The streaming wars have come for video games, too
Playing a video game in 2020 no longer means having to purchase a physical copy of a game to enjoy it on your console or PC. In fact, with all the strides forward the industry has made in recent years when it comes to delivering content via the internet, video game streaming services are ushering in a new digital age for the average gaming fan.
It isn't typically necessary to purchase games to stream them outright anymore, either. Typically, companies are launching streaming service subscriptions rather than selling titles, which offers significantly lower pricing than going out to the store and buying the latest game. The benefits are obvious, too: no having to leave the house, no need to wait for massive installs to complete, and instantaneous updates. It's a dream come true for most players whose internet connection can support such features.
And these services are only going to improve going forward. Two of the biggest companies in the streaming arena, Google and Microsoft, are backing products that are, for all intents and purposes, in their infancy. Google Stadia continues to add a swath of additional titles to its stores and tweaks its service as new players sign up, but it's hit more than a few road blocks on its rise to fame. Meanwhile, Microsoft's Project xCloud is still very much in its beta status, with only select previewers able to take advantage of it at the moment.
For the rest of the services competing for streaming supremacy, attracting and maintaining a user base will eventually depend on the range of titles available per service, how reliable it is, and of course, the pricing structure. If you're ready to jump in as an early adopter and try out some of the services currently available for a preview of our game streaming future, you certainly can – here are the services you can currently subscribe to. Which one you'll want to spend money on will depend largely on factors such as pricing, game availability, and reliability, and right now, there's no clear-cut winner just yet – only what works best for you.
Google Stadia is one of the biggest streaming options that's currently out of beta, and backed by a capable company. It's available right now for users who pre-ordered a Founder's Edition or Premiere Edition earlier in 2019, and the Pro subscription plan, which allows users to pay $10 a month to access the service's rotating selection of games, is available now. Stadia users can stream across a variety of devices: PCs, laptops, tablets, TVs (by way of a Chromecast Ultra), Android devices, and iOS devices in the future. With Stadia, the need for a traditional console is eliminated, as you need only a device capable of streaming via the internet as well as a controller (if you choose) to play.
Stadia has already received a series of timed exclusives on the service, and a variety of titles available across other platforms, such as Mortal Kombat 11, Borderlands 3, and Destiny 2. Updates are handled via Google's servers, so you don't have to concern yourself with keeping each game up to date, and any bug fixes or patches are automatically applied before the games are "beamed" out to users. There are plenty of additional features Google has promised for Stadia on the way as well, such as integration with YouTube and Google Assistant, but those have yet to be completed.
Users have complained of early growing pains with Stadia since its initial launch, but in terms of game offerings, affordability, and reliability, it's leading the pack with its projected plans alone. No game streaming service is perfect, but Stadia has a chance at making it close if Google can work out all the kinks.
Microsoft's streaming service Project xCloud promises to be a more robust option for users who have already invested in an Xbox One or PC. It's meant to let users stream their console and PC games to the device of their choice via the internet. Like Stadia, it doesn't require you to download the games you choose to play, instead with Microsoft providing a stream from its own servers by way of its Azure Cloud architecture seen in games like Titanfall. With clusters of Azure servers found all around the world, there shouldn't be any issues with offering enough server centers for users anywhere they're found.
Unlike Stadia, which aims to supplant digital game distribution and traditional disc-based gaming, Microsoft has positioned Project xCloud as a way to allow users to experience console-quality titles across a wide variety of different hardware, for people who can't afford expensive gaming PCs or those who want to play their favorite Xbox titles on a smartphone or laptop. It's meant to reduce the need for additional, expensive hardware, which also means changing up gaming on the go — suddenly, triple-A home console experiences can become portable titles.
Project xCloud currently isn't available outside of a closed preview for select players, and Microsoft hasn't divulged exact specifics beyond pricing for its Xbox Game Pass Ultimate service that players can draw games from, which is $15 per month. There also isn't any real information at present on how game purchases will be managed with Project xCloud, nor a complete supported list of devices you can play on at present. But with Microsoft's dogged determination to change the game when it comes to streaming services, xCloud is poised to give Stadia a run for its money.
Microsoft and Google aren't the only players in the game streaming arena. Nintendo may not be a contender in the running just yet, but Sony jumped aboard with PlayStation Now, which has been available for a sight longer than both Stadia and Project xCloud. It's available to anyone who wants to stream a wide variety of PlayStation titles to or from PC via PlayStation 4 for a fixed price per month. All you need is a compatible DualShock 4 controller with a wireless adapter or USB mini cable as well as a PlayStation Network account and an internet service provider that can handle the server load.
PlayStation Now is $10 per month and just $59.99 for a yearly subscription, making it by far one of the cheapest options around when it comes to console game streaming. It also has a wide library of games, including new and old PlayStation titles, like Until Dawn, The Last of Us, and Killzone: Shadow Fall. And for those looking for even more variety in their games going forward, Microsoft and Sony have joined forces to bring Microsoft's Azure cloud technology (the very same that powers Project xCloud) over to Sony's PlayStation Now services. This will provide extra computing power and potentially even avenues for additional games in the future.
PlayStation Now is already a reliable and inexpensive way to experience your favorite PlayStation titles across various devices, but it's also going to be a major contender going forward with the heavy-hitters as well.
Up until now, most game streaming services have focused mainly on console experiences. Nvidia's GeForce Now service is a great option for PC gamers who may have a lower-end PC, but wants to enjoy newer, more graphics-intensive games. While it's not a content subscription service, it's still a viable option for anyone looking to game on PC.
It utilizes GeForce's cloud-based processing power to help you run the game of your choice, but it's a much more intensive set of requirements than you may be used to with the other services available at the moment.
GeForce Now does, however, require that you purchase the games you play on the system. There's also a short list of compatible games that will work with it, so not every purchase is eligible. The service is also currently in beta testing, though users can try it out for free during its trial period. There's no pricing information for its official launch just yet, either.
In the end, which streaming service is right for you? It will heavily depend on the features you're seeking out. You'll have to make a decision about when and where playing your favorite games really matters to you, how much you're willing to rely on third-party servers to drive your gaming experience, and if you're ready to be patient while the services continue to receive improvements over the coming months. Game streaming isn't near-perfect just yet, but given enough time it may very well become our preferred method of gaming.