A Guide To Cloud Gaming Services

Everything you need to know about the current state of cloud gaming

a guide to cloud gaming

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With the launch of Google Stadia and services like PlayStation Now, cloud gaming is an increasingly popular way to play the games you love. For those who are used to playing games stored in your computer or console, the idea of using the cloud to store and play games is a new one. We’ve written this guide to help people like you understand cloud gaming and how it works.

You’ll find everything a customer needs to know about cloud gaming covered in the sections below:

  • What Is Cloud Gaming?
  • Benefits Of Cloud Gaming
  • Why Is Cloud Gaming Becoming So Popular?
  • Popular/Best Cloud Gaming Platforms
  • Is Cloud Gaming The Future Of Gaming?

This guide covers everything the average person wants to know. If you want to read even deeper into the technology behind cloud gaming, we’ve included links to supporting material. We have also referenced claims made throughout the guide, so you can be sure you’re receiving factual information.

What Is Cloud Gaming? 

what is cloud gaming

Let’s get started with the obvious question – what is cloud gaming? Maybe you’re totally new to the idea or you’ve heard the term but you’re not quite sure what it refers to. Either way, knowing what cloud gaming entails is very important going forward. Once you know what cloud gaming is, you can then know what a cloud gaming service does for its clientele.

At its most basic level, cloud gaming is where the computational heavy lifting is done by a powerful server and the video stream from that server is sent to your device. This means that the devices themselves aren’t running the game, allowing a game to be played and enjoyed through the Internet without downloading and running it yourself. This takes the stress off your device and, in many cases, you don’t need a powerful device to play demanding games.

The only physical limitations are the costs related to Internet bandwidth and server capacity. To cover costs, services that offer cloud gaming collect subscriptions from their clients. By doing this, it keeps the costs down for individual people too. Subscriptions are often tiered, too, so you have a choice of hardware capabilities.

Cloud gaming services come in several models but, once you understand the core of what cloud gaming is, you should be able to follow what they are doing. Some will collect payment hourly while others may even charge by the minute.

In a line – cloud gaming services are streaming services for games.

The next thing you need to know is that cloud gaming didn’t appear out of the blue. This isn’t some new fad that everybody’s buying into, there have been many cloud gaming companies over the last decade who have tried to create what Google and the other gaming companies are doing today.

OnLive is perhaps the best example. Having started in 2010, they were simply too early. When working with technology, ambitions can get ahead of infrastructure, and so OnLive became known for its lagging, lackluster performance. Throw in some corporate drama behind the scenes, a bankruptcy, several layoffs, and you have a damning example of how cloud gaming can fail.

Fortunately, many projects continued the work that OnLive and other predecessors failed to do. The technology we have makes cloud gaming much more feasible than it has ever been in the past, and we’re going to check out some of those cloud gaming services today.

Benefits Of Cloud Gaming

benefits of cloud gaming

Knowing something exists and choosing to use it are two different things, so let’s go deeper into the benefits of cloud gaming. Why is it more useful to you, as a consumer, than just downloading and playing your favorite games from the computer/console?

There are six main benefits we can think of. Check them out, they’ll help you decide if cloud gaming is feasible for your gaming style or not.

Access To Games From Anywhere

The main benefit of cloud gaming is the fact you can access a wide variety of games with no extra effort from your hardware. From one location, gamers can access multiple games without having to move from their seat or download the games themselves, which requires you to buy the game for more money.

Using Google Stadia as a popular example, their service has 249 games available. That’s more than most people own. The number of games available will increase as time goes on, too.

Note that not all cloud gaming services have a library of games. Instead, they’ll have a list of compatible games and it’s up to you to bring your own entertainment. They’ll facilitate play between you but it’ll require linking to your Steam account.

Saving Money By Removing Front Up Costs Of A Gaming PC

While it’s possible to buy parts carefully and get a gaming PC that won’t break the bank, many buy wholesale or they don’t bargain hunt, and so their gaming PC gets expensive. This was before the parts shortage that has rocked the graphics card industry too, along with other industries reliant upon microprocessors.

