“Do you guys not have phones?” This has to be the most iconic line when we think of mobile gaming. It’s been more than two years since Blizzard announced Diablo Immortal and these words went viral, yet the game is nowhere to be found. But over the course of these two years, the entire gaming industry changed, evolved if you will. Cloud gaming has become possible and it allowed people who have phones to play high-profile console and PC games on the go. And that’s what we want to explore today.
Cloud gaming is like Netflix, but for games. This is what we’d say to anyone asking for the TLDR; version. You pay a monthly subscription; you stream the games you play. Simple as that. For this to happen, you would need a gaming controller and a good internet connection, of course. But other than that – you shouldn’t be needing a top-of-the-line smartphone, PC, or console to be able to enjoy AAA titles, like say, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Cyberpunk 2077, Halo: Infinite, Red Dead Redemption 2, GTA V, Nier Automata, just to name a few.
Currently, there are three major cloud services available to smartphone users – Xbox Game Pass cloud gaming, GeForce Now, and Google Stadia. Amazon is currently testing its Luna app, and it will go live later in 2021.
Xbox Game Pass cloud gaming is exactly what the name suggests and is the closest thing to Netflix. You pay a monthly fee, and you have access to 100+ games, which you play on remote consoles. New games are added monthly, but you also lose access to some games each month. All first-party exclusives are always available, of course. See, just like Netflix.
GeForce Now is a bit different. It allows you to rent a high-end PC and play on it while the service streams your sessions to your phone. The fee is lower because you need to buy each game you want to play. It supports games from the game stores operated by Steam, Epic, GOG, and Ubi. So if you already have a disturbingly long backlog of games you’d like to play but don’t have a $4000 PC, this is one very interesting alternative.
Then there is Google Stadia. It is like GeForce Now, except it doesn’t require you to pay for (1080p) streaming if you are playing games you’ve already bought. The monthly fee (Stadia Pro) gives you access to a limited catalog of games to play freely and allows 4K HDR streaming of the ones you’ve already bought. It doesn’t support third-party game stores, though (unlike GeForce Now).
Amazon has a game streaming of its own in the works, too. Amazon Luna is channel-oriented, like cable service. Your monthly fee gives you access to a certain channel or channels of different games. Currently, it’s still in closed beta test, though.
We’ve tested the three most popular game streaming services, and we had a ton of fun. Check out our impressions start right after the break.
Xbox Game Pass Cloud Gaming (xCloud)
Xbox Game Pass Cloud Gaming, previously known as xCloud, is the closest thing to Netflix, but for games. Microsoft is offering access to 100+ titles for a monthly fee. You need to have a Bluetooth-enabled controller and a compatible smartphone or a tablet – you don’t need to own a console or a PC.
Xbox Game Pass Cloud Gaming works with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription, which is probably the best part. The service costs $14.99/£10.99/€12.99 per month, and while it’s not that cheap, it includes a lot more than just cloud gaming.
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate includes Xbox Game Pass Console (the richest library and the one available for streaming), Xbox Game Pass PC, and Xbox Live Gold. It gives you access to various games you can play on an Xbox console (via download), Windows-based PC (via download, cloud streaming coming later in 2021), and via cloud streaming on an Android device (iOS support coming in 2021).
TV app: Currently there is no app for smart TVs and you can’t stream Xbox games on such devices. But Phil Spencer says we are likely to see such apps later in 2021, so apparently, the smart TV app is in the works.
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate gives you access to over 100 high-profile games you can play on any compatible device. The Game Pass Ultimate also includes Xbox Live Gold for multiplayer gaming and even gives you access to EA Play and its catalog. Microsoft has committed to bringing its first-party games to the service on Day 1 of their release, so you can expect titles like Halo, Hellblade, The Medium, and future Bethesda games to drop there on the launch day.
All first-party exclusives will remain available on the service forever, while third-party games will be around for a while before they are replaced by new ones. Every month a few new games are added, but a few leave the service, too. Just like non-Netflix shows and movies.
One final thing worth noting is that while you can buy games on Microsoft Store that are not available with the Game Pass, you can’t stream those titles just yet via the cloud service. You can do that if you own an Xbox at home and it’s free – it doesn’t require you to pay anything.
Back to gaming on the go, though. The Xbox Game Pass Cloud Gaming requires the Xbox Game Pass app and a Bluetooth-enabled controller. Microsoft isn’t hell-bent on you buying the Xbox controller – you can use any controller that resembles the Xbox one, be it by Razer, Asus, etc.
Apple is the party-pooper, as it often happens, as it didn’t like having a competing gaming service to its Arcade and dropped the App Store rules hammer on Microsoft’s app. Support for iOS is still coming, though it will take a while for Microsoft to figure how to work around Apple’s restrictions.
