What is Shadow? It's a cloud gaming service that allows you to play games on just about any device. It was available before the likes of xCloud and Stadia, and around at the same time GeForce NOW was in beta.
For the most part it helped pioneer the modern state of cloud gaming. And the industry is better for it. If you want to learn more about Shadow and what it has to offer in comparison to other similar services, we've laid everything out here to answer your questions.
When is Shadow available?
Right now! You can actually sign up for the service at this very moment if you wanted to. In fact Shadow has been up and running for the better part of a couple years.
It also just recently changed up its rates. Prior to that change, Shadow was available in most states across the US. Though there were a few that you couldn't yet access it from. Such as Arizona.
Where is Shadow available?
Altogether Shadow is now available in eight different countries. These are countries that have proper support.
This includes the UK, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, and the US. In the US, the service was available only in most states. But with the recent announcement that Shadow made about its new pricing plan structure, it expanded the service to those previously locked out states.
These states are where the service works in "Exploration Mode," which means the service may work with varying degree, but it still works. Where previously it did not.
States where the service is in Exploration Mode include Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Every other state has the service fully rolled out.
How much does Shadow cost?
There are a few plans so it really all depends on which one you choose. Each one will come with a different set of features, and the associated monthly cost varies based on how powerful you want your cloud gaming experience to be.
As it stands only one of the three plans are available right now. With the two more expensive plans not launching until sometime in 2021.
The starter package now costs just $12 a month, called Boost. Though worth noting is that this is only the price if you sign up for the annual Boost plan. If you go month by month then the cost goes up to $15.
With this package you end up getting a pretty decent setup for cloud gaming. It comes with Full HD resolution for clarity, it uses a GTX 1080 (equivalent or better), a 3.4GHz 4-core CPU, 12GB of RAM, and up to 256GB of storage.
This is more than capable enough for the demanding graphics of current games at the highest settings. Though you may not get the best refresh rates. Still, likely more than acceptable.
First things first, this plan won't be available until 2021. Users can sign up to be notified once it hits though.
As for what it offers, it bumps up RAM and storage to 16GB and 512GB respectively. You also get 4K resolution with Ray Tracing thanks to the move from a GTX 1080 to the RTX 2080 (Equivalent or better).
The CPU is also now a 4GHz 4-core instead of a 3.4GHz 4-core. As for the cost, it's $29.99 a month if you do the monthly plan, and $24.99 a month if you do the annual contract plan.
With the Infinite Plan you're getting a nice bump up in computational and graphical power.
You get up to 4K with Ray Tracing, a Titan RTX GPU (Equivalent or better), a 4GHz 6-core CPU, 32GB of RAM, and 1TB of storage for all the space you could ever need for your games.
You'll pay the most for this plan at a monthly rate of $50. If you go for the annual contract option though you'll pay $40 a month instead.
While each plan comes with a dedicated amount of storage, you can upgrade to more. Right now the only plan available is the Boost Plan. Which initially comes with 256GB of storage.
If you want more than that you can pay an additional $2.99 a month to upgrade to a larger amount. This will let you install more games and programs so you don't have to start swapping out your games.
As this costs an additional $2.99 a month, your monthly cost will change depending on how much more storage you upgrade to. If any at all.
What are the connection requirements?
There's a small set of requirements for Shadow when it comes to the internet. Mainly you should have either FTTH or FTTB high-speed connections.
The service might also work with ADSL broadband connections but there is a chance that they may not.
The bigger requirement to pay attention to though, is the internet speed. Shadow recommends that you have at least 15Mbps, though your experience will likely be better if your speed is at least 25Mbps.
When it comes to internet speeds, this isn't a very demanding prerequisite. In fact it's quite low and matches up with what's more or less required by Stadia.
If you think your internet may not be fast enough, chances are it is.
The service will also work on both hardwired and Wi-Fi connections. Keep in mind that if you're using Wi-Fi though your connection will need to be stronger to ensure minimal latency.
What devices does Shadow work on?
Shadow works on a multitude of devices making it a very powerful method for gaming.
Do you have a potato PC? Not a problem. Shadow will work for you because it handles everything. It works on Windows desktops and laptops, Mac desktops and laptops, Ubuntu desktops and laptops, and even on Android and iOS smartphones and tablets.
It even works on TVs, though you will need an extra piece of equipment for that. It's called the Shadow Ghost, and it's required to plug into the TV so it can access your Shadow account and gaming rig.
This makes Shadow a versatile gaming platform that works for just about anyone, anywhere. And it's very easy to start playing a game at home on your desktop, then pick it back up later on your smartphone if you leave the home.
What games does Shadow have?
The list is only limited by your imagination. Truly. Since Shadow basically runs a full Windows PC running Windows 10 on whatever device you log in with, it has access to any game that can run on a PC with a GTX 1080 GPU.