When you’re working with a cloud gaming service, subscriptions are typically calculated so that they’re cheaper than buying the actual game. This system is great for developers too since they can earn money from people playing their game, especially if it’s a games-as-a-service model. Some who enjoy the game may even buy the game for download on their systems.

If you want to get off the never-ending computer upgrade treadmill, cloud gaming services could be the solution you need.

Reduction In Pirating Games

As everything has become more digitized, it’s become harder to stake a claim to digital content and stop others from taking it. That’s why game piracy has become such an issue, along with movie and music piracy. If a piece of media is uploaded to the Internet, there will always be those who copy the material and re-use it for their own gain.

In the future, we may solve this problem using emerging technologies like blockchain and trust-building contracts backed by NFTs in the gaming space. For now, cloud gaming at least reduces how much piracy can take place. This is because the games are stored and run on cloud servers, which are all housed in a building that has both standard security and cybersecurity. The game files aren’t sent out into the ether, where they’d surely be copied and redistributed on some shady site where pirates roam.

Compatibility To Lower End Devices

Not every device can run every game, especially if you’re rocking a computer. With such a variety of computer parts and power levels out there, your hardware might struggle to play the best games. Fortunately, cloud gaming can resolve this.

To download and play a game on your own device, it needs to handle storage and the graphics, processing, and memory demands associated with the game. If the hardware can handle streaming the game through a cloud gaming service, however, then it doesn’t bear the brunt of running the game.

This means that lower-end devices can use cloud gaming to experience games that are out of the device’s compatibility range.

No Download & Installation Times

Having mentioned how we typically download and run games on our hardware, that process is entirely bypassed through cloud gaming. You need to have a capable Internet connection to play with cloud gaming but you don’t need to download and install the game. As games get bigger, the installation times are getting crazy, and so cloud gaming may be a solution to this problem for many people.

Also, the services themselves are fast, flexible, and responsive to the needs of their customers. The services can help save data in the event of a crash or other gameplay issues. So, not only do you skip download and installation times, but you also get added support for your gaming when using a cloud gaming service.

Cross-Platform Syncing

While cross-platform capabilities are in their adolescence, cloud gaming can be the key to synchronizing your gameplay across multiple accounts or consoles. Specifically, using cloud storage can allow a gamer to start a game on one device, store the progress into the cloud, and then use that stored information on another device to pick up where they left off.

This is something that cloud gaming services are figuring out now that cross-platform play has become more popular over the past few years. By linking a cloud gaming service account to your gaming accounts, it may be possible to store and share information between them as long as the companies behind them, like Microsoft and Sony, agree.

Why Is Cloud Gaming Becoming So Popular?

why is cloud gaming so popular

Now that you know what cloud gaming is and the benefits of using a cloud gaming service, maybe you’re wondering “why now?”

Services like OnLive were too early because the technology and the audience weren’t there in 2012. Over time, this has slowly changed, but there’s still no guarantee that cloud gaming services will catch on amongst the gamer crowd. That said, streaming mania has taken over how we watch TV and movies, so it’s easy to see why companies are leaning into cloud gaming services.

Let’s talk numbers. 2020 was a great year for the cloud gaming market, ending with approximately 432 million dollars. The market is projected to hit 3,256.7 million dollars by 2026, based on a compound annual growth rate of 43%. While other sources may work with slightly different numbers, they all show the expectation that cloud gaming is becoming more and more popular.

Why?

