Game streaming seems to be all the rage these days, and although still in its early stages there are a handful of options now for consumers. All but one is officially available in a launched state as xCloud is still in a closed beta that you have to be invited to test. All of them also offer essentially the same thing. A way to stream your games over the cloud.
There are other similarities too. But each service is also different in its own right. Some services like Stadia are attacking the game streaming industry with a paid subscription model where you also pay for games to play in this closed platform.
Whereas GeForce NOW also offers a subscription model, but the games you access are games you've purchased on PC. So you can play them through the cloud with GeForce NOW, or on your PC if you so choose.
Shadow works in much the same way as GeForce NOW, but has a higher subscription fee and doesn't really have many restrictions on games. Then there's xCloud. The Xbox-powered cloud gaming option from Microsoft that lets you stream games to your Android smartphone, and soon your Windows 10 PC.
All of these services are cloud gaming services. So at the root of what they're offering, they're the same. They give you a way to play games in the cloud instead of having to install them locally on your PC or console.
In this post we aim to compare some basic things of these game streaming options to give you a better overall view of each of them in one singular post.
First things first: Game streaming costs
One of first things (if not the first thing) you may want to consider is what each service is going to cost you. This way you can start to analyze whether or not the rest of the features and functions are of value based on what you're spending.
Each one of these services is a little bit different and therefore have a different associated cost. We've broken down the cost of each service and have laid things out neatly below.
When it comes to prices Stadia isn't the most expensive service. Not from a monthly standpoint. While it did take $130 to buy into Stadia up until recently when Google started offering the service for free for a two-month trial, you no longer need to buy the $130 Premiere bundle.
When the trial period is over though (or after the offer to claim it ends), you will have to pay for the Stadia Pro subscription if you want to keep the benefits of it. And that'll cost you $9.99 a month.
That's not a terribly expensive monthly cost, but some have felt that it isn't worth it because it isn't giving you access to enough stuff for that price. Either way, you can access Stadia Pro for under $10 a month.
The trial period for Pro also ends with the arrival of the Stadia Base service, so you can always stick with Stadia Base (which is free) and just pay for the games you want individually each time.
Just like with Stadia there are two pricing tiers here for NVIDIA's game streaming service. One is free, which is the base package, and one has a monthly fee which is the founders package.
The founders package is the premium tier and costs $4.99 a month (there's also a 90-day trial still being offered on it). So it's half the cost of Stadia but, there are also differences in what you get.
For instance you don't get any free games every month along with the GeForce NOW membership. With Stadia Pro you do. There's also a limit on what games you can play, as GeForce NOW has withdrawn a few games from its service at the request of publishers.
But, all of the games you do have access to are games you've already purchased on your PC. Through Steam, The Epic Games Store, etc. So if you've purchased games through any PC store fronts, then GeForce NOW lets you access them on the go from your phone.
It even works with laptops that may have otherwise not been able to handle some of the more demanding games. If you want a less expensive game streaming option, then don't rule out GeForce NOW.
xCloud might be just be one of my personal favorites. It's currently free and there's a ton of games that you can stream to your Android smartphone. And soon enough it'll be available on Windows 10 PCs as well after Microsoft finishes internally testing and rolls it out.
The fact that it's free though comes with one huge caveat. It's in beta. More specifically a closed beta. Which means you can't just sign up and start playing immediately.
You should however signup anyway if you haven't already, and we've linked to how you can do that at the beginning of this post. Because eventually you will likely get an invite to participate in the beta. Microsoft has said that it's going to continue sending out invites and bringing more users online.
You aren't really getting any new games for the most part. So if you're looking for a tried and true service that offers a mix of old and new releases, like DOOM Eternal, then xCloud is not for you. But it is free for now, so you might as well take advantage of what while you can.
Last on our list is Shadow and it also happens to be the most expensive. At least when it comes to the monthly price.
You basically pay for games the way you do on GeForce NOW because Shadow lets you stream your already existing library of PC games. The monthly cost is a little bit higher though than the other two paid options.
Currently it will cost you $14.99 a month. That's also just for the standard Boost plan. There's also an Ultra and an Infinite plan that will be available sometime in the future for $29.99 and $49.99 respectively.