Currently, the Xbox Game Pass Cloud Gaming is available in Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, and the USA.
Note that Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is available in even more regions. If you want cloud gaming, you will need a VPN for the region verification when opening the app, and then you can proceed to play wherever you like.
Currently, Microsoft runs the games on dated Xbox One S consoles, which is a bit disappointing. This means the maximum you will be getting is 1080p streaming and not with the best visuals.
The good news is that the Xbox Series X upgrade is scheduled to happen in a few months, and the graphics will drastically improve by then. It seems Microsoft is 100% dedicated to making the Game Pass Cloud Gaming work.
We tried the Xbox Game Pass Cloud Gaming on the Galaxy Tab S7+ by Samsung. It has a recent Samsung chip and an excellent screen, but what matters is having access to a high-speed 5GHz Wi-Fi network. Microsoft recommends at least 10Mbps speed, so anything below that will make the streaming choppy and the games unplayable. We tested the services on different speeds and found that 10Mbps is barely enough – such connection serves a 720p stream with occasional artifacts. We recommend at least 20-25Mbps for smooth 1080p streaming.
We tried playing both with the Xbox Series X controller, as well as ROG Kunai 3 Gamepad. The app didn’t care what controller we’ve paired – it automatically recognized all the buttons, and we didn’t have to remap anything.
Since this particular reviewer has an Xbox Series X at home, our test included a transition between gaming on the go and continuing home on the couch. Thanks to Microsoft’s Save Cloud Sync – it’s as smooth as possible. Your progress is saved wherever you are playing – be it an Android phone or a tablet, PC or Xbox and you always start where you left off.
The first game we tried was Halo 5, and it worked peachy on the tablet. It ran smoothly even if it didn’t look as good as on an Xbox One X or Series X. We witnessed minor connection issues but nothing game-breaking.
Then we played some Nier Automata quests, and the game ran great. A few dozen robots and energy balls didn’t result in connection issues, though we saw some streaming artifacts. We didn’t observe any significant controller lag, though.
Control and Hellblade ran well, too, although playing Control without Ray Tracing sucks. Still, you can enjoy AAA games on the go if that’s your thing and have an enjoyable experience.
Finally, we tried some console streaming (from home) and had no issues running Cyberpunk 2077. The game ran on our remote Xbox Series X and streamed nearly flawlessly on our Galaxy Tab S7+ and our Galaxy S20 Ultra.
Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass Cloud Gaming seems like a versatile service with an excellent pick of high-profile games. It offers excellent value for money and works with a variety of controllers.
There is only one thing that’s an issue right now – the Xbox One S hardware. Luckily, this is only temporary as the Series X upgrade is on the way.
NVIDIA’s GeForce Now is another versatile service that works similarly to Xbox game streaming, but it doesn’t offer any game catalog – you can only play games you already own.
GeForce allows you to rent a high-end PC and stream your games from it. That’s the reason it is cheaper than Microsoft’s offer – $5/€5 or $25/€27 for six months.
There is a free tier, too, but it doesn’t include ray tracing settings, and each game session is limited to 1 hour – quite generous for something that’s free.
GeForce Now works on a variety of platforms, just like Microsoft’s service. It can stream to an Android device, a Windows or Mac computer, an NVIDIA Shield, and even iPhone and iPad via the Safari browser.
TV app: GeForce Now Android TV app is available and works on many smart TVs. Selected LG smart TVs are getting a compatible app later this year, too.
GeForce Now includes no games – you can play only what you already own. The service supports Steam, Epic, UPLAY, and GOG platforms. Not all games are supported, though, so you need to check this list and see if your games are allowed to run on GeForce Now. Or just try the free tier.
The service is advertised as the one with most games, and rightfully so – it supports over 900 games. The catch is that you need to buy them. It is great if you already own a large number of games thanks to the Steam sales. And it is especially valuable when you (or your significant other) get tired of spending $2000+ for a PC upgrade every couple of years.
Note that the EA games are not available for streaming on GeForce Now (they are available on Xbox Game Pass, though).
The GeForce Now works great with lots of controllers – Xbox One, DualShock 4, SHIELD, Steelseries, and Razer; it also ran nicely with the ROG Kunai 3. You can even use an Xbox 360 controller, but it needs a wire to work.
Just like the Xbox Cloud, GeForce Now is quite liberal when it comes to controllers, so feel free to pick your favorite one.
GeForce Now app for Android even offers virtual controls if you don’t own a controller, though it’s a nightmare to play anything more complex than a platformer.
