It’s not easy to buy a graphics card in early 2022, and even consoles like the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are in short supply. If you’re looking for some way of playing the latest games, you might want to consider a cloud gaming service like GeForce NOW.
How Does Cloud Gaming Work?
Cloud gaming allows you to use just about any device with an internet connection to stream gameplay over the internet. This means that the game doesn’t run locally on your device (for example, a smartphone) but instead runs remotely in the cloud.
You’ll need some method of controlling the game connected to your device of choice. This could be a gamepad or console controller linked to your smartphone, or it could be a more traditional PC gaming control scheme of a keyboard and mouse. Since the game is running over the internet, you can theoretically use cloud gaming over wired, wireless, or cellular connections.
This allows you to enjoy the latest PC and console releases, anywhere, on practically any modern hardware. There are a few other things to be aware of, like picking a device with a sufficiently high-resolution screen and ensuring your connection quality remains constant (playing over cellular on a moving train may not work too well, for example).
Cloud gaming first appeared with the arrival of the OnLive service, which launched in 2010 and finally shut down in 2015. Now, though, there are many different cloud gaming services, and each attempt to solve the problem of remote gaming on low-powered devices in their own way. In addition to GeForce NOW there is Google Stadia, Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud Gaming, Sony’s PlayStation Now, and Amazon Luna.
Why Would You Pick GeForce NOW?
GeForce NOW is unique in the cloud gaming space in that it allows you to play games that you already own. You can connect your Steam, Epic Games Store, or Ubisoft Connect account to GeForce NOW and get access to over 1000 games over the cloud. This includes many free-to-play games, but unlike competing services GeForce NOW library of games doesn’t change with a premium membership.
Instead, NVIDIA’s streaming service offers a few different tiers that correspond to different levels of performance and fidelity. The Free tier offers up to 1080p at 60fps, with a session length that’s limited to an hour. You only get standard access to servers, so you may encounter queues, but it’s perfect for testing out the service before you buy.
There are two premium tiers: Priority and RTX 3080. The Priority tier sticks to 1080p at 60fps, but adds ray tracing, a session length of up to six hours, and priority access to servers to cut down on queues. You can access this for $9.99/month, or $49.99 for six months access.
The newest tier promises performance that’s equivalent to NVIDIA’s RTX 3080 high-end graphics card (which is in very short supply right now). It doesn’t actually use the RTX 3080 graphics card, but rather a server that spits out roughly equivalent performance. You’ll get 1440p gaming at up to 120fps on a PC or Mac, or 4K HDR gaming though an NVIDIA Shield (or compatible TV). This is accompanied by a session length of up to eight hours and top-tier access to servers, all for $99.99 for a six-month subscription (no monthly plan is currently available).
How to Play GeForce NOW
NVIDIA’s cloud gaming service is currently available in the US and much of Europe, though game availability may vary by region. Some regions like Australia are supported using partner services like Pentanet.
GeForce NOW is available through dedicated apps for Windows and macOS (available on NVIDIA’s website), on Android and Android TV devices using the Google Play app, on smart TVs like LG and Samsung models in the respective app stores, and using an NVIDIA Shield TV set-top box. It’s also possible to use Chrome, Safari for iOS (iPhone and iPad), and Microsoft Edge browser using the web app at play.geforcenow.com.
For high-resolution 1440p gaming you’ll need a monitor with support for that resolution, and the same is true for 120fps gaming. In terms of controls you can use most keyboards and mice, Xbox controllers (including Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Xbox Series), Sony DualShock 4 (PS4), DualSense (PS5) controllers, and some Logitech and SteelSeries gamepads.
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The Benefits of Storefront Support
The GeForce NOW approach still requires that you buy your games through your storefront of choice, of which Steam is the most well-represented. This has arguably more upsides than it does downsides, and it’s ideal if you’re looking at GeForce NOW as a stop-gap solution (which many people are, given how hard GPUs are to come by right now).
When you buy a game on Steam, that game is yours to keep and use on any future hardware you wish to purchase. So if you buy the latest release through Steam on day one and put 30 hours into it through GeForce NOW, next year when you finally get your hands on a new PC you can simply log in to Steam and play it locally instead. There’s no need to maintain a GeForce NOW subscription or use the service exclusively to play the game.
The same is true of the Epic Game Store and Ubisoft Connect, the two other supported services. Epic’s storefront has managed to collect many releases through exclusivity agreements, which has led many to use the service by virtue of game availability. Having to use Epic’s storefront might not be your average gamer’s idea of a good time, but being able to use that storefront via the cloud or locally has its benefits. NVIDIA is also promising to bring Epic’s Fortnite back to the iPhone by way of GeForce NOW.
Then there’s Steam’s mega sales and Epic’s free game giveaways. Steam has two big sales a year (a summer sale and an end-of-year blowout), while the Epic Game Store has been giving away not only critically acclaimed games but entire franchises in a bid to encourage more users to create an account and download it. This is a great way to save some money, and many of these titles are playable with GeForce NOW to boot.
Sounds Great, But What About the Downsides?
The biggest downside to any cloud gaming service is performance, or latency to be more precise. Depending on factors like the speed of your internet connection, how far away from the server you are, and your connection type the kind of experience you can get through a service like GeForce NOW can vary wildly.
There are several exchanges of data to consider when using cloud gaming. First, the game needs to be streamed to you from the server. To interact, you’ll send a signal (like a button press) which is then sent to the server and processed. The cycle then begins again as the results of your actions are streamed back to you.
Skeptical of how well that will work? Fortunately, GeForce NOW has a free tier that you can use for evaluation. Sign up, join the queue, and test the service thoroughly with a few different games before you buy. The performance you get over the free tier in terms of latency (or how “laggy” the game feels to play) should give you some indication of whether or not the higher tier services are a worthwhile investment.
The type of game you’re playing can often make or break a service like this. Games that aren’t dependent on reactions like automation and resource management simulation Satisfactory work a lot better than multiplayer twitch shooters or beat ’em ups. You’ll probably want to rule out fast-paced multiplayer games altogether in favor of single-player experiences.
Another downside to GeForce NOW in particular is that it doesn’t include a library of games to jump into like many of its rivals. If you’re starting from cold without a library of games on Steam or a similar service, you’ll be paying for GeForce NOW to spend more money on games to be able to use the service.
What About the Competition?
Of the cloud gaming services currently available, Google Stadia and Xbox Cloud Gaming (formerly xCloud) are the two closest rivals to GeForce NOW. Each of these offers something different.
Google Stadia also requires you to buy games, but these titles must be purchased through the Stadia store. This means that you cannot use these games outside of Google Stadia, for example by running them locally on a PC. Stadia also has a Stadia Pro tier which includes a selection of free games, with more added each month.
Xbox Cloud Gaming is available with the Ultimate tier of Xbox Game Pass at $14.99 per month. For that fee, you can play much of the Game Pass catalog on devices like smartphones, browsers, and Xbox consoles. You can’t buy additional games like you can with Stadia or GeForce NOW, and none of the games are yours to keep.
But Microsoft’s solution is more a bonus for Game Pass subscribers than a true alternative to gaming on native hardware, so it works better as an accompaniment to a console or gaming PC than a replacement.
Try Before You Buy
If you’re in the least bit tempted by GeForce NOW (or any cloud gaming service) you should try the service before you commit any money. This will determine whether or not your money is well-spent.
If you already have a library of games or you’re interested in building one, GeForce NOW is one of the best value propositions out there in terms of cloud gaming right now. If you’d rather jump into a cloud gaming experience that includes a library of titles you can play right away, give Microsoft’s Game Pass a look.