Also worth noting is that the above-mentioned costs are for the month to month pricing. Shadow does also offer prices based on signing up for an annual plan. Though these make the monthly payments essentially cheaper, you have to keep the plan for an entire year.
Still, if you choose to go that route, then the Boost plan drops to $11.99, which is much closer to Stadia for really something that's quite a bit more powerful. Additionally the Ultra and Infinite plans will drop to $24.99 and $39.99 respectively once they launch.
Each game streaming service offers different features
Features can help set a service or product apart from the competition. And that's still true with game streaming services.
Each one here has some similar features as well as some very obvious differences. And they may be what pushes you to one over the other.
While all these options are technically the same in at least one area (they're cloud gaming services), they all offer something a little different.
They also all attack the industry a little bit differently too. That is to say they try to attract customers in different ways. Mostly because they're really trying to target slightly different groups of the market.
Stadia, for example, is not really targeting the hardcore gamers. That doesn't mean there aren't any hardcore gamers who subscribe to Stadia Pro. I consider myself a hardcore gamer and I have a subscription and still play the games that Stadia offers.
The main group that Stadia is targeting though seems to be those who want a decent quality gaming experience in as convenient a way as possible.
To that end, Stadia lets you play your games in the cloud on multiple device types with relative ease. There's even a pause feature that allows you to flip between those devices. Which, is rather convenient is it not?
Say you start the game on your Chromecast Ultra, but then you want to perhaps wind down in bed. You can pause your game and then restart from where you left off on your Android device.
Stadia also offers users free monthly games as part of the Pro membership. 4K resolution for some games. Google Assistant integration. And, Stream Connect. A way for you and your teammates to see where you each are on the map while playing together.
Overall, Stadia is a way for you to conveniently jump into the game world. You buy games you want, or just stick with the free pro games. Or both. There are options for both a paid tier and a free tier.
GeForce NOW operates on a pretty different model than Stadia. Instead of charging you for games on top of a monthly fee, you simply stream the games that are in your library from places like Steam.
There is a free tier and paid tier. Though you will get the most out of the experience with the paid tier. For example, you get RTXOn graphics in the paid tier, but not the free one.
You also have longer play sessions, at six hours compared to one. And you don't typically have to wait (long at least) in a queue as paid tier members are prioritized.
You also don't get any free games though. Each month new games are added to the service that are supported, but you aren't given any for free by NVIDIA. You also don't have features like Stream Connect.
That being said, NVIDIA is targeting more of the hardcore gamer market. The users that might want a way to supplement their PC gaming habits by having a way to stream those same games on less powerful machines.
There is some convenience here too. Playing from a phone is possible and playing from less powerful laptops is possible. For the most part though GeForce NOW really works better as an addition to your gaming PC. Not as a replacement.
xCloud really feels like the most bare bones. And that's probably because it's still in beta and things will likely change and evolve once it launches in full.
When it comes to features on offer, xCloud is more or less just a way for you to stream some Xbox games over the cloud. You have some pretty wide compatibility on Android phones. Which is a great thing as more people can play on the device they have and not worry about needing to purchase a new phone.
There's no special Stream Connect or RTXOn features though or anything similar. It's just a cloud gaming option that lets you play games from the current-gen console using Microsoft's hardware. Most of the games are a bit older and none of them seem to be newer than six months.
So what you get is really a free method for streaming games on your phone. And soon to be PC. That's about it. There's not a lot in terms of features. But hey, xCloud is free. You just have to be accepted to test the preview.
Last but not least there's Shadow. In terms of how Shadow lets you access games, it's closest to NVIDIA's GeForce NOW.
You don't actually buy any of the games from Shadow. You buy the games from Steam and Origin and other digital game store fronts. Where it differs from GeForce NOW is that you're really not limited on which games you can access.
Shadow is less a game streaming service and more a Windows PC in the cloud. Each member gets their own cloud-based Shadow PC, which runs Windows 10, and you can install any games or programs you want on it.
This means you could install Steam, Origin, the Ubisoft launcher, the Bethesda launcher etc. and play any games you've purchased through those store fronts. Where services like GeForce NOW have lost access to Bethesda games, Shadow did not.
