Alistair has been playing video games since 1993 and remains interested in the latest paradigms in gaming.
What Is Cloud Gaming?
Cloud gaming consists of playing a game locally that is being processed simultaneously remotely. You have many choices of platform whether it be with PlayStation Now, GeForce Now, or even Microsoft's Project xCloud as a part of Game Pass.
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.
What Advantages Does Cloud Gaming Have Versus Native Gaming?
Most game experiences today consist of visiting a digital store like the Microsoft Store or Steam and picking a game to buy. After which, comes that inevitable download to your—hopefully—SSD that takes as long as it takes. That's life, baby. Games have been getting steadily larger over the last decade with no salient signs of stopping.
For instance, Modern Warfare 2 is nearly 200 gigabytes at the moment which would take two and a half hours to download on 200 Mbp/s internet. You'd better get a snack and a nap in the meantime.
Meanwhile, with GeForce Now you're on and 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 even quicker than that. Regardless of if you're playing on your PC, Android TV, or your smartphone (both Android and iOS), 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 Valhalla's very snazzy menus. Did I mention that none of this is saved on your hard drive or anywhere locally? 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.
Cloud Gaming Can Run at Higher FPS and Visual Fidelity
The average $500 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 all your frames? What about High Dynamic Range(HDR)? Do you see frame drops below 60 resulting in choppiness and slow-down? These are all poignant questions for someone who enjoys visual fidelity in their games.
Let's just start with Stadia, shall we? Stadia can run Destiny 2 or Cyberpunk 2077 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 run the full gamut of 4K + HDR + 5.1 surround sound you'll need at least a 40 mbp/s internet connection.
Let's think about that. To play a game natively on your PC in 4K resolution with HDR would require an above average video card with a competent processor to match. We will get to the cost of such things later. Do you really want to fight the scalpers and bots for your CPUs and GPUs anymore?
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 $1000 gaming PC that I built can run Destiny 2 at 4K 60 but it doesn't always stay consistently at 60. Booting up Stadia allows me a crisp, locked-in 60 that tends to look just as good, if not better than when I play natively.
In summary, cloud gaming services can allow you to play games at higher FPS and lets you play them quicker than if you're downloading and then running them off your hard disk drive or older solid state drive.
What Kinds of Experiences Can I Get From Cloud Gaming?
A little background about myself is in order. I have 12 game consoles, as well as both a gaming PC and laptop. As for my mobile streaming devices, I use a Moto G Fast, Google Pixel 2 XL, and iPhone 12. It does get a little messy to have so many devices floating around. Especially when many of those consoles mostly 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 12 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, yet slowly, adding new games to the library which currently stands at *checks notes* 700 games currently. These are titles from PlayStation 2 all the way to very recent games from PlayStation 4. There haven't been any recent updates about what Sony wishes to do with PS Now in reference to the PlayStation 5.
In typical Sony fashion, PS Now offers JRPGs, adventure, action, and oodles of indie titles. 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 original console ecosystem.
Microsoft's xCloud (Game Pass)
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, with iOS support in the works. What Microsoft wants xCloud to 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.
Somewhat tangential to xCloud comes the native game streaming of your Xbox One S, X, Series S, and Series X consoles to your Android smartphone. While this isn't at all streaming from the cloud, it's still a form of streaming tech and just solidifies the fact that xCloud is currently a sort of companion piece to a traditional gaming experience rather than the headliner at the show.
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.
Speaking of the incremental nature of updates to GFN, GoG Galaxy which is CD Projekt Red's game store slash launcher has now added The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Cyberpunk 2077 to its initial offerings to the service. It's definitely one way to get ray tracing support for CP2077.
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. My PRO subscription stands at 54 games that are playable for free so long as you are subbed. 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, just like with PlayStation Plus or Games with Gold. 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 offered by Blade, a French company, 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 matters get dubious when you want to do a cloud gaming service within a cloud streaming service. Oof. However, my brother regularly uses Shadow to do professional work such as computing, encoding/decoding and interpolation. Their entry level Nvidia Quadro cards are exceptional at these tasks, though they have an RTX Titan tier as well for the lucky few who manage to snag it.
|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
Microsoft xCloud (Game Pass)
1280 x 720
$15/mo as a part of game pass.
Whatever you want, man.
Variable, depending on game.
As low as $15/mo
Is Cloud Gaming Cost Effective?
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. Let's do some math and see.
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 ~$89 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.
That's All Assuming You Don't Already Have Devices
Most people have something laying around. An old Android phone, a crappy laptop that you haven't used in years. Even your grandmother's PC. Just find a device and start cooking. Very rarely will someone decide to get into cloud gaming without any sort of tech already situation in their house.
Should You Invest in Cloud Gaming?
While it's unlikely that cloud gaming will replace the likes of the 360 FPS Counterstrike: Global Offensive's reliance on a native high-powered low-latency PC, it is rather likely that your every day 30-60 FPS casual gamer will find plenty to love. Between the fast boot-up times of Stadia and GeForce Now, to the flexibility of xCloud and local game streaming via your Xbox One or Series console to your remote device, it's never been quicker to pick up and play a game. Not only that, but it's all relatively affordable when taking into account the cost of a PS5 or Series X with expandable terabytes of storage and external SSDs for your older games, or even the cost of a gaming PC as detailed earlier.
And beyond any of that, it's just extremely convenient. Some of us gamers are getting older and have less time and money to devote to our vast game collections. Sometimes it's just nice to boot up a game and play for 15 minutes without having to download anything, find a game disc, or even own the game in question. Sometimes I just want to dabble in a game and not worry about all the rest of that.
If that speaks to you, then I highly recommend trying out any one of these services. You won't regret it.
Game streaming is an evolving area of gaming, so check back often for updates. Thanks for reading.
© 2020 Alistair Torrance