By the end of 2017, there were more than 2.3 billion gamers worldwide. That’s more than a quarter of the world’s population.
However, with some of the latest gaming devices costing anywhere between hundreds of dollars not everyone can afford them. That’s where cloud gaming services come in.
Also known as Gaming as a Service (GaaS), cloud gaming allows you to play your favorite games thanks to servers owned by gaming services. This means that instead of spending a small fortune on a console or PC, you simply log into a client from your computer to start playing. That said, not all services offer the same user experience.
To put it simply, you are playing a game on someone's else hardware and you don't need to buy any particular game. Service provider just streams you the game's process. That's why you don't need a very good computer, just a very good internet speed.
Like Netflix for gaming, just different.
Som, here are the top cloud gaming platforms, based on features, number of games and pricing:
- GeForce NOW (Best for reducing latency)
- PlayStation Now (Best for PlayStation games)
- Shadow (Best for gaming from your mobile or tablet)
- Vortex (Cloud gaming platform best for beginners)
- Parsec (Best for users with personal game libraries)
- Google Stadia (Not out yet - but we're crossing fingers!)
1. GeForce NOW
Closed beta available
With more than 400 supported games, GeForce NOW is among the most impressive cloud gaming services available today. With access to digital stores like Steam and Uplay, you can either play games from your personal gaming library or buy new ones in a matter of seconds. Better yet, thanks to the latest patches, your favorite titles will always be up-to-date.
What I like most about GeForce NOW is that there is no maintenance required. As a result, you won’t have to wait for driver updates or game patches. Instead, you can instantly install all supported games onto your cloud rig and focus on playing.
GeForce NOW comes with an ultra streaming mode which increases the streaming speed from 60FPS to 120FPS or higher. Simply put, no matter which device you’re on, you won’t have to worry about latency. Not only this, you can access all of your favorite games from your Mac, PC, and Shield TV.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing, GeForce NOW has entered beta mode. This means you have to request access to get started and it's GeForce LATER. While there is no certainty you’ll get accepted, the website claims that all you need is a good internet connection in Europe or North America and the provider will be in touch when there is availability.
- One account enables gaming on Mac, PC, and Shield TV
- More than 400 supported games
- Option to select games from your personal library
- Ultra streaming mode to reduce latency
- GeForce NOW is currently in beta mode
- Nvidia, owner of GeForce NOW, hasn’t announced pricing yet
Plans start at $19.99 a month, with a 7-day free trial also available
With PlayStation Now, you can play more than 700 PS2, PS3, and PS4 games straight from your PC. Better yet, the platform uploads a new selection of games each month for you to enjoy. Not only this, the library includes PlayStation exclusives, indie gems, and acclaimed masterpieces for you to check out.
Additionally, PlayStation Now gives you access to unlimited downloads for a variety of PS4 games so that you can play them directly on your PlayStation 4. Some of PlayStation’s exclusive games include The Last of US, God of War, and Bloodborne, among many others. These downloads also support PS4 Pro enhancements, user-purchased add-ons, and DLC.
PlayStation Now is very reasonably priced at just $19.99 a month. That said, you can also pay for a 3-month subscription for $44.99, or a 12-month one for $99.99. If you’d like to try some of the PlayStation Now games, you can also do so for free for 7 days.
- Large selection of PS2, PS3, and PS4 games to choose from
- Unlimited download access to more than 250 PS4 games
- Downloaded games support add-ons, DLC, and PS4 pro enhancements
- Ultra streaming mode to reduce latency
- Unlimited download access is for PS4 games only
- You need to buy your own PS4 controller to use the service
Plans start at $34.95 a month
Currently only available in certain parts of the United States, Shadow is a premium game streaming service that is growing its data centers across the country in the hope of going nationwide very soon. However, Shadow promises more than the run-of-the-mill gaming solution. Instead, the provider claims that everything you can do on a high-end computer, you can also do on the Shadow app.
Furthermore, Shadow has a dedicated application for all devices so you can play from anywhere. Better yet, you can switch devices in the middle of a game if you need to. While the service recommends 15Mb/s internet for the best performance, the application has been optimized on most connections. Plus, with this app, you can play even the most demanding games up to 4K 60Hz.
Despite some great features, Shadow is more expensive than other gaming solutions on this list. The service costs $34.95 a month and comes with no free trial. That said, you can cancel your subscription at any time.