Which gives it the upper hand on GeForce NOW. It is more expensive, but you also don't have wait times, play session limits, or any of that. You can play as long as you want and you don't have to wait in line. So the higher price really is worth it.
You can also play Shadow on multiple devices. Including phones, tablets, crappy laptops and more. It features GTX 1080 or equivalent graphics quality, a robust mobile interface, a low-connection mode for optimal stream quality, etc.
Though you'll pay more for it, you'll get more out of it for that money than any other option. Keep in mind that Shadow is really meant to target the more hardcore gamers, and not those that are looking for more of a "most convenient" gaming option like Stadia users.
The game library for each game streaming service
Content is king. Or so the saying goes. That's still mostly true with each of these game streaming options. Though some may have more games than others, quality is also generally better than quantity.
At least in this particular space.
Based on numbers alone, Stadia brings up the rear here as it has the least amount of available games of any of the services.
This isn't going to be an issue for everyone. And some of the games that Stadia does have are excellent options. New releases like DOOM Eternal for example which launched at the end of March, is something you can't play on GeForce NOW or xCloud.
Altogether Stadia has a total of 37 games. Including the above-mentioned DOOM Eternal, and other top hits like Mortal Kombat 11, Destiny 2, The Division 2, Ghost Recon Breakpoint, Red Dead Redemption 2 and MotoGP 20 which just launched on April 23.
It's not a large game library by any means. But Google is working to add more games into the mix and players do seem to be having a good time with what's there.
When it comes to numbers, GeForce NOW is really in second place here. It supports around 100-150 or so games as long as you own them through Steam and other digital game store fronts.
That number is always fluctuating as NVIDIA is adding new games every single Thursday. But on the flip side it's also taking some games from certain publishers away.
This hasn't been a one-off either, as it's now removed games multiple times at the request of the game studios who make those games. When it comes to game specifics, you have access to some newer and some older titles.
This includes Destiny 2, Disco Elysium, The Division 2, Control, Assassin's Creed III, Wolfenstein: Youngblood, and Darksiders Genesis.
It's not the most robust game library either. Considering how you access the games you play. But, NVIDIA says it's working on adding 1.500 more games to the service. And there are plenty of good titles already there too.
Coming in at third place when it comes to the number of games is xCloud. While many of these games are around a year old or older, some of them were released within the last year, such as Gears 5.
All told xCloud now has 92 games on offer that you can stream over the cloud. Which is quite a lot for a game streaming service that you don't have to pay any money at all for.
As Microsoft continues to test the service leading up to an eventual full launch, expect there to be even more games added. You might even see more games added once the company is done testing the preview for Windows PCs.
Until then, you can dive into hits like Halo 5: Guardians, Halo Wars 2, Warhammer: Vermintide 2, Ori and The Blind Forest and more.
Far and away Shadow has the largest library of games of any game streaming service out there.
That's because it's basically just a Windows 10 PC in the cloud that lets you install any games you want. With Shadow, you aren't reliant on what games Shadow is able to bring onboard.
If you want Steam and access to your entire Steam library, no problem. Install Steam and you have that. The same goes for the Ubisoft launcher, the Origin launcher, the Bethesda launcher, the Epic Games launcher, and any other launcher that exists.
Save for battle.net, because Blizzard has made it clear that using cloud gaming services to play its games is against the terms of service. So you may want to steer clear of that one even though it will work.
You can even install standard Windows PC games that aren't tied to a launcher of any kind. The world is your oyster here. And because of this, there's not really a quantifiable number of games that Shadow offers.
At least not one we can give you, because there are too many games to count.
Game streaming device compatibility
What you play your games on tends to matter. So it's definitely important that a game streaming service has a decent compatibility list for devices. These days, each option we have listed is sitting pretty. Some of course are doing better than others.
When it was first launched Stadia didn't have the best compatibility list. Not from a mobile device standpoint.
In addition to working with Chrome browsers and the Chromecast Ultra, it only worked with Pixel phones. The list of smartphones has now been updated to include a wider variety of options.
