An Incomplete Guide to Streaming Game Services

Update 6/27/21: This post is woefully out of date at this point and since it’s the top post on the blog I figured I’d better at least acknowledge that. Since Oct ’20 I’ve more or less given up on streaming games. I was all-in on Stadia for a while but, as everyone but me said they would, Google seems to be losing interest in the service, having closed down their game studios. Stadia, if it survives, will be a place to play other publisher’s games and/or a service Google provides to other publishers who want to take advantage of game streaming.

Meanwhile xCloud has been improving. They are now beta testing PC support (via a browser) and have just starting rolling out XSX servers so some games are playing much better than they used to.

I haven’t really been following Luna or GeForce Now, so not sure what state those are in.

Original post follows:

There are so many different streaming game services out now, and they all seem to have their own business model. I thought I’d gather some data on the ones I’m familiar with. Please note in all cases I’m talking about official support. Some of these services can run on hardware other than what I list by side-loading or other work-arounds.

Also, apologies to Playstation Now fans. I don’t use it or know much about it, so I left it out. It’s $10/month and runs on PCs and PS4s and that’s all I know about it!

Amazon Luna

Resolution: 1080P. 4K ‘coming soon’ for selected titles
Where You Play: PC, Mac, Android, iOS and certain Fire TV devices. For PC & Mac you can download an app, or play through a browser.
Monthly Price: $6
$6 is their introductory price. Amazon hasn’t indicated how long the service will be at this price or what its final cost will be.
What You Get:
Unlimited access to a library of 50 games. Amazon says more games will be added over time. They don’t say that some games will leave the service over time, but I’d be VERY surprised if that doesn’t happen. It happens with every other “Netflix-like” service.
Additional Costs:
Amazon will offer “game channels” that bundle some unknown number of games together for an unknown additional cost. The first one will be an Ubisoft Channel.
Amazon Luna Controller, $50 – This is a controller that connects directly to your WiFi network which is supposed to reduce input lag.
Personal Notes:
This service just came out and is in paid early access. I don’t have a lot to say about it yet but the buzz is that it needs some optimization before it becomes a real contender. The initial library of games is OK but not great. A few AAA titles but a lot of smaller indie games, some that I’ve never heard of.

GeForce Now

Resolution: 1080P (4K coming soon…but has been for quite some time)
Where You Play: Nvidia Shield, PC, Mac, Android, Chromebooks
Monthly Price: $0
What You Get:
Nothing, you have to provide your own games from Steam or Epic Game Store. Not all games are supported. Sometimes games that are supported are removed. Free users are limited to playing in 1 hour sessions, I believe.
Additional Costs:
Founders Edition, $5/month – Founders get priority access to a session (free users sometimes have to wait in a queue), longer session lengths, and for some games, RTX support
Personal Notes:
My experience with GFN has been all over the place. There are several different servers you may connect to and so in one session you may get a game running beautifully at high settings, and the next time you log in it can only manage medium because you happened to connect to a worse server. My biggest issue is with logging in to things though. Every time you play you need to log into Steam or Epic (and you can’t copy/paste your password) which seems like no big deal but can become a headache over time. If you happen to have an Nvidia Shield, it will upscale games to 4K.

Google Stadia

Resolution: 1080P
Where You Play: Chromecast Ultra, Chrome Browsers, Android
Monthly Price: $0
What You Get:
Nothing, you have to buy your games from the Stadia Store. Once you do, you’ll have that game forever, or until Google pulls the plug on Stadia
Additional Costs:
Stadia Pro, $10/month – Pro users gets 4K resolution and surround sound, discounts on Stadia Store games, and anywhere from 4-6 free games/month that you can access for as long as you’re a Pro subscriber. (I think Google actually promises 1 game/month but for the last 6 months it’s been 4-6). Google offers a 1 month free trial of Stadia Pro.
Stadia Premium Edition, $99 — This is a bundle of a Chromecast Ultra and a Stadia Controller to use with it. The controller connects to your WiFi which is supposed to reduce input lag.
Personal Notes:
Stadia has been my best game streaming experience. Games run really well and are optimized for the service. The downside is that a game has to be ported to Stadia and the ports vary in quality. For example The Division 2 looks and plays better than it does on my local gaming laptop, (using Stadia Pro so it is in 4K) but other games seem to run at console-level graphics settings. If you want to play with a controller, for example on your TV, all games are guaranteed to support that.
There’s a lot of worry that Google will ‘pull the plug’ on Stadia and our purchases will be lost, but I don’t think that will happen given that there ARE purchases attached. In the same way Google Play movies and Android apps are here to stay, I think Stadia is too (the fact that they own game studios working on titles for Stadia also makes it seem less likely it’ll get canceled.)

Microsoft xCloud

Resolution: 720P
Where You Play: Android devices
Monthly Price: Included as part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which is $15/month (though you can often find deals/discounts)
What You Get:
150+ Game Pass games. First party games are permanent in the Game Pass library, third party games are constantly being added and leaving.
Additional Costs:
Personal Notes:
xCloud currently runs on Xbox One S hardware which puts a lot of limits on how well games run and in particular, load times. Load times are far worse on xCloud than on any of the other services listed. On the other hand, for Xbox owners, being able to go from playing on the local Xbox to picking up where you left off on your phone during lunch hour at the office is a nice benefit.
In 2021 Microsoft is supposed to update their data centers with Xbox Series S|X hardware which should really improve this service.
Also worth noting you can stream from your Xbox to your Android device. This is called remote play and is free, though games have to be installed on your Xbox.