  • Sony and Microsoft, as dominant market forces, are bringing services like PlayStation Now, Project xCloud, and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate to mainstream audiences.
  • Google announced and debuted its Stadia service in 2019, to a mixed reception. Having spent time to add content and optimize the service, it’s not going anywhere and will continue growing over time.
  • Nvidia also launched GeForce Now for everybody in 2020. They collaborate with Tencent to bring cloud gaming to China, too.
  • Nintendo has established cloud storage support for their games on their Switch consoles.
  • Amazon has also utilized the power of Amazon Web Services to create Luna, a cloud gaming application that uses their sophisticated cloud servers. With a Luna+ subscription, you get access to many games. They have been seeking a partnership with Ubisoft.
  • Lastly, Electronic Arts are working on Project Atlas, which should use cloud computing and AI to make cloud gaming feasible for customers.

With those six examples, it’s clear that the big players in the gaming/leisure tech space are scrambling to harness the power of cloud computing. Every decision these big companies make is informed by market research and other means of gauging public interest, and it’s clear where they think the future lies.

Even if cloud gaming wasn’t popular with consumers, the fact that every big gaming company is embracing the technology will turn cloud gaming mainstream in a matter of years, if not sooner.

Microsoft made their intentions toward cloud gaming obvious in a Project xCloud blog post. In it, they say that the future of gaming should be where gamers can do these five things:

  1. Play the games they want.
  2. With anybody they want.
  3. Whenever they want.
  4. Wherever they are.
  5. On any device they want.

Assuming cloud gaming services live up to this ideal, it’s easy to see why they’re becoming more popular. Convenience is a very strong motivator in the adoption of new tech and cloud gaming can supply unrivaled convenience to the sector.

On a larger scale, the adoption of cloud gaming and other streaming platforms that are reliant on the Internet is only going to improve with the 5G rollout. Remember that cloud gaming only works when customers have the bandwidth to send inputs and receive visuals with virtually no lag or gameplay issues. The cheaper and better these Internet services, the more feasible cloud gaming becomes.

Popular/Best Cloud Gaming Platforms

popular cloud gaming platforms

As cloud gaming develops, we’re seeing more platforms and services pop up. Many of them target slightly different audiences and niches, and we have the seven best and most popular ones here.

Knowing about the theoretical advantages of cloud gaming services is good but it’s even better to look at the programs that exist today. That way, you can better appreciate where cloud gaming is today and what the technology can do for you right now.

Shadow

Shadow.tech is a cloud gaming service that was developed by Blade, a French company that was built off of Windows 10 servers to set up remotely accessible PC infrastructure. While many of the other services detailed below are specific to video gaming, Shadow can be used for all sorts of things.

Their remote servers are configured with high-end processors, GPUs, and SSDs. They’re all kept in a secure location and they try to make sure you interface with the closest storage center, to get the fastest response times.

So, what else can you do on Shadow alongside gaming?

  • 3D Rendering
  • Video Editing
  • Sound Editing
  • CAD Programs
  • Watching Streaming Services

GeForce Now

GeForce Now is the Nvidia Corporation’s proprietary cloud gaming software. It was one of the earlier examples of a cloud gaming service, becoming available in 2015 and allowing subscribers unlimited access to their game library until 2019. Now, they use a “bring your own games” model so your Steam account needs to own the game beforehand to take advantage of the service’s processing power.

They are hosted on Nvidia servers, and who else than Nvidia would know how to build good, robust hardware that can withstand the requirements of their audience? You probably have Nvidia parts in your computer right now but the parts in their private servers are even better.

The service is free at its most basic level, though sessions are time-limited. To get more time, there are paid tiers that allow for more time and more dedicated hardware that can support impressive graphical details like ray tracing.

They have more recently announced integration with Steam Cloud Play and are working with Electronic Arts and Ubisoft to bring some of the publishers’ largest franchises to cloud gaming. While they’re relatively behind the scenes compared to some of the companies below, nobody has more inroads with industry partners than Nvidia. Their library of games has virtually no limitations and, where there have been limits, they were slowly overcome with time.

Blacknut

Blacknut is a cloud gaming service that requires no installation, no game purchase, and no console to play on your favorite devices. They have a library of 500 games that are delivered through connection speeds ranging from six megabytes a second to four gigabytes, depending on your needs.

