Being able to play modern, high-quality video games on just about any kind of PC is the big pitch of the handful of cloud gaming services out there. Using a subscription model, these services allow people with a strong internet connection to tap remote servers in order to play video games of all kinds on even modest computer setups that wouldn’t be able to run them directly. We took the time to try out the biggest players in the cloud gaming space to figure out what works, what to expect, and why you may want to choose one service over another. From the game libraries to the user experience to the visual quality, read on to see what these cloud gaming services bring to the table.
1. GeForce Now – Best cloud gaming service overall
When it comes to the best all-around experience, GeForce Now is our strongest recommendation. While you do have to purchase many of the games that you can play on this service, the fact is that GeForce Now brings some of the best visual quality, a massive game compatibility list, and a free membership plan option. With those aspects in mind, there’s almost no reason not to jump in and at least try out some free games like Destiny 2 or Fortnite to see if it works for you.
Additionally, if you do end up wanting to purchase some games to play with GeForce Now, you are not tied to the service long term. The games you’re playing in GeForce Now are accessed through your own Steam, Epic Games Store, or other distribution service that you’ll be able to load up locally on your own computer if/when you get your own gaming PC. So if you’re just getting started in PC gaming, or simply want to check out cloud gaming in general, we’d recommend starting here at the very low cost of free.
There may be contention over which major gaming brands make the best hardware—but for most folks, it really just comes down to the games themselves to determine where you’re going to play them. Xbox Cloud Gaming, a component of the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, grants access to the entire Xbox Game Pass game library, and that library is both impressive and ever-changing.
For $14.99/month, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate offers access to over 350 games, from Skyrim to Deep Rock Galactic to Boyfriend Dungeon to Battlefield V and plenty more. While the cloud gaming experience can have some notable amounts of compression artifacts from time to time, it still means playing some of the best games available without too much of an investment.
Amazon Luna is an extension of Amazon’s efforts in the gaming industry and it brings a fantastic and smooth user experience with a niche selection of games at a reasonable price. Amazon Luna splits its available games up into various channels, which can be paid for separately, making it both one of the cheapest and one of the most expensive subscription models in this list, depending on what you’re going for.
Notably, Amazon Luna offers a strong roster of retro and family-friendly games, if you’re looking to either dive into some nostalgia or enjoy some gaming with your family without having to buy and connect old and new game systems. Additionally, with a free rotation of games for Prime members and an incredible deal on playing Jackbox Games, it can make for a great party pick for you and your friends both locally and online.
While Google Stadia may have had a shaky release, testing it out in 2022, we were genuinely surprised at just how well it worked. Simply put: Google Stadia is a solid pick for those who don’t have the ability to pick up a gaming console, but do want to get into gaming regularly—you get free access to your purchased games, similar to GeForce Now but without the play session time limits.
The biggest criticism of Google Stadia by its fans is its paltry game library. But with an impressively strong user experience and surprisingly good-looking 4K support on its Pro plan, it may still be worth investing in and purchasing games in lieu of getting a modern gaming PC or console, especially given some of the discounts on games for Pro members.
PlayStation Plus on PC is Sony’s follow-up to its now shuttered PlayStation Now service, and while their heart seems to be there, it still has some catching up to do. Largely, you can access quite a few games, including many PlayStation exclusives from the original PlayStation through PlayStation 4, but we did run into a few issues.
Similar to Xbox Cloud Gaming, PlayStation Plus on PC is a component of a larger service, PlayStation Plus Premium, but unlike Xbox Cloud Gaming, PlayStation Plus on PC needs a lot of help when it comes to what makes a solid PC service and application, from the user interface to connection stability. If you are a PlayStation Plus Premium member already, though, then do check the PC app out.
There are three major aspects to consider when it comes to a cloud gaming service: technical requirements, game library, and your own plans for the future.
When it comes to technical requirements, it’s mostly about having a fast and stable internet connection. The bare minimum seems to be about 10Mbps for some of these services, but 20Mbps or higher should be good to get started on any of them. They all recommend using wired internet connections, or they may have specific recommendations for what your Wi-Fi network at home needs. Additionally, if your internet service has data consumption caps, then be aware that these kinds of services will use a ton of that data, similar to streaming high-quality video.
