I initially posted this as a reply to a post by u/html_question_guy, but it got closed so I thought I'd post it directly since I think it's worth discussing at the very least:
The following is my take on the current rise of cloud gaming, as well as a review of sorts of the field's major competitors.
As a preamble, I've tried all the big cloud gaming services (pretty much) and I live in France which—like most of Europe and a rapidly growing portion of the world—has cheap, fast and actually unlimited internet. If you're in the USA and have data caps, vote with your vote!
I believe that with good internet conditions, cloud gaming is as inevitable as music and video streaming. You are just getting rid of the physical gear and getting the content directly via an online service at a completely different level of convenience. If you're attached to physical things and the concept of ownership (which is basically no longer true in most cases due to how modern licensing, platforms and DRM work), you'll be safe for quite a while: it's not like you can't get CDs (or even vinyl and cassettes) anymore.
Now for why I'm probably no longer going to bether with buying powerful gaming hardware ever again, and you probably won't either soon enough:
- The first, and main thing is convenience. Being able to click on a button on my phone, TV, computer or tablet and be in a game in less than 10 seconds (sometimes under 5 seconds) is kind of crazy. Now add the lack of downloads and updates and you have a pretty amazing shift in how/when you can play. For people who play all day long this one will be relatively small, but for most gamers it will be significant.
- No need for dedicated hardware. I can't understate this: my PC is due for an upgrade and the PS4 will be obsolete within a year. At best, this is a 550€ + 9€/month and at worst it would be around 2000€; both to be repeated 5-6 years down the line. With Stadia (which would be the cheapest in my case as I'll explain later), that's 0€ at best and 10€/month at most. That plus my living room looks cleaner now.
- Cloud-specific features. This one is mostly being ignored since most gamers have some sort of allergy to Stadia, but the concept of having multiplayer run as smoothly as if it were running on the best LAN network ever + being able to see other player's screens in a corner in a tactical game + being able to literally send a link to a friend so they can just hop into a game with you (imagine how that would transform Monster Hunter World for example)… I just find this sort of thing fascinating, and I can't wait for more of these features to come out!
I could go on, but those are the big ones. Now for the things people use as arguments against:
- Latency. Just do yourself a favor and try Stadia with its WiFi controller on a decent network. If you haven't, please refrain from declaring that latency will kill the experience. Unless you are a pro or near-pro level player in titles that require twitch reflexes, this just isn't an issue at all. The latency is barely more than that of a current-gen console (better in some titles). Have you ever heard people complain significantly about those?
- Quality. This is the one where there is, in fact, a bit of a loss with cloud gaming. Video compression is just the name of the game, and it's good but not perfect. A 4K60 stream on a 1080p monitor is nearly as good as something running locally, but if you're running 4K120 or even 1440p90, then yes, you'll be losing something. But for most people, this is barely noticeable, and for the others, it's probably an OK price to pay. That, and as internet speeds get faster, encoding tech gets better and stream resolutions get better, it will become somewhat of a moot point.
- Ownership. Ok, so let's make things clear: unless you buy exclusively offline DRM-free games or games which let you set up your own servers (like Minecraft for example), there is a pretty big chance that upwards of 70% of the games you "own" aren't yours at all. You have a license to play them, but some feature, server or platform may disappear one day and they'll be lost until someone hacks them (and then gets sued for it and it goes down again). Even with Steam, unless the he is installed when it goes down or removes the title, it's no longer yours. This is just how things have gone for quite a while. If this is a problem for you, then good luck, the upcoming decades might get a bit tough at times. And I'll add a special mention to Stadia here, who have it in their licensing terms that if a publisher pulls a game from the platform, it will no longer be sold, but current owners will be allowed to keep playing it!
- And even though it's specific to Stadia, Google kills it's services. No it doesn't: it kills it's free services designed to grow the advertising business and it merges/rebrands it's paid services (2 of them were actually deleted I believe, after little investment). They're putting millions into Stadia, including tons of gaming servers which would be moderately interesting to reuse on anything else, and have been accelerating things since launch, not the reverse.
- Finally, a special mention for modding: For now, it's a loss, but cloud gaming is targeted more at console gamers than PC gamers overall, so it's not a huge issue. Stadia have stated they're working on a solution (with the Farming Simulator devs I believe), and if they get a platform-level solution implemented, I thing this will ba game changer for some.
