The Future of Gaming Is in the Cloud (And It Needs Fiber)
Cloud gaming is a new way to play some of your favorite games—without the need to buy an expensive console or gaming PC. Here’s how it works, and what you need to get started (hint: a really good internet connection).
What is “cloud gaming” and how does it work?
When you play an Xbox game now, everything is running on the Xbox that’s plugged into your TV. All the locations and enemies are being pulled from the physical disk (or the hard drive in the console), and when you hit a button on the controller, it’s the processor in your Xbox that handles how the game reacts. The big limit on what games you can play—and how they look—is what device you’re playing on. A PlayStation can only support PlayStation games. You need a beefy gaming computer to play the latest AAA titles in high quality.
Cloud gaming changes this. Instead of the games running locally on your device, they run on a server in a data center miles away from your house. Your console, computer or smartphone streams the video of the game playing on the server (just like when you’re watching a video on YouTube or Netflix). When you push a button on the controller, your device sends that message to the server, which handles it and streams what happens next back to you in real time. It’s really impressive, and it means the limit to the games you can play is no longer linked to the expensive box in your living room, but how good your internet connection is and what cloud gaming service you’re subscribed to.
Cloud gaming is still pretty new, so it’s not yet a complete replacement for buying a game console if you want to play all the latest and greatest games, but it’s getting better and better. And who knows how things will be in even a few years?
Which cloud gaming service is the best?
There are a few different cloud gaming services (each with monthly subscriptions available), and they all have their pros and cons. The games libraries can be limited, and quite a few of them are still in beta.
Here are the major ones:
- GeForce Now lets you stream titles you already own on Steam, the Epic Games Store and Ubisoft Connect (formerly Uplay) to your PC, Mac, smartphone, tablet and even Android TVs. It’s free to use, though you’re limited to one-hour gaming sessions and lower quality video. You can subscribe to Priority for six-hour gaming sessions and higher quality.
- Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is Microsoft’s game subscription service (giving you a library of games you can download and play locally), and it also includes cloud gaming for a limited number of titles. It’s still in beta, but if you have an Xbox, it’s well worth checking out.
- PlayStation Now lets you stream hundreds of classic PS4, PS3 and PS2 games from the last 20 years to your PS5, PS4 or Windows PC.
- Google Stadia lets you buy games you can stream to pretty much any device you own. You can upgrade to a Stadia Pro subscription and get access to a bigger library of free games.
And there are also a couple of smaller services, like Shadow, Amazon Luna and Vortex, that could soon be bigger players. Cloud gaming really is the future, but things are still shaking out.
What do I need to start cloud gaming?
Besides a subscription to your chosen cloud gaming service and a device to play it on, there are two things you need to get started: a controller and a great internet connection.
If you want to use a cloud gaming service to stream to your TV or smartphone, or to stream console games to your PC, you need a controller. The good news is that both PlayStation DualShock controllers and Xbox controllers work with most cloud streaming services, as do any Bluetooth PC gamepads. The main exception is Google Stadia, which has its own dedicated controller that you need if you want to stream games to a Chromecast device.
Otherwise, to make the most of cloud gaming services you’ll need a fast, stable internet connection. For cloud gaming, pure speed isn’t as important as having a lag-free connection—which is why we recommend fiber, if it’s available in your neighborhood. It typically has less latency than traditional DSL services, and all that extra bandwidth means other people in your household won’t affect your connection.
In terms of data usage, cloud gaming is just like streaming video. With a fiber connection you won’t have any concerns about hitting your data cap.
What’s the advantage of cloud gaming?
Cloud gaming is still in its infancy, but it’s really exciting. It makes it possible to game on any device, regardless of how powerful it is and what operating system it runs. Imagine being able to play multiplayer games with your friends from anywhere. Well, with cloud gaming you really can.
Also, you don’t need to worry about how much storage space you have or even upgrading to the latest expensive device—the supercomputer in the data center can handle anything thrown at it.
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