Recently, cloud gaming has once again been on top: everyone is just talking about the prospects of playing in the cloud, and the largest tech giants are vying with each other to launch their services, promising impressive speeds and the highest picture quality. Are we going to give up computers and consoles in the future and play on any devices without thinking about upgrades and technical problems? Let's try to figure it out.
In the Clouds ‒ Without the Plane
First, let us tell you what a "cloud service for games" is. In a nutshell, it is an opportunity to play (or, for example, work) using the power of remote servers. A user input device — keyboard and mouse, gamepad, or touchscreen — enters the signal, processes it on the server, and sends it back as an image.
Thus, to play demanding games, you do not need a powerful PC ‒ just a high-speed Internet connection and any device with a screen, which can be even a weak laptop, even a smartphone, even a TV with functions that allow you to use cloud games (for example, Android prefix, where some services are available).
Accordingly, there is no need to worry about assembling a gaming PC, changing generations of hardware and consoles, compatibility of components, problems with drivers, and other troubles of a modern gamer. And for the money, if you believe in the advertising of cloud gaming services, it comes out much cheaper than buying a top-end gaming device ‒ not free, of course, but without having to shell out more than a thousand dollars for a video card alone.
Theory vs Practise
All of this sounds tempting, but what about cloud gaming in reality? In general, now, as of the beginning of 2020, things are going well, but there are still some nuances. This technology has both advantages and undeniable disadvantages. Among the first:
- no need to think about upgrading your PC, and in general you can get rid of a bulky and noisy drawer under the table;
- no need to keep several gaming devices at home trying to cover both MMO strategies, Sony exclusives, and games from Microsoft;
- no need to waste time downloading and installing games: launch occurs instantly, and this does not consume free space on your hard drive or SSD;
- you can freely switch between devices: start playing on a laptop, continue on TV, and when you are going on a long journey ‒ take your smartphone or tablet with you;
- you can play with maximum graphics settings: for example, the GFN.RU service already allows you to enjoy games with ray tracing without having to buy an RTX video card.
As for the disadvantages of cloud gaming for PC, the following problems can be noted here:
- High requirements for the bandwidth of the user's Internet channel. 10 Mbps, announced by some companies, is the minimum at which the picture will disintegrate into squares, the sound will stutter, and the character in the game will respond to commands from the keyboard with a delay of several seconds. Therefore, a wide channel of 50-100 Mbps or even more is not desirable here, but necessary.
- Large volumes of traffic that cloud gaming consumes. The transfer of several gigabytes of data per hour of play is a common thing for "clouds", and if a gamer does not use unlimited traffic, he will be able to exhaust his quota in record time. However, even with unlimited billing, providers will not be happy with the increased load on the network, as a result, they will mercilessly cut the speed of the Internet.
- •High ping in remote regions. Companies that offer cloud gaming services locate data centers and manufacturing facilities in large cities there is a larger potential audience. Accordingly, the further from the servers, the higher the latency and the worse the signal. And if on a PC or console you can still play relatively comfortably somewhere in the outback (using discs or downloading games from the Internet), then cloud services are unlikely to provide the same level of quality. However, this problem may be solved with the proliferation of 5G networks, on which the technology world is now pinning great hopes. But before their widespread introduction, you will still have to wait another year.
- Payment for "air". In the case of a PC and a console, the user sees what he pays for ‒ the device that is in his home. Cloud gaming is an intangible technology, and giving money for access to servers will not seem to everyone as an acceptable option. Besides, gamers will still have to buy games, because they are not included in the cloud subscription, and the usual ways of saving ‒ sharing disks, renting accounts, and, to be honest, piracy ‒ do not work here.
So is it worth giving in to the hype and giving a chance to cloud gaming right now, when the technology is not yet as confident in the industry as those who promote it wants us to imagine? In general, yes: it is a completely viable alternative to gaming PCs and consoles, capable of giving a pass to the world of video games with minimal effort and relatively low costs.
However, it should be borne in mind that there are certain features outlined above. However, a similar list of pros and cons can be found for more traditional gaming devices, so there is, in fact, no unambiguously winning solution. But the variety of options that have appeared gives gamers a choice.
They have been trying to launch cloud gaming for a long time: since the beginning of the 2000s, some companies have been developing in this area with varying success. The first high-profile commercial project was the OnLive service, launched in 2010. However, problems with infrastructure, difficulties in attracting players, high tariffs ‒ all this led to the collapse of the service.
Nevertheless, progress does not stand still, and today there are more and more cloud services. And here are the most famous ones in 2020.
GeForce Now / GFN.RU
A project included in the TOP cloud services for games. This is not surprising, since Nvidia has all the tools to provide sufficient performance in the "cloud" ‒ from powerful servers with professional accelerators to giant data centers.
Launched by Nvidia in 2016, Geforce Now has also become one of the most popular cloud gaming services in the world. Initially sharpened for the Nvidia Shield, it later became available for PC players ‒ both for Windows and macOS. At the same time, Geforce Now works in the beta version and you can try it only after an approved application. But it's free.
With Geforce Now, you can play games from your catalog on Steam, Uplay, or Battle.net. The broadcast quality is one ‒ Full HD at 60 frames per second. The minimum required internet speed is 10 Mbps. But in this case, there will be lags, so count on at least 20-30 Mbps.
With all this, the company is in no hurry: GeForce Now has been tested for quite a long time, and in the regions, it was launched taking into account local specifics. For example, in Russia and the CIS countries, the GFN.RU service operates, which offers gamers located in their region servers and full Russian-language support.
