi-platform gamer, it’s about $47.

Microsoft

Want any special content, like a dedicated focus on anime or Asian dramas? Or also a music service? Get ready to shell out more, and you will get nickel-and-dimed to death. You can’t share accounts outside your household anymore. (Netflix is the most famous of the bunch in reversing its stance on that.)

What was once our parents’ cable bill problem is now our streaming services problem. Except I don’t think there’s an answer to this, outside of rotating services periodically—or waiting until Black Friday and other promotional periods to sign up. (Last year I snagged a Starz deal of $20 for a whole year, for example.)

In fact, the solution may end up being an old-fashioned one: Catching specific games and shows with friends and family while visiting them. Buying or renting the specific things we want to play, listen to, or watch. Heck, even borrowing them. (Local libraries are more awesome than most people know, by the way.)

I could be behind the times, for sure. (Do people even hang out in person to watch things any more? Hmm.) People might instead just move even further toward YouTube and social media, where you can at least watch videos for free while being served ads. And yeah, a lot of people still buy their games instead of using a service. Between Epic Games’ free giveaways and insane Steam discounts on older titles, you can kill a ton of hours for cheap.

But I miss that golden period, where the world was my streaming oyster and I only had to plunk down a few dollars a month to sample everything. I suppose this means I should be reading more books again. The ads are extremely skippable (barely even knew you, front and back matter), and I’m able to borrow literally thousands of them for free. I can easily take them outside, too, with no glare or battery life issues.

I guess I should finally go see what sunlight is all about.

Alaina Yee is PCWorld’s resident bargain hunter—when she’s not covering software, PC building, and more, she’s scouring for the best tech deals. Previously her work has appeared in PC Gamer, IGN, Maximum PC, and Official Xbox Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @morphingball.

Recent stories by Alaina Yee:

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