Alistair has been playing video games since 1993 and remains interested in the latest paradigms in gaming.
Introduction to Cloud Gaming
Let's get started on the most current reasons to invest in the cloud gaming infrastructure, whether it be with PlayStation Now, GeForce Now, or even Microsoft's Project xCloud. The vast majority of gamers fall into three categories: PC, console, or both. PC being those who game on Windows OS, Mac OS, or even using the Vulkan API and Wine under Linux. Whereas console pertains to those who own a Switch, Xbox One, PS4, or any of their predecessors.
For the purposes of this article, I am exploring the reasons why someone would wish to forego or simply supplement their trusty consoles or gaming PC in order to stream in their games instead.
Reason One: Cloud Gaming Is Faster
The average gaming experience in a nutshell consists of visiting a digital store on a console or a Steam-esque marketplace and buying a game. After which, comes that inevitable download to your—hopefully—SSD that takes as long as it takes. That's life, baby. While I have gigabit internet, 200 megabit per second seems to still be the norm for my country. For instance, Modern Warfare 2 is nearly 200 gigabytes at the moment which would take two and a half hours to download on 200 Mbps/s internet. You'd better get a snack and a nap in the meantime.
Cut to using GeForce Now and you're in the game within two minutes with no download required. How? The game is stored on Nvidia's servers and you're simply using your account credentials with Steam, Uplay, or Epic Store to access games you already own that are already running on remote servers.
That being said, Google's Stadia is much quicker. Regardless of if you're playing on your PC, Android TV, or your smartphone, all you do is start up the app and select the game you wish to play. Within ten seconds, you're in the game and navigating Assassin's Creed Odyssey's very statuesque menus. None of this is saved on your hard drive. Bonus.
PlayStation Now, on the other hand, clocks in at about 30 seconds to one minute to make it from the selection of a game on your Windows-based PC to being in the game and taking down bad dudes in Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
With Stadia, xCloud, and GeForce Now, you can also whip out your favorite Android smartphone and plug away at your favorite AAA titles as well. Your phone and computer aren't handling any of the heavy lifting either. The remote server is and it's sending the information to you via your internet. It's simplicity embodied.
But, Alistair, Is That All You Mean by Faster?
No, not at all. The average $1000 pre-built PC can more than easily handle 1080p 60 frames per second in games without breaking a sweat. What about 4K resolution without losing frames? What about High Dynamic Range(HDR)? Do you see frame drops below 60 resulting in wonky frame timings? These are all poignant questions for someone who enjoys fidelity in their games.
Let's just rock on with Stadia, shall we? Stadia can run Destiny 2 at four potential resolutions, 720p, 1080p, 1440p(2K) and 4K. This is dependent on what type of display you're using, and perhaps more crucially, what your internet connection looks like. If your TV can do 4K + High Dynamic Range color sets, then Stadia can be told to do just that.
To play a game natively in 4K resolution with HDR would require an RTX Nvidia graphics card or RDNA-series AMD card, with at least a 4 core 8 thread processor by either Intel or AMD. We will get to the cost of such things later.
Stadia, on the other hand, makes sure that you can play Destiny 2 at higher resolutions and graphical fidelity without the need for a high-end gaming PC at all. And many of the games run at 60 FPS. I'll be honest with you, my gaming PC runs Destiny 2 at 1080p at 60 to 100 frames natively. It looks fine, and is certainly playable, but no way can I do 4K HDR without potentially submerging below the 30 FPS mark. Yikes.
In summary, cloud gaming services play games at higher FPS and lets you play them quicker than playing on a low to medium end console or PC.
Reason Two: Variety of Gaming Experiences
A little background about myself is in order. I have 10 game consoles, as well as both a gaming PC and laptop. As for my mobile streaming devices, I use a Moto G Fast and Google Pixel 2 XL. It does get a little messy to have so many devices floating around. Especially when many of those consoles use strictly physical media, but that's a whole other story, folks.
However, with one $220 refurbished PC, a $219 4K TV, and a decent internet connection you could get all of the following experiences. It will, by no means, eclipse the game libraries of 10 consoles, but it is still amazing how much you actually can achieve with so little cost.
