Product: GeForce Now
Available for: PC, Mac, Nvidia Shield, Android phones
Release Date: In beta, no official date set
Price: Reported as $5/month for Founder’s access
Official Site: www.nvidia.com/en-us/geforce-now/
The future of gaming involves leveraging increased internet bandwidth to stream capability rather than pushing hardware—companies are convinced of that. Exactly what the games-as-a-service model will evolve into remains to be seen.
Via its Stadia service, Google is betting it will entail streaming games instead of owning them, combining aspects of Xbox Game Pass or Origin Premier with the ability to play games on the go without the need for a cutting-edge gaming rig.
Nvidia, through its GeForce Now service, is also interested in streaming hardware capabilities, but it isn’t offering games as part of the package. Users have to own the games they want to play.
I gave GeForce Now’s beta a try. Here’s what I found out.
The site advertises it as being available for PC, MAC, Nvidia Shield, and Android phones, but I couldn’t find any way to actually get it on a phone, so I’m not sure if that capability is up and running yet. In light of that, and the fact that I’m not one of the eight people to own a Shield, this review will exclusively concern use on the PC.
It’s not difficult to get the service set up, but the instructions are lacking. You need to own any game you want to play on Steam or Uplay, and it needs to be one of the games that the service has compatibility with. That’s currently around 200, but the number will grow. It includes a few free-to-play games, such as Fortnite, as well as a random smattering of other offerings such as Destiny 2, Metro 2033, Vampyr, Overcooked 2, Farming Simulator 17, and whatever Splitgate is.
It doesn’t seem to be explained anywhere, but here’s how it works: You need to own any game you want to play through GeForce Now in Steam already. When you go to play it through the service, it spins up a (highly pixillated) temporary version of your Steam library with no games installed. You log in, install the game you are looking to play (this takes only a moment) and then you can play it. When you’re finished, you close the game, and that version of your Steam library ceases to exist forever. The next time you want to play it, you create a new one and redownload the game there.
At one point, I went to let the dog out and came back less than 10 minutes later and found myself kicked for inactivity. Not ideal in a singleplayer game.
The way GeForce Now requires you to reinstall a new version of the game every session means modding will be a no-go. It also prevented me from being able to connect to a modded Terreria server. It does, however, maintain saves (though it is unclear to me how or where).
The performance was middling. Terreria’s simple, bright graphics looked exactly as you would expect them to and the game ran smoothly.
Other games didn’t fare quite as well.
Destiny 2, in particular, was a bit ugly. The game kept its frames up, around the 70-95 range with very rare lag spikes, but there were pretty rough jaggies that were very noticeable on a 29-inch screen. I’m sure it wouldn’t be noticeable on a phone and not too bad on a Shield or small laptop, but in terms of desktop gaming, the service does not do AAA games justice. The biggest issue is that while you have some control over graphical options, it doesn’t appear to be full, and resolution is capped at 1080p (normally, I use 1440p). It’s hard to say how much of the quality difference is the stream and how much is the settings that I can’t change, but I downloaded Destiny 2 outside of GeForce Now and set it to 1080p to test and the difference was still stark. Here’s a picture from each version in the same location. Enlarge them to check how different they look at the same resolution.
Connection speed can make a difference in quality, Nvidia says, as can connection strength, wireless vs. wired, etc. I was playing wireless, but I have gig internet and at no point did my tested speed drop under around 200 Mbps, so if connection speed was a big factor, then it would be a problem in most use cases where GeForce Now would be desirable.
Another interesting quirk was that after playing D2 on GeForce Now, Steam was unable to open it in my Steam library outside of the service because it attempted to go through GeForce Now. I had to go in and change the settings for it to use my computer. That’s an awkward default for it to reset.
I haven’t tried Stadia, but a lot of reviewers concluded that it is or could be useful for a very niche demographic and largely unhelpful to most users. GeForce Now is a somewhat different streaming service, but I can’t help but feel that it functionally accomplishes the same thing and serves the same people. If you are a PC gamer who wants to game casually and needs that functionality on the go (say, on frequent business trips or travel, or maybe in a dorm room) where you don’t have access to a desktop but do have downtime and reliable internet, the service might be useful to you. You still need to own and want to play the correct games and can’t mind gaming on a laptop or other device (which has issues beyond computing power), so you need to be willing to put resources into building a library and be open-minded about what you play without being in a situation where you would have or be better-served by your own desktop. That’s a lot of ifs and buts—but if that sounds like you, and you’re really against just getting a Switch, it could fill that hole.
Verdict: I can’t help but feel like (despite what manufacturers want), GeForce Now is more of a proof of concept. It seems to be on the cusp of some technologies that could be enablers of services or devices that gamers find widely useful in five or 10 years. Right now, there are just too many restrictions for it to be the easiest or most useful thing in almost any situation.