It’s supported by a monthly subscription and there’s no lock-in period, so it’s easy to cancel whenever you want. Accounts can also be separated across five different age brackets – 3+, 7+, 12+, 16+, and 18+. It’s a great tool for families who want to bring gaming to the home without breaking the bank on hardware or exposing young ones to graphic content.

Blacknut is compatible with smartphones, iOS devices, Google TV, Fire TVs, and computers. You can also connect an Xbox One controller.

Vortex

Vortex is a cloud gaming library that does everything you need the service to do. They offer playing games even if you don’t have a device and you can even play games through mobile or handheld devices. You can even start on your desktop and switch to your phone seamlessly, and vice versa.

Along with their own library of games, you can also bring your own owned games as long as they’re supported by Vortex. The subscription to Vortex is tiered in three different ways. The Basic plan is the cheapest but doesn’t have any game licenses, so it’s better for those who own games. The Pro and Ultra plans give you access to more games, with that Ultra allowing for more playing hours.

Google Stadia

Perhaps the most famous cloud gaming service right now, Google Stadia was created with the ambition of streaming games to players at 60 FPS and 4K resolution, and HDR support. Coming from Google, they have practically infinite resources and data centers available to cater to a very wide customer base.

Any browser that uses Chromium can be used with a Stadia and they also have a mobile app for Android and Chrome OS tablets. They also expanded to iOS and Safari in 2020. The base service is free but you need to own the games to stream them, and that involves buying them from their proprietary store.

4K and more advanced streaming elements are locked behind a Stadia Pro tier. Another great feature of Stadia is its state share system. This is where Stadia is integrated with YouTube and that, through sharing a permalink, you can access a save state shared with you by another player.

After several reshuffles behind the scenes, Google has started licensing Stadia tech as a white-label product in 2021.

PlayStation Now

PlayStation Now is another example of one of the earliest mainstream cloud gaming services, which makes sense seeing that it’s getting pushed by Sony. The service came during a time that the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 were competing, and it wasn’t looking great for Sony.

The Xbox One had the higher ground in terms of backward compatibility but PlayStation was ahead in the cloud computing game. This gave rise to PlayStation Now, which allowed for streaming PlayStation titles not just from the PS4 but also the PS3, PS2, and PS1, solving the backward compatibility issue. It’s also PC compatible. In its modern PlayStation 5 incarnation, Now supports games from PS2 and PS4 games.

There are over 800 games available and approximately 300 of them are downloadable, and they can be experienced with a seven-day trial. When you pay, three subscription tiers dictate how many single-player and multiplayer options you have. With the service’s game library growing every year, it’ll be an important part of Sony’s arsenal going forward.

Xbox Cloud Gaming

As PlayStation Now took to the scene, Microsoft worked on Project xCloud and demonstrated it in 2019 by playing games on an Android phone with an Xbox controller. While PS Now is their clear competitor, Microsoft has also said that they want to front a powerful content library that can compete with Google’s Stadia.

xCloud used Xbox One S servers but is now bringing in Series X servers to guarantee higher standards of performance. They even built support for iOS and Sony’s DualShock controller systems

More recently, Xbox Cloud Gaming was released in beta form in the summer of 2021. Tied in with an Ultimate subscription to Xbox Game Pass and requiring Xbox Insider registration, the service is now live and allows remote play support for games on consoles and computers. Certain games are only accessible if you have the Ultimate subscription, incentivizing customers to upgrade.

Like Sony, Microsoft is looking at introducing Xbox and Xbox 360 titles through their cloud gaming services as a more convenient way to provide backward compatibility. Unfortunately, it’s currently limited in its connectivity and compatibility applications, so that’s something that needs to be worked on in the future.

Is Cloud Gaming The Future Of Gaming?