This offering from Sony has been around since late 2014 while continually adding new games to the library which currently stands at *checks notes* 800 games currently. These are titles from PlayStation 2 all the way to very recent games from Playstation 4.
In typical Sony fashion, PS Now offers JRPGs, adventure, action, and oodles of indie titles. Heading into the PS5 generation, there will absolutely be even more of a call for PS Now subscriptions, since its value has only increased, and the price has gone down since its inception.
You can currently use this service on both PS4 and Windows PC and is currently the only way to play older PlayStation exclusives outside their console ecosystem.
Now xCloud is a little more narrow in its focus than the others insofar as it is only officially supported for Android devices at the moment. What Microsoft wants xCloud toe be is a way to play all your favorite Game Pass titles on-the-go or in bed with your controller paired to your smartphone. I prefer the Razer Kishi, but that's because it's better.
While it's easy to see xCloud as less impressive than these other standalone services, there are ample reasons to invest your time and money into playing Soul Calibur 6 on your Android phone. The biggest and most noteworthy reason is laziness. Sometimes I don't want to turn on my console or PC and TV to play a game. My phone's always in my pocket, so it just makes sense in terms of convenience.
Nvidia's GeForce Now
Even though GeForce Now had been in beta for 7 years before launching in early 2020, it's tricky to write about because the game library expands every few weeks. Nvidia continually forms partnerships with new publishers and in return, gets more games on their service which is great for consumers but annoying for reviewers. Ah well, such is life.
That aside, the crux of GeForce Now is that it lets you play the games you already own via Steam, Uplay, and the Epic Games Store. You don't need to repurchase these games. Instead, simply boot up GeForce Now, pick your game, and then log into the respective launcher inside of Nvidia's virtual machine. Within about a minute, you'll be in the game. As I noted earlier with Stadia, there's no need to download anything.
Thankfully, to expedite the process of adding compatible games to your GeForce Now launcher, there exists a library sync method between GeForce Now and Steam so that you can easily see which of your 400 Steam games may be played through the cloud. Mine currently sits at 85 stream-able games. Good deal. Hopefully, they add syncing with the other launcher platforms sometime soon.
There's been plenty of negative press over the fact that you have to buy into Google's ecosystem in order to stream games with Stadia. So, using Odyssey as we did above, I would first have to purchase the game on the Stadia store and then I'd be able to stream it, regardless of if I was a free member or a Stadia PRO subscriber (which I am).
The tricky part comes when I have to explain to people that if you subscribe to PRO, you get dozens of games that are then suddenly free to stream, not unlike Microsoft's Game Pass. The list of PRO games continues to expand and will likely be a competitor to Game Pass in the coming years. You do also get the ability to stream in 4K and HDR as a part of your PRO subscription.
(Side note: PRO games are added to Stadia every month and are allowed to be claimed by current subscribers. If you continually subscribe to PRO, you'll amass quite a library of games. If you choose to unsubscribe, you won't be able to play these games until you re-up. The difference between Stadia and Game Pass is that Game Pass can remove any of their games for any reason whereas Google has promised to never revoke any game you have claimed.)
I wasn't super sure I wanted to include this one, as it's so much different than the others here. Shadow is a service that allows you to rent a powerful PC via their server farm that you then are allowed to use in almost any way you please. You can play 4K games on their computer which is then streamed to your Android TV, Linux, or Windows PC device. The reason I won't delve into this more deeply is that much of the benefits of using cloud gaming services are rather untrue about Shadow since you still have to download and install every game and you also can't reliably play other cloud gaming services from within Shadow. That would be a stream within a stream which just doesn't work quite right.
|Service||Highest Resolution||Highest Frames Per Second (FPS)||Price|
3840 x 2160
Free to use. Games cost money. PRO is $10/mo
1920 x 1080
Free or $5/mo
1280 × 720
1280 x 720
$15/mo as a part of game pass.
Whatever you want, man.
Variable, depending on game.
As low as $15/mo
Reason Three: Affordability
Let's take that previous talk of a pre-built PC from a system integrator like CyberPower. Let's even use a current offer so that it'll be accurate. CyberPower offers a $1000ish entry-level gaming PC that has a Ryzen 5 3600 6 core, 12 thread processor coupled with an AMD Radeon RX 580 8gb graphics card. According to their own words, it offers 90 FPS on Call of Duty MW2 Remastered. It fails to mention what resolution or level of detail they're working with, but vague marketing is pretty normal for a system integrator.
