The Cloud and the Future of Gaming
When Google Stadia was first announced I was extremely skeptical of cloud gaming. Questions that went through my mind included “How will you be able to play against other people with the input lag?”, “What about people with bad internet?”, and “How close to you need to be to a participating data center to get a good experience?”. Well apparently those were not the questions I should have been asking, the cloud services actually work on a technical level for the most part which is amazing.
The first and only cloud service I have tried is GeForce NOW. This service works astoundingly well, it actually blew me away when I tried it. My only laptop is a MacBook Pro, I wanted to try cloud gaming because when I’m away from my desktop at home, I wanted to try to play some games I actually liked. I proceeded to make a GeForce NOW account, and bought the Division 2 on Steam (for like $1.00, Ubisoft is amazing when it comes to discounts).
When you boot up GeForce now, if you pay for the premium edition, you automatically get your own virtual machine (if you opt for the free version, there may be a wait to get a machine during peak times). In your virtual machine you log into your steam client, and pick a game you want to play. The game “downloads” instantly to the virtual machine and then you can proceed to play. This was a breath of fresh air playing on my MacBook Pro. The graphics surpassed anything a laptop could do, and the input lag seemed inconsequential to good gameplay (mileage may vary, but I play on a 30mb/s connection and it worked very well).
The problem however comes to game selection. Theoretically, you should be able to choose any game from your steam/epic library and play it. But you cannot. The reason? Publishers have blocked Nvidea (owners of GeForce NOW) from having their games on the service. There are a few publishers that are still on board, including Ubisoft and CD PROJEKT RED. But if you wanted to play any game by Bethesda, EA, or Activision then you’re out of luck.
Google Stadia is no better in this regard, there may be some different games available, but last I checked, there were only 12 games available to play on Google Stadia. The reason I haven’t tried Googles service myself is that for Stadia, you have to pay for the games you already own a second time in order to play them. To me this is unacceptable, especially for a service where your paying to rent their servers at the same time.
Microsoft is testing their Xcloud service right now, and it is another promising option. Microsoft shouldn’t have to deal with a lack of publishers since they do have their own game library to stream if they choose to. This is potentially very exciting as any PC or Xbox player who has bought games in their XBOX Live account can enjoy those games anywhere they want if this services works as intended.
Due to these issues with publishers hesitating to put their games on cloud platforms (or downright removing them from services such as GeForce NOW), I am predicting the future of cloud gaming will look very much like current video streaming. Each publisher will have their own controlled platform to stream their games, and as players, we will have to have three to five different apps on our systems (with their respective monthly subscription fees) in order to play the games we want to play.
As of now, cloud gaming is technically possible. GeForce NOW is my favorite of the available services and is a testament to that. However, technology is not limiting cloud gaming, it is the game publishers themselves. This is just a reminder that gamers do not own their games, the publishers do.