Realistically it's still pretty small compared to the competition in this particular area. But it does now offer more than just Google's own devices. Including phones like the ROG Phone II and Razer Phone 2, a collection of different Samsung phones, and now even the OnePlus 8.
Later this year it's even speculated that Google may finally launch the Stadia app for Android TVs and Android TV set top boxes. Which would increase the device compatibility significantly. Of course, expect more phone support too.
GeForce NOW offers a much wider set of options here, especially with Android devices. While it works with just about any PC (desktop or laptop as long as it meets some minimum requirements), it also works with the NVIDIA SHIELD, and a wide array of Android devices.
For the Android device portion, the only real requirement is that it has at least 2GB of RAM, runs Android 5.0 or later, and supports OpenGL ES3.2. Which is a whole lot of Android phones. It even supports tablets. So if you have one, you're in luck.
It also works on Mac desktops and laptops if that's your OS of choice.
Right now xCloud is only compatible with Android smartphones. It doesn't work on PCs for the users. Not yet anyway. Microsoft is doing testing on Windows 10 PCs internally and will likely roll it out to users at a later date.
As for the Android devices, it doesn't work on tablets. It does however work on a pretty wide set of Android phones. Microsoft doesn't mention a list of phones that are supported. All it states is that it needs Android 6.0 or later, and Bluetooth 4.0 or later.
So if you use an Android phone and either have access already or are interested in access, sign up and give it a try. It should work with most Android smartphones. So long as they have those two requirements met.
Once again coming out on top, Shadow supports the largest amount of devices for any game streaming service.
It works with Android so long as it's on 7.0 or later, iOS devices that are on 11.0 or later, 64-bit versions of Windows 7, 8.1, and 10, Mac PCs that are running on 10.10 or later, and even Ubuntu devices that are running on at least version 18.04.
Other than that, there's no real restrictions. So your choices are pretty vast. If you'd rather play on your TV, even that's possible if you have the Shadow Ghost. Which is a little box you plug into a TV or monitor that connects to your Shadow cloud PC.
The possibilities are pretty much endless. So if Shadow is the choice you make when choosing a game streaming service, you really can play games through it almost anywhere on any device.
You'd think that you would need a wicket fast internet connection to stream games over the cloud. But, surprisingly it doesn't actually need to be that fast.
It does need to be a strong connection though. Otherwise you're looking at a less stable experience and probably less visual clarity.
The requirements here are pretty low, as all you need to play games on Stadia is at least 10-15Mbps for download speed.
Your experience will definitely be better though if you have a faster connection. If you want 4K and 60 frames per second, you'll need at least 35Mbps recommended. The faster the better.
You also need ethernet or WiFi, and it won't work on mobile connections. It's also recommended that your connection be as strong as possible. If your WiFi router is on the other end of the house, you probably won't have the best visual clarity or the best connection or latency. It will work though. A 5GHz router is also recommended.
GeForce NOW's internet requirements are about the same as Stadia's. You need around 15Mbps down for 720p, and 25Mbps down for 1080p.
Both will offer 60 frames per second so you won't lose out on frame quality on either one. It also requires either an ethernet connection, or a WiFi connection that runs from a 5GHz router. Mobile internet is not supported right now.
xCloud is a little more lenient than the other two so far. It actually does work with mobile internet and that generally shouldn't be much of an issue when it comes to speed.
Because most mobile internet is pretty fast these days. In many cases way faster than the requirements that have been set. If you're going to use mobile internet though, make sure you're stationary.
Trying to use this on the train to work or on a car ride is probably going to result in lots of latency and game crashes. When it comes to speed, you really only need about 10Mbps down.
5GHz routers are once again recommended if you're going to be using WiFi for the connection. Since this doesn't work on ethernet right now, your options are either WiFi or mobile.
Shadow more or less has similar restrictions to Stadia on 4K. It's recommended that you have closer to 25Mbps down, though it will work on slightly slower speeds. In fact it will work with a minimum of 5Mbps. Probably not as smoothly though.
It also works on WiFi, ethernet, and mobile connections. So as long as you're speeds aren't fluctuating too much, and your connection is strong, you should be fine with whatever type of connection you have.