A streaming service from Sony acquired from Gaikai and relaunched under its brand. According to reviews ‒ not the most stable (but there is hope for improvement after the announced cooperation of Sony and Microsoft in the field of "clouds"), but it allows you to play the much-praised exclusives for the PlayStation without having to buy a console ‒ including The Last of Us, Horizon Zero Dawn and other projects. Yes, on a PC.
Launched in 2014, PlayStation Now is one of the oldest and most popular cloud gaming services in the world. With PlayStation Now, gamers play in the "cloud" not only on consoles of the Sony Playstation family (PS3, PS4, PS Vita) but even on a PC. In the latter case, you need Windows 8.1 or "ten", Intel Core i3 or AMD A10 and above, as well as at least 2 GB of RAM. It is better to play on a branded Dualshock 4.
The service database contains more than eight hundred games, and for comfortable gaming, an Internet speed of at least 20 Mbps is required. A month's subscription costs $9.99. If you take three months or six months at once, it will be cheaper.
This service is being developed by Microsoft, promising to provide full-fledged gaming on any device, from PCs and consoles to smartphones and tablets. Considering that the Redmond giant owns huge capacities in the form of the cloud platform Azure, and the financial position of the corporation allows it to allocate large funds for the development of this direction, it is readily believed in the promises.
While Project xCloud is still in the testing stage, a beta version of the service is available, not included. Nevertheless, the project shows great promise and, after the release, will probably occupy a leading position in its segment.
An ambitious brainchild of Google, which impresses with the scale of the advertising campaign, but did not show the best results at the start. Huge selection of games, including AAA-novelties and exclusives, powerful hardware in the "cloud", own gamepad, integration with Google services (for example, a viewer who watches a game broadcast on YouTube can launch the same game from the same moment with one click in Stadia) ‒ and this is not the whole list of the project's advantages.
At the start of the service, there are 22 games (Assassin's Creed Odyssey, Metro Exodus, Mortal Kombat 11, RAGE 2). But most of them can be launched only with an active subscription, even if the user has bought the game separately.
Google promised 4K gaming at 60 fps, but after the release, users often complain about graphical drops and severe latency in control, which makes it difficult to play Google Stadia without nerves. And the prices gave the device a premium (you need to buy a set for $129 and pay a subscription for $10 per month), while competitors like Nvidia has offered better quality for less money.
Experts and journalists call Google Stadia the gaming platform of the future, but now the project has many technical problems that need to be fixed. So far, the service is available in a limited number of countries.
Playkey is a popular and old gaming cloud service, launched in 2014. There are more than 250 titles in the catalog, there is also support for launching your games from the Steam, Origin, and Epic Store platforms through the Playkey server.
Playkey insists on the fact that you can play even at a speed of 10 Mbps. True, in this case, there will be 30 FPS and HD-resolution. Full HD at 60 frames per second requires a minimum of 20 Mbps.
Rates are different and depend on the number of hours per month: on average, an hour costs $1, but the more there are, the better the discount they offer. When registering, they give a couple of hours for free.
Another Russian service, in the development of which MegaFon and Huawei are participating. Like other companies offering cloud gaming services, Loudplay promises a minimum of 1080p and 60 fps, and the cost of renting servers is from 50 rubles per hour.
The project supports any games from Steam, Origin, Epic Games Store, Uplay, and other sources ‒ that is, only server capacities are rented, and the user can choose games independently. Accordingly, you can do anything with them ‒ install mods, copy saves, and so on.
Cloud technology from Electronic Arts, with which the company hopes to combine Frostbite engine, artificial intelligence, and gaming services to create a massive platform for game development and cloud gaming.
That is, Project Atlas should be useful both for developers who can use computing from remote servers to create games and for gamers who will use server facilities to consume content. The service is in the testing stage, so it's too early to make any predictions.
An unusual service that uses a p2p connection between users who rent out their PCs and users who want to play productive games, but do not have computers that are powerful enough to do so.
In other words, Drova here acts as an intermediary between the so-called. By "merchants" and players. The landlord, in turn, receives 80% of player payments. The rental price is almost 50 rubles per hour, and in the list of stations available to users, you can select the nearest city, configuration, and set of games.
A small Russian service that provides an opportunity to rent servers with already installed games for a period of one to four hours. Considering that the project is non-commercial, payment and transfer of access to gaming PCs are carried out manually by the administrators of the service, and the list of games is not impressive with a wealth of choice.
The project is originally from the USA (but thanks to cooperation with Amazon Web Services and Paperspace, there will be no problems with ping, since the servers are located in different countries), which makes it possible to rent cloud power for games, work, computing, and any other purposes. However, the emphasis is still on video games, and one of the distinctive features of the developers note the ability to play games with a local cooperative online.
Another cloud service offering subscription services: for $9.99, $19.99, or $29.99 per month, the user gets a limited number of hours (50, 80, or 140) and access to a certain number of games (94 or 175, while the games do not need to be purchased separately), and can be played on Windows, macOS or Android devices, including smartphones or TVs. This is where the list of Vortex features ends.
You pay monthly with no option to purchase an annual plan. Vortex is explicitly tied to mobile users, which allows you to buy a subscription through Google Pay or Windows 10. It would be better to subscribe for a year, but Vortex doesn't.
Chances are, you pay $10 a month until you decide you don't want to use this service. If you buy a plan by accident, Vortex even offers a return policy.
So will cloud gaming be the future of the gaming industry? Surely it is too early to say anything, but the active work of large corporations in this direction testifies to their confidence in the prospects of the technology.
Should you sell a gaming PC and go completely into the cloud? Now, not, but we will not be surprised if, in five years, the ability to run a game on remote servers becomes a phenomenon as common and affordable as gaming on smartphones, game consoles, and computers.