Microsoft’s xCloud service and the Shadow Ghost box
How Does Cloud Gaming Work?
In short, cloud gaming makes it possible to play video games on different media without these being the source of graphics processing. The computing power is deported to remotely hosted servers that run the games, which transmit the image to the players. To benefit from such a service, therefore, in principle, all you need is access to an internet connection and a screen on which to play: a computer, a box, a connected TV, a smartphone or a tablet, for example.
With cloud gaming, the video game runs on a remote server. The user just needs an Internet connection and a screen. // Source: Google
By following this principle, we can therefore play the most demanding and sophisticated games with low power or inexpensive devices, since it is the server that takes care of everything. This transformation of video games is similar to what has happened in video with services like Netflix, or in music with Spotify. Here, the technology is a little more complex, however, because the latency between the server and the player must be kept to a minimum, since games are by nature interactive unlike other media.
Cloud Gaming Services Already Available :
Nvidia GeForce Now :
Nvidia launched its GeForce Now service in February 2020 after many months in beta. GeForce Now provides access to a selection of compatible games from the Steam, Uplay or Battle.net game stores. The advantage is therefore not to force players to buy back games they already own in these stores. Still, if you don’t have the games, you have to buy them, the paid subscription does not include access to a game catalog. With Cloud Play, Steam directly integrates GeForce Now into its platform, which allows you to play directly on Nvidia’s servers from the Steam client in a few clicks. Nvidia’s weak point is the lack of agreement with some publishers who explicitly refuse to offer their games on the service. This is the case with Bethesda, Activision-Blizzard, 2K and Microsoft’s Xbox Game Studios.
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Some games are said to be “optimized” by Nvidia. Understand that they are already available on Nvidia’s servers, which saves the user downloading and installation time. GeForce Now is currently able to display at most 1080p at 60 frames per second, if your connection obviously allows it.
The two GeForce Now plans // Source: Nvidia
Nvidia offers two levels of service. The first is completely free and includes access to sessions of one hour of play. This access also requires waiting in a queue to access the game servers and has especially been designed to allow a maximum of players to test service without spending a dime.
The second level is a paid subscription, at 4.99 dollars per month, which skips queues, provides access to an RTX display (with ray tracing) and extends the duration of sessions to 6 hours.
The service is available now on Windows and Mac OS PCs, Android smartphones and tablets, and the Nvidia Shield box. GeForce Now will eventually be extended to other services. Nvidia promises access on Chromebooks and Linux in 2020 through the web version (WebRTC) of the service.
- Recommended minimum bit rate: 15 Mb/s for 720p60 display and 25 Mb/s for 1080p60.
- Compatible devices: Nvidia Shield, Android, Windows, macOS.
- Subscription: free or 4.99 dollars per month.
- Games: login to Steam, Uplay and Battle.net accounts.
Sony PlayStation Now :
Sony’s PlayStation Now offers unlimited access to a catalog of PS2, PS3 and PS4 games in the cloud for a monthly subscription. The service is only accessible from a PS4 or a Windows PC. In total, more than 600 games are available for streaming with a picture limited in definition to 720p. Note that it is possible to download the PS4 games from the catalog on a PS4 to play, even offline and in native definition. The service has several million subscribers.
The PlayStation Now interface // Source: Sony
The games catalog is quite large, and allows you to play cult licenses of the PS2 or the PS3 (like Red Dead Redemption). Every month, the company adds new games for users of the service. With the ability to play streaming, it is very easy to switch between games without any loading time.
In addition to the inability to access the service from any screen, connected TV and smartphone in the first place, we regret a catalog of games that are a little stingy in recent titles, especially the great exclusives of the PS4 which are slow to arrive. Faced with competition, the giant has however decided to offer each month strong games from its catalog such as Metro Exodus or Spider-Man. Please note, these titles are available on a temporary basis, usually three months, in the catalog.
The subscription costs 9.99 dollars per month, or 59.99 dollars per year. The service offers a free seven-day trial period, which is handy for checking that everything is working properly on its connection. Also, access to the multiplayer mode of games on PlayStation Now does not require an additional subscription to PlayStation Plus.
- Minimum recommended speed: 40 Mb/s.
- Compatible devices: PS4, Windows PC.
- Subscription: 9.99 dollars per month, 59.99 dollars per year.
- Games: Unlimited access to over 700 PlayStation games, including 300 PlayStation 4 games.
