Currently, cloud gaming is gaining a huge amount of popularity. This is partly due to the ongoing silicone shortage, and partly because it just makes a lot of sense. When you play a game on a cloud platform, you don’t have to run, fix or upgrade the hardware - that’s someone else’s problem. As a general rule, this table sums up cloud gaming.
|You don’t have to buy expensive hardware||You don’t own your gaming machine|
|You don’t have to fix or upgrade your hardware, that’s covered by the service provider||If something goes wrong in the datacenter, you can’t play your games|
|You don’t have to deal with updates||You are more limited than you would be if you had bought the hardware|
|It is more economic to run in the cloud||You need a good internet connection to play|
|There is a support team to deal with your problems||If you cancel your subscription, you lose your machine|
Recently, I have investigated and tried out several services, to find out what works best for people who want to get the highest quality gaming experience for the lowest monthly cost. Before I get started, I would like to highlight that there are many more services than the ones that I will be covering today, and there are plenty of others out there that will do a really good job too. I have done my best to document my findings below.
This is definitely what the cloud looks like
🕹️ GeForce NOW
GFN is definitely worth a try, it has a fully capable free tier and works amazingly. You can play any game that they support and that you own. There is a large library of supported games from Steam, Epic Games Store and several others.
When I gave GeForce NOW a try, I was very impressed with the speed and quality of game streaming. It worked flawlessly on my Android 11 phone and nearly as well on my Windows 10 PC. I even purchased the Priority tier, which gives you access to longer game sessions and faster queueing, as well as RTX support for some games. I have been very impressed by it so far, and will likely continue my subscription.
But there must be downsides right? Of course. Cloud gaming is still a fairly new technology and there is no such thing as a perfect solution. The problems that I have with GFN are as follows:
- Some games I want to play aren’t supported or show up as offline (Stellaris is supported but hasn’t been available to play for a while, and games like Sea of Thieves just aren’t supported).
- Sometimes you get unusual errors that take a bit of time to sort out. These are annoying but not experience ruining.
- People report issues with latency. I have not encountered any issues that negatively impact my experience yet, but I have seen enough people complain to mention this.
You should keep in mind that you can use GFN for free, as it has taken on the rare approach of supporting a free tier where you don’t even need to enter payment details. I strongly recommend trying out the free tier to see if GFN works for you.
Pricing: Free or £8.99/mo
Shadow is not exclusively a cloud gaming service, as it gives you access to a full Windows PC instead. This is really good if you want to use productivity software, or play games that aren’t supported elsewhere. However, Shadow comes at quite a high cost. You get a guaranteed spec with a fair set of resources. It is more economical than buying the PC yourself, but the performance may not be able to meet your expectations. It falls behind GFN in the sense that it does not currently have RTX tier GPUs available (GFN has them available for priority subscribers on certain games).
If you do get a good connection and experience with Shadow, you should also be able to enjoy it in VR, as their PCs are capable of handling and streaming VR. If you want a PCVR experience without having to buy a PC, then Shadow is probably your best bet, for the time being at least.
Shadow does say that they will upgrade your hardware regularly, but they have not really delivered on this recently. People are hoping that now it is owned by a multi-billionaire this will change soon.
It should also be noted that Shadow recently went bankrupt and was acquired by Octave Klaba, owner of OVHCloud. This lead to a price increase and has also started a migration. The service is changing significantly and the future is uncertain at the moment.
See also: Paperspace. Be warned that Paperspace is very pricey and requires quite a bit more time and technical knowledge to get working properly.
♟️ xCloud (upcoming)
xCloud is quite a limited option as it is currently in a closed beta state until its full launch on September 15 2021. However, I am going to mention it here because it comes with Game Pass Ultimate and is bundled with some extra perks and features.
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is a subscription that allows you to download and play any games from a large library at no additional cost. There are additional perks to this (occasionally you get in-game rewards or Discord Nitro or something along those lines). Combined with xCloud, you could get a library of games that you can stream (no PC or console required) for one monthly fee. If this works out, it will be a very nice bundle.
Unfortunately, there are limitations and drawbacks to this model, such as:
- xCloud will only be available on mobile platforms
- Limited to a select library of games only
- Low certainty about a lot of features
There is a lot more that I could say about xCloud, however as it is mostly subject to change I am going to leave the details at this for now.
📄 A note on other services
I am fully aware that there are lots of other options out there, however I have decided not to cover any others in this article. A few of them have been discounted because I don’t think they’re really ready for users yet.
Google Stadia - This service has had lots of problems recently and I can’t be certain if it will be here tomorrow. You also have to buy the games again + pay for the subscription.
Amazon Luna - Still very early access and with lots of uncertainties.
You may decide that one of these, or another, works for you. If you do, then please let me know!
There are so many fine differences between these services, so I’ve created a table to let you compare the different services easily.
Comparison has not been migrated from the old site yet.
There are many, many more things to compare, but that should cover the main areas. If you have questions about anything else, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.
After my investigation, I have decided that GFN is the best option for me right now, because it lets me import my existing game library and it can run all the games I’ve tried at max settings whilst staying at or above 60FPS. It also feels native to me.
I do feel that cloud computing is going to replace powerful home computers eventually, and whilst it does have a long way to go still, the possibilities are exciting and we’re only just getting started.