The most salient point I would like to make is that while this build will go a long way toward playing the games at the detail and fidelity that you need, I don't know that it's even necessary anymore. In that vein, if you That's an excellent question. Let's do some math.
Your CyberPower creation costs you $1000 up front, then of course you'll want at least a 4K TV to get the most out of your games so that's another $219 for a 43" Insignia television. Ignoring the cost of internet and games as that's a constant between cloud and native gaming. Therefore, the total for native gaming with an entry-level gaming PC comes to $1219. Not great, not terrible. You could easily cut this cost in half if you buy the parts yourself and forego a PC case or all those RGB lights, but you're not interested in all that, right? Let's move on.
Cloud Gaming Costs Analyzed
There are a few routes that would let you experience all the avenues that cloud gaming has to offer. Here are three builds I'll talk about, though there are at least a dozen permutations available.
Let's start with the higher end option. This will ultimately require a Windows PC. Sadly, this wouldn't get you xCloud, but that'll be a part of our next setup. Let's check Micro Center for a decent enough refurbished PC.
Without too much effort, I've found a $219 refurbished HP thing. It has a fourth-generation Core i5, an SSD, and integrated graphics. Sure, it'll work. Let's get that 43" TV from the earlier setup too, because why not. That's another $219 as well. Okay cool, let's subscribe to all the cloud services minus Game Pass for $40 even. What's that give us? $478. Less than half the price of the CyberPower PC. At $40 a month, we would have 18 months of gaming before we'd run into the threshold of what the entry-level gaming PC costs. Not just that, but out of the box we would have between 800 and 1000 games to play out of the box depending on how many games you might have owned and could play on GeForce Now. 823 games would be the lowest end amount of games if you owned zero games going into this.
In addition, if you truly do miss the Game Pass options, you can use Shadow to play them natively on your cloud-streamed rented PC. Neat.
Alternate, Mobile-Themed Option
This alternate option for cloud gaming relies upon finding a decent android smartphone and a Razer Kishi or equivalent gaming controller. At the moment a Moto G Fast smart phone costs ~$100 and plays xCloud, GeForce Now, and Stadia wonderfully. The Kishi cost me $80 as well. Cool. You're also a cheap person and only want to use the free tier of GeForce Now, so in effect, you're only paying the $15/mo for xCloud via Game Pass and $10/mo for Stadia PRO.
For $205 you're playing 1080p quality games on your phone while in the bathroom and enjoying your life. How does it feel to be happy? At that rate, it would take you 40 months of $25/mo to catch up to the pre-built PC's cost. Not bad at all.
Combination of the Two
Finally, let's say you combine these two options. You'd spend $618 on the hardware. Then $55/mo for all the services. You'd still have almost a year at this rate of raw fun nearly 1000-game goodness before you'd catch up to the cost of an entry-level gaming PC.
What Should You Choose: Native vs. Cloud Gaming?
While cloud gaming won't replace the desire for eSports pros to hit 300 frames per second on their high end gaming rigs, especially since cloud gaming adds a bit of latency to everything you do as well as limits you to which games you can play and how. But, these services are continuing to expand and becoming even more consumer-friendly. My own prediction is that native gaming will become less and less common in the next five years, similar to how using physical media has been usurped by digital equivalents.
Likewise, there are more options than ever on how to enjoy the games you enjoy. There are even recent developments like Stadia's experimental cloud gaming over 4GLTE and 5G data which allow you to play AAA console-style titles anywhere you have a signal. The days in which we need to have your console in our living room attached to your TV or pay for a thousand dollar PC in order to play the latest games is just not true anymore.
I hope you've had a chance to learn a bit more about cloud gaming and perhaps would be willing to give any one of these services a try. They each have their upsides and most certainly downsides as well, but this tech is really in its infancy, so keep that in mind. The future is extremely bright, especially given that cloud VR is certainly on the horizon. Have a good day, and happy gaming.
© 2020 Alistair