Google Stadia :
Google Stadia is a next-generation cloud gaming service, which fully marks the giant’s entry into the video game industry. It is no more and no less than a dematerialized game console, with an announced power of 10.7 teraflops (compared to 6 teraflops for the Xbox One X). The service is accessible on TV, using a Chromecast Ultra and a Stadia controller, or on PC with Google Chrome, and on Android with the official app.
Here is the list of compatible and optimized phones for Google Stadia:
- Pixel 2, 2XL, 3, 3XL, 3a, 3a XL, 4, 4XL
- Samsung S8, S8+, S8 Active, Note 8
- Samsung S9, S9+, Note 9
- Samsung S10, S10 +, Note 10, Note 10+
- Samsung S20, S20+, S20 Ultra
- OnePlus 5, 6, 7, 7 Pro, 7 Pro 5G, 8, 8 Pro
- OnePlus 5T, 6T, 7T, 7 T Pro, 7 T Pro 5G
- Asus ROG Phone, ROG Phone II
- Razer Phone, Razer Phone II
Google also offers, thanks to an experimental setting, to make the service accessible on all Android smartphones, but the company no longer guarantees the quality of the experience in this case.
The service is regularly updated with new features. For example, you can join a friend’s game with a simple shareable link, or a live streamer’s game with an integration with YouTube.
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Registration can be done directly on the official website of the service. Access is free and includes viewing limited to Full HD 1080 and 60 frames per second. A paid subscription called Stadia Pro is also offered. This subscription, billed at 9.99 dollars per month, offers display quality in 4K UHD, games offered regularly and discounts on games in the catalog. These games will remain available as long as the Stadia Pro subscription is active.
Google also offers a Google Stadia Premiere Edition kit at 130 dollars including a controller, a Chromecast Ultra and a 3 month Stadia Pro subscription.
Please note, Google Stadia is not the “Netflix of video games”: the company does not offer a subscription offering unlimited access to a game catalog. The service is not very popular at the moment, the game catalog is still limited and Fortnite for example is missing.
Google recommends a download speed of at least 10 Mbps and offers a test on its site to see if you have enough internet connection to play in good conditions.
- Minimum recommended speed: 10 Mb/s.
- Compatible devices: Chromecast Ultra, Chrome (Windows, Mac, Linux), Android.
- Subscriptions: free for Full HD, or 9.99 dollars per month for 4K UHD.
- Games: single purchase from the Google catalog.
Xbox Pass Range (XCLOUD) :
Long known as xCloud, Microsoft’s cloud gaming service finally integrated the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate offering in September 2020. It allows you to play a selection of streaming games from your Android smartphone.
This is perhaps the biggest limitation of the service today: the low number of platforms involved. While Microsoft should eventually offer its Game Pass Ultimate in the cloud on more devices, it is currently not possible to access it from a computer, iPhone or iPad (due to Apple policy).
The subscription is offered at 12.99 dollars per month and is presented as a real Netflix of the video game with a catalog of games of its own. There are hundreds of titles there, whether they are successful Microsoft series (Gears of War, Forza, Halo …), games from third-party studios or even independent ones.
The first tests are very positive with excellent stability when you have a good connection. Microsoft announces a recommended minimum speed of 10 Mb/s. Some games like Minecraft Dungeons also offer touchscreen controls to dispense with a controller.
- Minimum recommended speed: 10 Mb/s.
- Compatible devices: Android smartphones.
- Subscription: included in Xbox Game Pass Ultimate (12.99 dollars per month).
- Games: a hundred.
The Services We Are Expecting Soon :
Amazon Luna :
The Amazon Luna interface
Luna is in Early Access in the US at a (temporary) price of $ 5.99 per month.
This subscription gives access to “more than 100 games” of the Luna + package (Resident Evil 7, Control, A Plague Tale…). Then you will need to subscribe to other packages to unlock other games, grouped by publisher, and maybe one day by genre. The interface is actually laid out like Amazon Prime Video, with different “channels”.
It is to date the cloud gaming service accessible on the most platforms since it can be accessed from an Android smartphone or tablet, Fire TV HDMI boxes and keys, computers (Windows and macOS), but also iPhone and iPad via Safari. Like Stadia, you can play it with your usual peripherals, or with a special controller that connects directly to Amazon’s servers over WiFi to reduce latency.
Owner of Twitch, Amazon has also thought about creating bridges between its cloud gaming service and the video streaming platform. If you watch a Twitcher play a title available on Luna, you can directly launch it with one click
- Recommended minimum speed: 10 Mb/s for 1080p, 35 Mb/s for 4K.
- Compatible devices: Android smartphones, iPhone and iPad via Safari, computers and Fire TV.
- Possibility to play on 2 devices at the same time.