OK, so the actual services themselves:
- Stadia: best cloud technology, will probably take over the casual market. — Honestly, regardless of their lackluster marketing and how almost the entire gaming community has agreed that they are the enemy, it's by far the most mature, reliable and advanced cloud gaming platform. That whole thing where "it just works" is not a myth; if you've got a good enough network, it runs flawlessly with a surprisingly low bandwidth requirement. It's free (which is kind of crazy) and works on pretty much any device at this point. — Sure, the games catalog is not quite there yet, but it's constantly growing and will probably be on par with most other cloud services by the time things start to matter for the long term. — If you haven't, give it a try… it kind of feels like magic at this point. I believe Google are aiming at capturing the continuously growing "casual" gamer demographic first before any other cloud gaming service does by offering the simples, most straightforward experience by far (and their marketing seems tailored just for that anyway).
- GeForce Now: Power and games catalog, currently too clunky to grow significantly. — It's the service that offers the best quality overall, though I've noticed it is somewhat less consistent and often has more latency than Stadia. The concept is amazing, especially for people who have huge games libraries. I think they're going to get a lot of the "hardcore" gamers who inevitably end up transitioning to the cloud. The main issue is that the horribly clunky user experience and the odd "free with a time limit" business model will probably prevent it from growing into anything else than a niche enthusiast platform. — This is totally a case of "wait and see", but personally, I am not sure I'm willing to put up with the clunk anymore (even though I've been an avid PC gamer and a huge fan of modding… Stadia has just made it so easy that I'm no longer willing to bother with all that I guess).
- xCloud: Not yet, not by far. — So the "Netflix for games" bit seems pretty amazing on paper, right? The issue is that currently, the tech feels like it's 4-5 years behind the other main contenders. I know that it's coming out of beta soon with 1080p on desktop and all, but if you compare that to the 4K60 of Stadia, it feels like they're trying to catch up. — Technology set aside, the 200+ games on offer as part of aa subscription is pretty cool, though it caters to the type of people who play a lot of games at a pretty fast pase, otherwise it's not that interesting once you get down to it… contrary to TV series, I'd wager most gamers play a few online games a lot plus a few solo games here and there. So it might sound amazing, but I'm not sure it's actually the best model, not for me at least. — I believe Microsoft has the network infrastructure, the cash and the know-how to make xCloud one of the top cloud gaming platforms; but they're late to the game and until they've caught up, I'm not convinced. Hopefully their games catalog will keep them in the game long enough to get good tech.— And the last bit that has me doubtful is that they are probably not going to want to kill their console sales by offering the same level of quality on xCloud (imagine the pay $600 + $8/month to be able to play this game… or just stream it for $15/month and you're good to go sales pitch… not good for physical sales I'd wager)
- Shadow: The future, but probably not for gaming. — Honestly, the tech is amazing. The value for the price is incredible, especially if you have need for a powerful computer as part of your everyday life/work. The thing is… it kind of negates nearly all the benefits of cloud gaming: you still need to download/install games on your Shadow instance, you still get Windows updates, you still have to deal with drivers and peripherals acting up if you ever plan on using some specific keyboard or microphone, etc. So is it probably one of the best offerings out there? Yes, if you do more than game on it. It will probably grow to the point of becoming one of the biggest cloud gaming services, but not just for games… I'd wager it will be most popular with people who use demanding software for work and want the convenience of a chromebook or a tablet.
- PS Now: First to start, last to reach the finish line. — They were the first big company to invest into cloud gaming. The potential was huge… coupled with their good position in the mobile phone market, they could have been the first to make something great out of cloud gaming. But the "early adopter" problem means they sunk a whole lot of money into an infrastructure that is now outdated and massively under-performs when compared to the competition. — Even though they have Sony exclusives, PS Now feels pretty terrible (mostly due to latency), has some pretty bad compression; it's more of a "bonus" for people who own a PS4 than a viable platform at this point. Even the fact that AAA titles only stay available for a short time when they are included makes it feel like more of a demo + access to older games than a real subscription. — If their deal with Microsoft pans out and they properly join the race, they might catch up some day, but for now it's just not worth it.
Stadia will probably pull off a Nintendo and get a huge market share by catering to "casuals" until they have enough weight to start moving into the "hardcore" space (think DS -> Wii -> Switch). GeForce Now and xCloud are going the other way around, leveraging their respective brands/communities to get their existing playerbase beamed into the cloud (^^). Both strategies will probably work, but in terms of tech and UX, Stadia is light years ahead of the competition, so I'll probably be using it the most until the others catch up.
Overall, cloud gaming is inevitable, practical and honestly just cool. Just how other media have gone digital/online, so will games. I mean even books have made the shift, and a majority of people I know seem to have some sort of fetish for the touch and smell of paper…
Give it 5–10 years and opinions will have shifted towards cloud gaming for most poeple.
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