You can install whatever programs you want on your Shadow rig. So that means you can install Steam and any other clients and access/install any games that are available in those clients.
The only one you may have trouble with or may want to avoid is battle.net. It is against the terms of service in games like World of Warcraft to use cloud gaming services to access the game. This means it could be the same for any other game that you can play through battle.net.
In most cases though, games from other stores should be fine. As always though you may want to check each game specifically as they come up.
Is there first-party content?
No. Not really. Because Shadow is essentially just a powered up gaming rig in the cloud, there's no first-party content that can only be played on Shadow.
If there's first-party content for game stores like Epic or Steam, then you will technically have first-party content that way. But there isn't and never will be any first-party content that you will need Shadow to play.
How do you set up a Shadow account?
This is a pretty simple process. First you'll have to subscribe to the service and choose the plan you want.
After that, make sure you have the Shadow software on whatever devices you want to play games on. If you're playing on the PC, then make sure to install the Shadow program for the correct operating system (Windows, Mac, Ubuntu).
If you're also planning on playing on Android then you'll want to install the Shadow app there too. This can be found in the Google Play Store. It's a free download as well, as you're only paying for the monthly access to Shadow and not the apps or programs.
What input methods are supported?
This will depend on which device platform you play games through Shadow on. If you're on Android, then you should be able to use Bluetooth mouse and keyboard combinations. But you'll be generally be limited to only Bluetooth options.
You can also choose to use gamepads like the DualShock 4 or Xbox wireless controller or any other number of gamepads that support Android. If you're on a PC, then expect to be able to use just about anything. Gamepads, dedicated gaming mice and keyboards, you name it.
As long as your device supports a specific type of peripheral, it should work with Shadow.
Can you use programs like Discord for chat?
Yes. Discord works with Shadow and doesn't really have much of a noticeable latency between you and other users.
You will still need a pair of headphones to use that have a mic so you can talk to others. Or at the very least hear what other are saying. This will be important for games that have multiplayer and may either require or recommend team chat for certain activities.
Because Shadow allows you to install any program you can install on a local Windows desktop, Discord will work just fine as should other chat programs.
Are there any downsides to Shadow?
There are likely a few for some individuals. A big one is the lack of availability. Right now Shadow is only available in eight countries (mentioned above).
If you don't have access to it then you can't use it and that would be a large downside. It's also possible that you may not have the absolute best setup for minimal latency and the best resolution.
While Shadow requires a relatively low base internet connection speed, just like Stadia the best configuration is going to be an ethernet connection. If you're playing on a phone then you simply need to make sure your Wi-Fi connection is strong enough to handle the streaming without having latency issues.
Shadow is also the most expensive of any of the available cloud gaming services. And some may find that it's not affordable for them.
What are the benefits of Shadow?
For starters you can play on just about anything. Nearly any Android device is supported instead of being limited to a handful of devices.
You can also play on just about any desktop or laptop and you can play on tablets. This opens up gameplay to a ton of users and makes it possible for anyone to afford a high-end gaming experience if they can afford the monthly cost.
Because of the mobile device versatility you can also play games on Shadow just about anywhere. If you have a strong enough connection then you should be totally fine. Though again, your best experience is likely to be with your phone connected to a strong and fast Wi-Fi network.
Shadow is also scalable. Just like with GeForce NOW and Stadia, Shadow will be upgraded as needed. When new, more powerful hardware comes out, the Shadow team will deploy the new parts. Eventually making everyone's cloud gaming rigs more powerful too.
This cuts out the need of having to upgrade your PC. Which can become pretty costly depending on how high-end the parts are that you're buying.
Naturally, some users will prefer the physical PC and enjoy upgrading their rig every few years or however often they do it. For those that want something more simple yet just as powerful, Shadow provides this and the rig will never be exceedingly outdated.
Is Shadow the right service for you?
Shadow is the right service for many people. But, unfortunately it isn't available everywhere yet. So for those who can't access it a similar option is your best bet.
Anyone who also prefers to have their own physical rig so they don't have to rely on Shadow for hardware upgrades or worry about the extra latency, is better off sticking with a physical gaming PC. Or even a console.
If you want some freedom though. The freedom to choose which device you play your games on without giving up quality of games, Shadow is a fantastic option. Especially now that it's available nationwide in the US.
Any negatives about Shadow, which are going to be mostly subjective, are far outweighed by the positives. The biggest positive about Shadow is that you have your own Windows 10 gaming computer in the cloud.
There's no Shadow-specific library of games. You can install any game or program on your Shadow rig, so if you can access it on PC or Mac or Ubuntu, then you can access it on Shadow.
This is a big improvement over Stadia, GeForce NOW, and xCloud. All of which have their own strengths and weaknesses and are just as exciting. But they're more limited on games. Content is king. And in this particular area Shadow is winning.
It is however more expensive monthly then any of the other services. So that's something you'll need to consider along with everything else.