- Subscription: included in Xbox Game Pass Ultimate (12.99 dollars per month).
- Games: a hundred.
Electronic Arts :
Electronic Arts also wants to get into the race. The video game publisher announced at E3 2018 that it was working on its own cloud gaming service. In October 2018, we learned a little more about this service, through a publication on Medium by EA CTO, Ken Moss. The cloud gaming service is called Project Atlas and to say the least is that the contours of this product remain blurred. This service should combine Frostbite (graphics engine designed by DICE for EA), servers in the cloud and artificial intelligence. A promising project therefore, but of which very little is known, starting with the date of marketing.
With its Origin Access Premier service available on PC, Electronic Arts already offers a subscription dedicated to video games. It gives access to a catalog of the best titles from the publisher, and a few other players in the video game, but above all access to new games from EA, a few days ahead of their commercial release.
But What Are They Waiting For ?
You will understand, cloud gaming is transforming the video game market. The main players in digital technologies offer or develop their services. Some brands, however, remain very discreet on the subject.
With its Steam dematerialized game store, Valve has become the leader in PC game distribution. The giant now has to face ever more fierce competition, especially with the Epic Game Store driven by the success of Fortnite. Valve does not seem to be ready to launch its own offering, but wants to give way to other services like GeForce Now with Steam Cloud Play.
Will Apple go to cloud gaming in its race for services? The Cupertino company is diversifying its sources of income, in particular in the field of services. After a successful launch of Apple Music, and open to Android, the Apple brand turned to the press, with Apple News +, and video with Apple TV +. On the video game side, the firm is content for the moment with the Apple Arcade subscription reserved for its ecosystem of devices.
Nintendo rarely does like its competitors Microsoft and Sony. Instead, the Japanese brand is following its own path, and this is successful given the commercial success of the Switch. Nintendo going to cloud gaming? We do not know.
Note that some players did not wait for the builder’s approval. In Japan, games like Resident Evil 7 or Phantasy Star Online 2 are available on the console and go through the cloud to work. These versions are handled by Ubitus, which are intended exclusively for the Asian market for the moment.
The Case Of Shadow, By Blade: Cloud Computing
Shadow is a cloud computing service, which is a bit broader than cloud gaming. You don’t get access to a simple game catalog, but a virtual gaming PC running Windows 10 for a monthly subscription. This computer can be accessed from most devices: PC, Mac, Android or even iOS. Shadow also offers its own access box with the Shadow Ghost.
Shadow offers a simplified interface on Android to access its games
Once Windows 10 is configured, Shadow behaves like a PC, so you have to buy the games yourself, but it also means that you can easily access your different existing accounts: Battle.net, Steam, Origin , UPlay or even Xbox Game Pass. It is up to you to manage this computer, install the games of your choice within the limits of the available storage, and update the Nvidia drivers.
Shadow offers three subscriptions, from 14.99 dollars to 49.99 dollars per month, depending on the desired configuration, and with a possible discount if you agree. While the former is simply equipped with an equivalent of a GTX 1080, the “Infinite” configuration offers no more and no less than an equivalent of an Nvidia Titan RTX, capable of running games in 4K UHD.
The Future Of Video Games, But Still Has Some Flaws :
Presented like this, cloud gaming has everything to be the future of video games. Whether on a smartphone, tablet or computer (even a Mac), it becomes technically possible to play your favorite games from anywhere, and from anything.
No need to buy the latest game console, graphics card or equip your computer with more RAM either: a subscription to a cloud gaming service offers access to a powerful machine that you don’t need. to care. Best of all, it’s very simple: no need to download the latest drivers or optimize display settings. Playing a game becomes as easy as watching a series on Netflix.
However, cloud gaming is not yet the perfect solution to replace home computers and consoles. The technology is in its infancy and at the moment you need a very good, very stable connection. The preferred configurations are therefore fiber or a very good VDSL, with a local Ethernet connection rather than Wi-Fi. Even though the connection is excellent, it is impossible to avoid a certain latency time when the we use a cloud gaming service. Even if it is minimal and almost imperceptible to some, it is still too important for purists who will still favor the purchase of a gaming machine. The best is still to test to find out where you stand.
The Promises Of 5G :
There are some flaws that a future technology could do away with: 5G. If there is one niche in which this new generation of the mobile network is expected, it is latency. 5G could offer a response time of around 1 millisecond, compared to 10 currently. As such, a Microsoft official associated 3G with the development of music streaming, and 4G LTE with video streaming, explaining that 5G would have the same role for video games.
Improved responsiveness, which should allow more people to benefit from a better quality cloud gaming service.