As we touched on above, the future of cloud gaming is looking bright. Is it the future of gaming? That’s a little harder to tell. You only need to look back to the 90s to see how gaming has changed exponentially over a few short decades, along with other tech spaces like mobile phones and virtual reality. It seems that the technology available to us is rapidly expanding and that the 2020s might be the decade of cloud gaming, until the next, more advanced solution comes along and outcompetes it.

Cloud gaming is only just getting mainstream acceptance from the big movers and shakers in the industry, so we don’t expect it to overtake standard gaming anytime soon. 

Many gamers find value in owning physical copies of their games and others will have some sense of relief by downloading and installing games to their devices. There seems to be a desire in some audiences to own their games, physically or digitally, as a matter of principle. This is something that cloud gaming will need to get over to capture those audiences, and the ability to save and come back to save states helps.

Also, hardcore gamers who are obsessed with performance also know that latency and other performance metrics are better when running the game natively, not streaming it from a warehouse a few miles away. This can suggest that cloud computing has a space in casual gaming, which is the fastest-growing. If mobile games and other demanding apps can be run from cloud gaming services in the future, they’d have more customers than ever before. Many services can stream larger games on mobile phones right now.

The success of companies like Netflix and Spotify is largely due to two things – first-mover advantage and bringing their service into everybody’s pockets through a mobile app. Those two things are a great recipe for future success and now we are seeing cloud gaming embrace mobile phones too. PlayStation Now and GeForce Now are the early movers here but, when they’re against relentless innovators like Microsoft, Google, and Amazon, it’s anybody’s game.

Where people do accept cloud gaming, they typically want to have the most convenient and flexible services. Cross-platform synchronization is a huge selling point to gamers, so services that offer it will have a clear advantage over those that do not. Naturally, the standard of performance will need to challenge and overcome what you get with owned, downloaded games.

Cloud gaming services sidestep the issue of digital ownership, something that often comes up with games and the DRM attached to them. What was once met with derision has become the norm for the world of video games and cloud gaming seems to be another example of that. It may be controversial amongst some but it’ll get accepted due to convenience.

As we alluded to earlier, there is technology out there that may be able to solve the problem of owning digital entities. While in their infancy, non-fungible tokens can create scarcity in entirely digital spaces, assigning pieces of data on the blockchain to owners of private keys. It’s often compared to a land title deed and a key to the property, all in one. Don’t get distracted by the digital art that’s dominating the NFT space, the tech can have great implications in gaming sectors in the future.

Theoretically, games could be owned and stored on the blockchain and then accessed by the owner, with no need for DRM concerns. There are many blockchain-as-a-service companies and, if combined with the ability to host the games on servers and stream them to your devices, it eliminates all ownership concerns. The player would own the game, in every possible sense, while cloud gaming services facilitate play between them so that they can be enjoyed on lower-end and handheld devices.

Summary

cloud gaming summary

As we reach the end of our guide, you should now understand more about cloud gaming services and how cloud gaming works. We’ve outlined the many benefits of adopting cloud gaming tech while highlighting some concerns, like inconsistent performances sometimes or the desire to own the games among some audiences. If you have a lower-end device or can’t access your own hardware, you won’t have those concerns, and cloud gaming is the clear solution.

Having looked at the main players in the space, it’s clear that we’re seeing companies embrace cloud computing technology for gaming. Whether they’re doing this to hedge their bets or they think that cloud gaming will surpass traditional gaming in the future remains to be seen.

Fortunately, cloud gaming services are just the latest in a long line of companies that have converted analog and digital media into convenient, streamed content for paying subscribers. If it can be done for movies and TV, it can certainly be done for gaming, especially as the industry embraces games-as-a-service models that have made cloud gaming on demand the next logical step.

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PC guide
Jacob was exposed to a variety of gaming consoles and tech from an early age and has expanded his knowledge to become well-versed in all things PC. He is now a keen technology tinkerer and gaming enthusiast, making him an expert in the overall field.

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