The future of game streaming

Gaming with player owned hardware is still leading the way, but game streaming is now very easy to access. The question is, will streaming games be the future?
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12 min read
Stadia Controller

There is no doubt that as of now gaming on customer-owned hardware is still the go-to way to play games – be it consoles or PC’s – however with the rise of 5G and faster internet connections and many new game streaming services, the question has to be asked, will game streaming become the go-to way to game in the future?

While is it possible on some platforms to stream remotely from your own devices, such as Steam Link, Xbox Remote Play and PlayStation Remote Play, these services aren’t exactly new. However, a new revolution known as cloud streaming is aiming to be this is where the game you are playing is running on servers in data centres, not your own hardware.

The platforms offering cloud game streaming

Most major platforms now have to stream games via their platform from the cloud in some way. The major contenders are Xbox (xCloud), PS Now, GeForce Now (using Steam games) and Stadia.

Almost all of these platforms work in a similar way, but some do stand out and some work better than others. Here is the detail on each platform:

For all of the tests carried out to get to the conclusions below, the same network conditions were used for each test, this includes:

  • Ethernet connection used with average download speed of 63Mbps.
  • Web browser used for Stadia: Chrome (on macOS and Windows).
  • Web browser used for Xbox Cloud Gaming: Safari (on macOS).
  • Windows device was used for PS Now application. GeForce now devices and browser used: Chrome (on macOS) and official application on Windows.

Testing conditions for each service were as close to each other as possible.

Most services reccomend similar speed requirements. We can list the reccomendation from Stadia which is generally inline with the other services:

  • Stadia recomends 10Mbps speeds or faster at minimum. For Stadia Pro 4K streaming a connection speed of 35Mbps or higher is recommended.

Almost all of these platforms work in a similar way, but some do stand out and some work better than others. Here is the detail on each platform:

Xbox

Recently Xbox has been rolling out their cloud gaming service (formerly known as Project xCloud). Like PlayStation, Xbox gets a slight head start here since they already an established platform (unlike Stadia): anyone who wishes to use Xbox cloud gaming just needs to be a Game Pass Ultimate subscriber. Therefore, it is quite possible the offering from Xbox has the easiest entry to cloud gaming.

What games are available

While we cannot list every game here (because there are so many and the list keeps changing), Xbox has an impressive offering, with the intention for all Game Pass games to be available to stream from the cloud. Unfortunately as of now, it is not possible to stream games you purchase separately from the Microsoft store. Since Microsoft has acquired Bethesda, it is clear they are on a huge push to gain many more games, further making Xbox Game Pass even more valuable.

Where you can use Xbox cloud gaming

Xbox allows users to stream cloud games from pretty much anywhere. This is down to the fact that they offer the service via a web browser (xbox.com/play), so really there aren’t many limits as to where you can use it Xbox cloud gaming. On platforms such as Android streaming can be done via an app, but on iOS and iPadOS, it must be done via the web app.

Xbox Cloud Gaming web UI
Photo By: Xbox Cloud Gaming web UI

Inputs supported

Currently, Xbox cloud streaming-only allows input via a controller. However, Microsoft have confirmed that they are working on the ability to stream Game Pass PC games, which would support mouse and keyboard. Also, it is possible Xbox will eventually allow keyboard and mouse on console game streaming too, since many Xbox games already support keyboard and mouse.

The servers

As of now, Xbox Cloud Gaming sessions run on Xbox One S consoles in Microsoft data centres. It is confirmed Microsoft is working on upgrading these to Xbox Series X consoles at some point in the near future.

Microsoft is also experimenting with PC servers to allow game streaming of PC games, although we don’t know when this will become available.

Pricing

Xbox Cloud Gaming is available with any Xbox Game Pass ultimate subscription. You also get access to Xbox Live Gold and you can install Game Pass games locally on Xbox and PC, as well as stream them.

Performance

During the time I have used Xbox Cloud Gaming, there have been no issues experienced. However, prior to Xbox rolling out the new Xbox Series X servers there was a noticeable input delay. Since the rollout of the new servers, performance has been excellent on Xbox Cloud Gaming: the input delay is barely noticeable and there was no stuttering or loss of connection either (providing your internet connection is stable enough).

PS Now

The offering from Sony’s PlayStation differs slightly from other streaming services. Like Xbox Game Pass, you can also download games as well as stream them. However, PS Now is one of the older streaming services and it does not always stack up to be as good as other services, but it does appear to be improving.

What games are available

The library of games is always changing, but generally the games avaliable are mostly older – you wont usually find the latest games on PS Now, as you would do with Xbox Game Pass. The games avaliable do go all the way back to the PS2 and as new as PS4 games. Therefore, the selection of games are more suited to those who enjoy classic PlayStation games.

Where you can use PS Now

PS Now cannot be accessed via a browser like most other streaming services, which is for sure a huge setback. It is only avaliable via PlayStation consoles or via a Windows application. As of now there is no way to stream to mobile or Mac. You can stream games from your PlayStation console to mobile and Mac, but that is not the PS Now service.

PSNow
Photo By: PSNow

Inputs supported

PS Now only supports controller input. It is unlikely to support keyboard and mouse in the future either.

The servers

PlayStation do not disclose the server specs, however they do allow streaming up to 4K on some devices, such as the PS5.

Pricing

This service is perhaps the cheapest and best deal of all streaming services.