- A dedicated application for all devices
- Claims to turn any device into a high-end gaming console
- Optimized on most connections
- Ultra streaming mode to reduce latency
- Only available in some parts of the US
- Ability to play games up to 4K 60Hz on any screen
Plans start at $9.99 a month
Vortex is another great cloud gaming service that allows you to play your favorite PC games from the Vortex library on any device. All you have to do to get started is sign up and browse the game library. From there, you can play any game, from any device, without having to wait for installations or downloads.
Today, Vortex has more than 100 titles for you to choose from, some of which include Far Cry 5, Fortnite, and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, among many others. However, what I like most about the solution is that it’s a great option for newbies. The signup process is simple and you don’t have to set up your device in a specific way to get started. Instead, the games are ready for you in the client dashboard.
Furthermore, Vortex is considerably more affordable than other gaming services. For just $9.99 a month, you’ll gain full access to the service. Plus, if you don’t enjoy it, you can cancel your plan at any time, no questions asked.
- Application for all devices
- More than 100 titles to choose from
- Simple signup process
- Among the most affordable solutions on the market
- Vortex’s PCs only use 3GB GTX 1060s (which isn’t very powerful)
- No free trial period
Prices range from $0.50 to $0.80 per hour
Parsec operates slightly differently to other gaming solutions in this list. While it does use the same kind of streaming client as GeForce NOW, you actually have to rent the server yourself. This may sound like a very complex way of accessing your favorite games, but it’s not. In fact, you can purchase servers in-app because Parsec is partners with AWS and Paperspace.
What I like most about Parsec is that you can run OBS in the background in order to stream your game. With this, you can create your own YouTube videos and share milestones with friends. The service also allows you to add other players to your game. This means you stream all the gameplay back to your friend while they play on their own computer.
The company also prices its services differently to other cloud gaming platforms. Instead of paying a monthly subscription, you’ll get charged by the hour for using the server. Depending on the host you use this should cost you anywhere between $0.50 and $0.80 an hour. If you’re a regular gamer, this should add up to anywhere between $40 to $50 a month.
- Option to run OBS in the background
- Multiplayer option available
- You only pay by the hour
- You have to set up and install the games yourself
- The pricing plan can be expensive for avid gamers
Coming later this year
"The future of gaming is not a box" - in March 2019, Google announced that it's entering the cloud gaming services, and is planning to do with a bang.
It's not out yet, but it's exciting enough to claim a place on this list - so we can get a little sneak peek of what's to come.
Imagine going on YouTube, and watching your favorite creator streaming a video game. And then, with a couple of clicks, you could start that game. From any device: a crappy old laptop, your smartphone, your grandma's rusty desktop, or a simple smart TV.
Anywhere where's a good internet connection, there's 4K gaming at 60fps. Each Stadia server would be 16GB of RAM, a custom X86 CPU, and a GPU that's more powerful than the one of Xbox One X and PS4 Pro. Combined.
Aiming to be "Netflix for games", Google Stadia is one of the most exciting cloud gaming services there's ever been. No doubt: after all, it's funded by virtually limitless pockets of Google.
The way I see it, out of all the options on this list, Google Stadia is the most likely to bring gaming as a service into the mainstream.
Well, we'll be keeping our eyes peeled. Because this is something we don't want to miss.
- A very promising future option
- Full connection with YouTube
- Available on many devices
- Not out yet!
So, which is the best between these cloud gaming services?
Choosing between the various cloud gaming services available today completely depends on the games you want to play, the speed you need, and your budget. Here’s my verdict:
- GeForce NOW is the best cloud gaming service to reduce latency
- PlayStation Now is the best solution if you want to play PS2, PS3, and PS4 games
- Shadow is the best solution for playing games while on the go
- Vortex is the best solution for gamers just starting out
- Parsec is the best solution if you have a large personal library of games
- And Google Stadia may be perfect for the future
Before making a final decision, don’t forget to check that the service works on your preferred device. If there's a free trial available, definitely make sure to use it!
Is there such a thing as free cloud gaming?
While some services come with a free trial, there is no such thing as free cloud gaming. Whether you have to rent a server or join a monthly subscription, there will always be a fee involved. That said, if you're on a budget, make sure to check each provider’s pricing plans.
In the meantime, do you have a preferred cloud gaming service that I haven’t mentioned in this list? If so, please feel free to leave a comment below as I’d love to know your opinion.