With multiple game development events each year, we often wonder what the next big thing will be, and how much of an impact it will make on our gaming experience. Over the past few years, some major advancements have taken place – seemingly behind closed doors – and we’re just now realizing that they may change the face of gaming as we know it. Introducing Cloud Gaming: the concept that any game can be played on any device at any time. But is it possible? This year, at GDC 2019, tech giants like Google and Microsoft threw their hats in the ring of Cloud Gaming, and they might actually have a shot.
What is Cloud Gaming?
First, let’s talk about what Cloud Gaming actually is. Cloud Gaming is essentially the idea of streaming a video feed of a game to whichever device you use, without having to physically power the game yourself. This removes the need for high-powered gaming PCs with expensive graphics cards, or even the need for a console altogether. The initial pitch of Cloud Gaming was to bring gamers from around the world together, despite their access to gaming rigs and pricey consoles. In theory, this would be amazing, and some companies have gotten pretty close to pulling it off.
How Cloud Gaming works is essentially universal across all developers at the time of writing. Each company builds data centers across the country, where they house thousands of high-tier gaming PCs, stacked with the latest graphics cards and RAM. Those computers stream wirelessly to the client’s device, whether it be through an app on their phone or computer, displaying the video signal of the game they choose. Whatever movements they make on their controller will be mirrored by a wirelessly-connected PC located in a data center hundreds of miles away. If done correctly, this could grant access to billions of people who couldn’t previously afford the expenses that go along with gaming.
Does Cloud Gaming Work?
To be perfectly honest, this is a tough question to answer and one that requires much more than a simple Yes or No. The short explanation is that Cloud Gaming does work, but only for some people. Despite having the heavy computing load taken off your device, the issue of latency and internet connectivity is where this idealistic scenario takes a nose dive. In order to connect to the data center of your chosen Cloud Gaming service provider, you will need a very strong internet connection. You will also need to make sure your internet provider or plan doesn’t have a data cap. These two limitations alone are enough to exclude over half the population of the planet from being able to partake in the Cloud Gaming experience. Even in many parts of the United States and Canada, internet providers have garish stipulations on usability, as well as unreliable signals and services. For example, if you live in a part of the country where you’re prone to signal outages or power flickers (like us), Cloud Gaming is next to impossible. And that’s not even taking into account how far you may be from a data center.
With all of these limitations in place, Cloud Gaming is only realistic for those living near a data center, with a strong internet connection, and no data cap. That’s pretty specific. However, if you are one of those lucky few, you’ll have access to hundreds of games running on a high resolution stream. At least depending on the service provider you choose.
What Are The Best Cloud Gaming Services?
Currently, there are a handful of Cloud Gaming service providers with their hats in the ring, and choosing one depends solely on your personal preference or needs. At the moment, the most ideal Cloud Gaming service is GeForce NOW offered by NVIDIA. While it may be in closed beta at the moment, this service offers access to over 400 games and digital stores like Steam and Uplay. While this might be one of the more enticing offers, the limited access means its only available in parts of Europe and the United States.
Another option is from Sony, the makers of PlayStation, called PlayStation Now. PlayStation Now offers access to more than 700 PS2, PS3, and PS4 games on your computer, as well as exclusive PS4 games on your console. This option works well for PlayStation gamers, but does require you to already own a PlayStation 4 and a PlayStation controller. The subscription is just $19.99 per month and there is a free trial available, if you’d like to try it out.
Shadow is possibly the most popular Cloud Gaming service, as they’ve been in the game for a few years now. The one thing keeping Shadow from spreading globally is their serious limitation on availability and access. Shadow is only available in certain parts of the United States and requires you to have a powerful internet connection. While they claim that the service is optimized for all connections, they don’t recommend using less than 5G or connecting over Wi-Fi. You’ll need access to a direct signal, which can be difficult for most people. Shadow is also the most expensive option at $34.95 per month.
We suggest testing a free trial of Cloud Gaming to see if it’s right for you!
New Cloud Gaming Services Coming Soon: Google Stadia vs. Project xCloud
There are a handful of other Cloud Gaming services available to the public, but the ones we are most excited about haven’t even been released yet. At this year’s GDC, both Google and Microsoft announced that they were creating their own Cloud Gaming services – Google Stadia and Project xCloud. Much like the previous developers we’ve mentioned, they’ll offer the ability to stream hundreds of games from their data centers right to your devices at home. What’s different about these versions of Cloud Gaming is the sheer level of funding and accessibility behind them. If there’s a company on this planet capable of pulling of a seamless Cloud Gaming experience, it’s a tech giant like Google or Microsoft.
Google and Microsoft each have countless data centers worldwide, eliminating the issue of latency based on distance. Where the issue still lies is with each client’s internet provider. Fortunately, with the amount of money being thrown into these two projects, we have no doubt that internet providers will be on board. Needless to say, we are very interested to see where Google and Microsoft can take the technology of Cloud Gaming, and whether or not it truly will change the future for gamers around the world.
Both Google Stadia and Project xCloud are slated to be released at the end of this year.