Currently, GeForce Now is available in North America and Europe. It is also available via Alliance Partners in the many post-Soviet states, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. This is the complete list.
It seems that GeForce Now, in addition to supporting the most games, also supports the most markets.
Currently, GeForce Now maxes out at 1080p at 60fps. HDR gaming is not available yet. If you have an NVIDIA SHIELD, then you can play games in 4K resolution there via Game Stream.
You can use the maximum quality settings for each game, though – things like Ray Tracing and DLSS are available, and you can tick them on every game.
A good Wi-Fi connection is required, of course, with 10Mbps being the minimum for smooth streaming. We tried different speeds, and once again – 22-25Mbps is the minimum for smooth 1080p streaming.
We were impressed with how well GeForce Now ran on both Android phones (S20 Ultra) and Android tablets (Tab S7+), as well as on PC (a tiny Gigabyte Brix with i3). You just install the app, add your Steam, Epic, Uplay, and GOG accounts, and you can start playing.
We tried Death Stranding from Steam and Cyberpunk 2077 from GOG, and they ran nearly perfect. We used maximum quality on both games, yes, even with Ray Tracing On, and we enjoyed what we saw and played. The titles look good on phones and even better on a PC, provided you have the needed internet connection speed.
We had no issues with any of the controllers we tried – Xbox One, DualShock 4 and the ROG Kunai 3. No remapping was needed, but you can do that if needed. We experienced no noticeable controller lag when we played said games.
We tried Assassin’s Creed titles, too, once again without hiccups. You can see you are playing the games on a high-end PC, they ran well and felt good, and that’s what matters the most, isn’t it?
The free tier is also quite nice, but there are server queues, and you may happen to wait a lot to get to a server. And those from the paid tiers always jump the queues, so the remaining time isn’t a certain thing.
GeForce Now is excellent if you’d like to get into PC gaming due to a limited hardware budget – especially if you already own a few games. Gaming on the go via GeForce Now is an excellent alternative if you prefer to spend money on games rather than getting up-to-date gaming hardware, which will inevitably age quickly.
The best part is that you own the games in the respective digital stores, so if you opt-out of GeForce Now – you get to keep them.
Google Stadia is another popular gaming streaming service, even if it’s in its early stages on mobile.
Just like GeForce Now, Stadia runs your games on Google’s servers and streams them on your device. Google says this service works on top of the existing tech for YouTube streaming, so it has the potential to be the most powerful one – it can do 4K and HDR even now, and 120fps support is not that far ahead.
Just like with GeForce Now, you buy the games you want to play. But here comes the differences – it doesn’t support any third-party digital stores; you have to buy the games through the service. Once you purchase them, you can stream them for free in up to 1080p resolution.
If you jump up to the paid tier, you get 4K streaming of the purchased titles PLUS access to a growing library of games, which you don’t have to buy.
So on paper, Stadia combines the benefits of Google Now and Xbox Game Pass Cloud Gaming all in one.
TV app: Stadia app for Android TV and LG Smart TVs is in development and will become available later this year.
Stadia works with Stadia games – it’s that simple. Google Stadia has its own store where you buy the games you want to play. This means the games you buy will be available only on Stadia for streaming and nowhere else.
Google Stadia Store offers about 120 games right now. There are many AAA titles such as The Assassin’s Creed series, Cyberpunk 2077, Destiny 2, Doom, Immortals, the Metro series, NBA 2K21, Red Dead Redemption 2, Sekiro, The Division 2, Watch Dogs Legion, among many others.
If you buy any of these games – you stream those (up to 1080p) for free on your device – whether it’s a computer, tablet, or smartphone.
You can also get access to a (relatively poor) selection of games with the paid tier, though you do get 4K and HDR support for every game.
Google Stadia works with lots of Bluetooth controllers, too – Xbox One and ROG Kunai 3 worked fine.
But Google wants you to buy its own Stadia controller, and it has a key-selling feature – it connects directly to Google’s servers instead of your device, and you will enjoy much lower latency.
So, if latency is indeed an issue – then you have the Stadia controller. If it is not – you can use whatever you see fit.
Currently, Stadia is available in the US, Canada, UK, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Belgium, Ireland, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, and Hungary.
The free tier is, well, free, while the Pro tier costs $10/€10 per month.
Google Stadia works on Android phones, as well as on iPhones. It also works on PCs as well as on some TVs with Chromecast Ultra. Native smart TV apps are coming in 2021, too.
As we said, the free tier provides 1080p video quality. If you want 4K HDR, you need to pay for the Pro tier ($10). But to enjoy this, you would also need Chromecast Ultra ($50). And if you want the lowest possible latency, then there is the Stadia Controller ($70).
