Cloud gaming is one of the most exciting pieces of tech to come about over the past couple of years to anyone who is seeking modern-day gaming without having to purchase a new console or expensive PC hardware. Cloud gaming also gives you unparalleled flexibility, letting you play anywhere you have a solid internet connection.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, the concept of cloud gaming is that you don’t need a high-powered PC or console. Instead, your devices act like thin clients, streaming the video output of a high-powered device that is running in a data center. This in turn means your $200 Chromebook can run Cyberpunk 2077 at 60 frames per second as long as it has a good internet connection.
The current silicon shortage also has made GPU’s and consoles scarce so unless you have been lucky enough to find one cloud gaming is by far the most accessible way to get a 10+ Teraflop gaming experience.
If you are looking for the technically impressive (graphical power, resolution, low latency) experience that replicates the performance of the Xbox Series X or PS5 look no further than Google Stadia. Stadia comes in at about the same graphical power as those consoles and the experience of using Stadia is by far the closest to what consoles are known for, ease of use, pressing play, and go. It offers up to 4k 60fps (depending on the game) and the games are accessible anywhere you can run Chrome which is the most flexible of all of the services so far.
On Stadia you buy your games there, just as you would on any other console, and that is what has kept Stadia from running away with the Cloud victory as many savvy gamers are more than aware of Google’s reputation for killing products that aren’t a success in sometimes short periods of time. Those fears may be unfounded though as Stadia has shown to be successful and it also operates how many other long-standing Google services do today. Stadia is proving to be more than a passing fad for Google.
Stadia is free to use at 1080p but you can pay $10 a month for stadia pro to get a high resolution experience, free games you get to claim each month, and frequent discounts on the games available in the store.
If you are PC gamer and would like a way to access a portion of your Steam, Epic, Origin libraries in the cloud then Geforce Now is a great option. Not all titles are supported and so you will want to investigate just how much of your PC library can be accessed.
For better or worse Geforce Now doesn’t run its own gaming store, instead, it uses your existing libraries on other digital stores. This means that if you already spent money on a bunch of games on Steam that chances are you can play some of those games without having to re-buy them. This also means though that launching games and playing them can be very cumbersome as you are forced to regularly authenticate to those services, often with two-factor authentication, making the experience fine for the technically inclined but not as accessible for the casual gamer.
Geforce Now is free if you don’t mind waiting in long queues and one hour timed sessions and 1080 level GPU performance. Or you can pay $7 a month to get 6-hour sessions, almost no queues, and improved graphics with 2080 level GPU performance.
Amazon’s entry into the cloud gaming space is younger but has some promise. Instead of posing as its own platform it basically runs the windows versions of games which makes it much more accessible for developers to port games to.
Microsoft hasn’t fully launched xCloud but its looking to be a great option as it grows. xCloud has by far one of the more popular purchasing models as it offers a $15 subscription to a large library of rotating games and gives you discounts on those titles if you want to keep them permanently.
xCloud is currently only on Android at 1080p and will be coming to web browsers (including iOS) soon and is testing that in beta now. Cloud platforms (Geforce Now, Stadia, and XCloud) all being available in the browser really makes cloud gaming accessible.
Playstation Now is similar to xCloud in that you get a prescribed rotating set of games to play. And also like xCloud its currently limited in where you can play it as well as limited in the performance you get from it. But like xCloud it is growing and soon expanding to 1080p and with any luck may be available on more platforms.
Shadow is both the most flexible and powerful cloud gaming option while also being the most expensive. Shadow is simply access to a remote Windows 10 gaming PC, the whole thing. This flexibility comes at both a cost of cumbersome use for casual gamers as well as a significant cost of $30-$40 a month.
Shadow has also been plagued with massive wait times to receive access after signing up and is currently facing bankruptcy. I like what Shadow has been trying to do but it’s difficult to recommend.
Where to start?
The great news is that there is a great option in pretty much every category of use case. If you are a PC gamer looking for other options to get that extra graphical power there is Geforce Now and Shadow. If you are a console gamer you can choose a service that matches the platform you use or choose a platform that is more flexible to your lifestyle. In the cases of Stadia and Geforce Now there are free options. So what are you waiting for? Go try those out and see for yourself.