The most cost effective plan is the 12 month offering, which comes in at only £49.99, or you can pay monthly for £8.99 (£22.99 for 3 months is also avaliable).

You may get less for the price, but if there are games you want to play currently on the service or you only game using a PlayStation, then it is a good choice.

Performance

The performance of PS Now does seem to have varying results. Since it is one of the oldest streaming services, most of the major issues have been ironed out and generally it does seem to work well. However there are occasisional disconnects and frequent stuttering. Overall it works fine, but it certainly does not perform as well as services such as Stadia.

GeForce Now

This service stands out as the most different since it is not actually a gaming platform as such, as it uses your existing Steam library. This makes GeForce Now quite unique compared to other streaming services.

What games are available

A lot. Since GeForce Now just uses your Steam library, it is possible to access almost all of your games. Some game developers have disallowed their games to be streamed using GeForce Now, but for the most part it is possible to access many more games via this service than any other mentioned in this article.

Where you can use GeForce Now

You can access GeForce Now via any browser or application (on some platforms). Again like Stadia and Xbox, this service is widely available and anyone can access it, simply because it supports browser streaming.

GeForce Now
Photo By: GeForce Now

Inputs supported

GeForce Now supports both controller and keyboard and mouse input. This is great because it allows you to play games in the way you prefer. In this way it is much like Stadia, but any game which has built in controller support will work with GeForce Now, not just a select few (like with Stadia).

The servers

It is not exactly clear what the server specs are for this service. However, GeForce Now only allows streaming up to 1080p and in 60fps, which is a lower resolution than some other streaming services.

Pricing

GeForce Now pricing does appear to change sometimes and has done in the past. Currently there is a free version with queues to access the service and a limited play time. There is also a Priority plan for £8.99 per month, which gives you priority access to servers (over those on the free plan), extended gaming sessions and RTX support.

The plans offered by GeForce Now is not very good in our opinion. Limiting session times and making users queue for server access is something no other streaming service does and for good reason. It also kind of defeats the purpose of game streaming, the idea that someone can go onto any device and instantly launch into any game they wish, with the convenience of knowing its possible to quickly get into a game. This is not the reality with GeForce Now.

Performance

In addition to our issues with the plan system for GeForce Now (with queues and limited time game sessions), the performance of the service does not quite hold up as well either.

Sometimes GeForce Now does perform well and this may be true for some slow paced single player games. But when it comes to multiplayer games (or anything competitive), GeForce Now is not so great. It frequently has bad input delay (something other services mentioned in this article do not suffer from), occasional disconnects and also lower resolution streaming.

Overall GeForce Now needs some work to keep up with the other streaming services currently available.

Stadia

Stadia is the game streaming offering from Google. It has been met with much criticism since its launch, mainly over the lack of games available and whether Google will keep the service operational, as Google is notorious for killing projects off unexpectedly.

What games are available

Stadia may not have as many games available as other platforms, but it is worth noting that Stadia is one of the newest platforms mentioned in this article and has not had the same length of time to build up its library as rivals such as Xbox has. However, the Stadia library has been growing slowly, with Ubisoft, for example, being one of the strong supporters for having their games on Stadia.

Where you can use Stadia

Like Xbox, Stadia can be used from basically every device. This is because all you need is a browser and Stadia is all good to go. On Android, they have their own app to stream from, but on Apple devices you cannot stream from the Stadia app due to App Store rules. You can, however, stream via Apple’s browser, Safari.

Stadia Home
Photo By: Stadia Home

Inputs supported

Stadia may be a streaming-only platform, but it is the closest to having a physical gaming PC. This is because Stadia supports both keyboard and mouse, yet also controller input. Some games support both, while some only support one input. PUBG for example originally did support keyboard and mouse alongside controller input at launch, but since keyboard and mouse support has been dropped, and the reason for dropping support does not make much sense.

The servers

Stadia’s cloud hardware uses custom Intel processors, custom AMD GPU’s, SSD’s, fast network connections (thanks to Google Cloud) and plenty of RAM. The servers run from a modified Linux, which may be the reason for games taking a long time to reach Stadia (since they require porting).

Pricing

Stadia is free to use: you just buy the games you wish to play. However, you can get a Stadia Pro subscription for £8.99 per month, which comes with many free games included, with new games added every month. Stadia Pro also provides subscribers with discounts on selected games and allows users to stream up to 4K with 5.1 surround sound.

Performance

Stadia has proved to be the gold standard of game streaming from my experience. Since its launch, it has been flawless most of the time. Some of the only occasional issues I have experienced include small stutters but these have been quite rare. For the most part, Stadia has worked as expected, with largely unnoticeable input delay. Stadia’s smooth experience almost makes you forget you are streaming the game rather than running it locally on a PC.

Overall game streaming has come quite far in recent times. There are now a handful of fully operational game streaming services (none of which are in beta anymore) – these being Xbox Cloud Gaming, PS Now, GeForce Now and Stadia. Other services are also upcoming and in earlier stages, such as Luna from Amazon. There seems to be no slowing down in the push to make game streaming more mainstream and for the most part it works well. However there still is some time to go before game streaming will be fully adopted by gamers, due to different network conditions people will have. While it is easy to say some may be able to use game streaming without issue (like me), some others may have constant issues and find it unusable.

Luckily in the current time, 5G is rolling out fast in many countries and connectivity is generally improving. As long as platforms continue to push and develop their streaming offerings then there will be no doubt that it will slowly become the norm.

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