Technical viability aside, a lot of the past year's chatter about game streaming services like Microsoft's xCloud and Google Stadia has revolved around the libraries available on those services. GeForce Now, which just left beta today, is doubling down on a novel approach: letting you play PC games you already own through other digital storefronts, so long as they're supported by Nvidia's service.
GeForce Now works across PC, Mac, the Nvidia Shield, and compatible Android devices, and as of its official release, there's no barrier or fee to trying the service out. Free membership will grant users standard access to GeForce Now's servers for hour-long play sessions, letting users play a selection of free-to-play games like Fortnite or Dauntless or any game they own that's currently supported by GeForce Now.
That "currently supported" requirement is the rub with GeForce Now's launch for players who used it in beta: The Verge reports that games from Rockstar, Square Enix, Capcom, and other developers and publishers aren't available through GeForce Now even though those same companies previously enabled their titles on it. Vice president and head of GeForce Now Phil Eisler acknowledged the compatibility break and says Nvidia plans "to charge zero percent of sales" to publishers in an effort to widen the service's library.
For Nvidia, revenue will come through users' premium paid subscriptions to the service. Right now there's only one option, a $4.99 per month Founder's plan that grants priority access to servers, sessions up to 6 hours long, and enables Nvidia's RTX ray tracing features on compatible games. For a limited time, the Founder's plan also offers 3 free months of service up front.
GeForce Now currently doesn't target the absolute highest of high-end graphics in terms of resolution, but it promises 1080p streaming at 60 frames per second across an array of graphically demanding titles. Digital Foundry's Richard Leadbetter tested the service with Metro Exodus and found GeForce Now's 1080p, 60 FPS version of the experience, with ray tracing enabled, to be far preferable to Stadia's 4K, 30 FPS stream that more-or-less stacks up to Exodus on the Xbox One X.
The most obvious feature GeForce Now touts over peer streaming services is that it simply targets running PC versions of games on high-end hardware. With xCloud, Microsoft targets Xbox One X quality from its Azure cloud datacenters and touts that developers don't need to do additional work to get their games running on the service. In theory, Google Stadia should be able to deliver 4K, 60 FPS streams running at higher settings than most PCs or consoles, but prominent titles in its limited library fall short of these settings. In addition, by requiring separate builds of games, Stadia titles can lag behind in updates and have limited multiplayer pools.
For all game streaming services—GeForce Now, xCloud, Stadia, and Sony's PlayStation Now—users' internet connections may prove to be the biggest barrier to success in the short-term (Nvidia recommends a 50 Mbps connection for its highest quality). If the streams themselves can look and play well, then whichever company gets its service working across the most platforms and games may stand the best chance of capturing people's subscription dollars in the long run.
Nvidia says the next platform it's rolling GeForce Now out to are Chromebooks. The affordable laptops, powered by Google's OS, have been pretty popular with Stadia early adopters, but soon there'll be more than one way to stream games to them.