Further on, the quality depends on your Wi-Fi connection, of course. You’d be needing a fast connection, preferably on a 5GHz Wi-Fi network. The minimum requirement is 10Mbps, which nets you an HD connection with stereo sound. About 20Mbps ensure 1080p HDR streaming with surround sound, while 35+Mbps are required for 4K HDR streaming.
You can see Google Stadia is quite a demanding thing, but the quality has a price, and that’s what you need if you want to squeeze the maximum visuals and sound from your games.
Google had the right idea, and Stadia was a highly anticipated service when it was first announced. And it still looks quite promising, but its biggest limitation remains the dedicated store. You buy all games at full price there, and they are available only for streaming via Stadia. You can’t install them on your PC or play them on a console if you get one later on.
Then, if you want to play these games with the maximum quality, you need to pay more – a one-time purchase of Chromecast Ultra plus $10 per month for the paid tier. This means the games are yours at full price, but you have to pay to play them. The convenience of streaming quickly turns into a setback once you realize this limitation.
Finally, we could still get behind Stadia if we weren’t afraid of it going to Google’s graveyard in a few years like many of Google’s past products and thus losing all those precious games we’ve bought.
We also couldn’t help but notice the very limited selection of games that are free to play as part of the Pro subscription – not a single AAA title insight.
We played some Destiny 2, and the first session was very choppy. We tried about an hour later, and the game ran with much better visual quality and stutter-free. It seems it depends on which server you are connected to. The app says it’s still in beta testing, and we better play on a TV with Chromecast Ultra, but we played on our Samsung HDTV regardless.
After about 2 hours in Destiny 2, the second time, that is, we were happy with the graphics quality and the connection, as well as the controller latency even if we didn’t have the Stadia Controller. We guess our 50+Mbps connection played a crucial role in that. Or we’ve connected to an empty server, who knows.
Still, Google has powerful servers, and we have no doubt performance will improve over time.
Google Stadia is shaping as the service with the highest visual quality. We are not keen on its independent store as it limits the user’s choice. Plus, we just can’t invest money in a store with an uncertain future and limited availability, not just yet anyway. We’d wait a bit and see where Stadia is heading for sure – there is a big chance it will be worth it with both titles and quality – Google has the power to make this happen, but they are also known to easily give up on products that fail to gain traction.
Amazon Luna is an upcoming cloud gaming service by Amazon. It is currently in closed beta test in the US that’s invitation-only.
Luna is like Google Stadia, but instead of buying individual games, you subscribe to channels. As of today, there are only two channels available – an Amazon selection of games called Luna Plus and Ubisoft Plus.
And just like Stadia, Amazon is also selling a Luna controller that connects directly to Amazon’s servers.
Luna Plus costs $6 and offers 50 titles – most of them are indie – like Brothers – but you do get some AAA ones, too – Control, Metro Exodus, GRID, The Surge 1&2.
The Ubisoft Plus channel gives you access to the coolest Ubisoft games, but it costs $15 per month.
Currently, in this early stage, Luna streams in 1080p, and while it requires a minimum of 10Mbps connection, 20Mbps or more are recommended. 4K streaming is coming in later in 2021, too.
We like that Luna doesn’t want you to buy games, which you’d lose if you leave the service. The subscription method seems the better choice for streaming services, though Amazon needs to get more attractive publisher names on board.
The future of cloud gaming seems bright, and it may as well render the high-end PCs or consoles obsolete. Microsoft and NVIDIA seem to be playing for that, though none is all-in, at least not for now.
Stadia and Luna look promising, too, though they are still in very early stages and have a laundry list of stuff that needs fixing before reaching the masses.
Microsoft’s Game Pass Cloud seems like the service with the most potential and best value for money as far as games are concerned. It’s quite versatile, and it has both EA and Ubisoft onboard. Sure, it isn’t with the best visual quality, but this concern will disappear after the Series X server upgrades in a few months.
NVIDIA GeForce Now is great if you already own games that are compatible with the service. It costs half of Microsoft’s Game Pass Cloud, and it offers Ray Tracing so you can experience the best graphics quality the games have to offer.
Stadia and Luna are still in development, and we are yet to see how they will turn out. Knowing the size of Google’s graveyard, we’d wait a year before spending money on Stadia, just to be safe.
We are hopeful about the future of cloud gaming, especially when it works such great on the go, too. You can play on your phone or tablet wherever you are, no need for cables, devices, storage space, special screens, discs, and whatnot.
We can only imagine when these services release apps for Smart TVs so we can ditch the consoles entirely and jump seamlessly between phone, tablet, or TV. There are many great games to play in each service until then, so you won’t get bored.