Other technical requirements, such as processing power, RAM, and monitor quality are all going to vary by your needs. But generally speaking, if your device can handle a high-quality Netflix or Hulu stream, it should be able to handle cloud gaming streams. If you’re looking to get into the 4K experiences with GeForce Now or Google Stadia, then you will need a monitor to support that, too. Additionally, both Xbox Cloud Gaming and PlayStation Plus on PC do require a game controller to play games on their services—though that does not necessarily have to be their branded controllers, so long as it has enough buttons.
When it comes down to it, the games are what you’re here for. Every service has its own included or compatible game library, and you can look those up ahead of time. If you’re looking for specific games, then definitely look to see which services, if any, offer them. Otherwise, if you’re looking to keep up with the latest releases, then do note which services are getting those new releases activated ASAP. None of them seem to fully keep pace with modern release schedules, but both Xbox and Google seem to be trying their hardest to get there, with GeForce Now following close behind.
Cloud gaming goals
Lastly, think about what you want out of your cloud gaming experience. Are you just looking to have some games to play when you’re traveling or staying with family for an extended period? Are you just getting into gaming and want a more affordable option to see if you’d stick with it before buying into expensive hardware? Maybe you’re just looking to be able to play some specific games with a group of friends? Each of the major cloud gaming services seems to have a different approach to their offerings, making it possible to shop around for the right fit.
How we test cloud gaming services
We dove deep into all of these services to get the best feel for what they’re offering, including getting technical specifications when possible, testing each service in identical locations for comparisons, and trying to get the more subjective perspective of whether it feels good to play.
Our main test location was in Texas, U.S. on a home Spectrum internet connection with a minimum 400Mbps down and 25Mbps up, and a maximum of about +10 percent for both speeds. Latencies were tested against major server locations for each gaming session to ensure there weren’t any unexpected problems getting in the way there. GeForce Now was the only service that included its own speed testing and troubleshooting tools, so we confirmed that conditions were good there, and then recorded the other speed and latency stats to recreate that connectivity as best we could with the other cloud gaming services for as much consistency as possible.
All of our testing was done on a custom gaming PC with a Ryzen 7 1700X CPU, 32GB of Corsair DDR4-3600 RAM, an EVGA GeForce RTX 3070 8GB XC3 Ultra GPU, and both a 1080p and a 4K monitor. For controls, we used the same Razer Basilisk v2 mouse and Corsair K70 RGB Pro keyboard when relevant, as well as both an Xbox One and a PlayStation 4 controller connected to the PC with USB cables. All tests were done on the Windows 10 Pro 64-bit OS.
Some, but not all, services offer both a web browser interface and a standalone Windows application to browse and launch games. All of our tests were done with both when relevant, and our full reviews reference which seemed to provide the better experience in both browsing and playing. For the web browser access, we tested with both Firefox and Google Chrome with little difference between the two except for Stadia, which calls for Chrome.
When it came to game performance, we were not able to capture accurate frames-per-second or benchmarking data for every service, so data for those comparisons were not directly measured. This largely has to do with the obfuscation of information, and that most of the cloud gaming services are running console versions of the games on their platform, meaning much of the PC testing options simply aren’t available for in-game testing. Even if we could, our performance stats wouldn’t necessarily match anyone else’s since those results would be tied more closely to internet speeds and latency issues, which can depend simply on how far your PC is from a service’s data center.
The feeling of gameplay came down to a handful of tests. Some games are available on multiple services, so we would be sure to play the same game across multiple services to see if things like responsiveness felt the same between them. Additionally, we would specifically pick out games that required what people consider “tight” or quick response controls to play successfully, including various platformers, fighting games, and action RPGs. Additionally, we would compare the cloud gaming experience to just playing the same game locally on the test rig to see if anything did feel notably off. The results are subjective and are likely to be more noticeable for more experienced players, especially in the competitive gaming space.
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