What exactly is cloud gaming and what distinguishes the various providers such as Google Stadia, Nvidia GeForce Now or PS Now from each other? GIGA explains which cloud gaming services are currently available, how they compare and what you need to look out for with the various subscriptions – so you are guaranteed to make the right choice.
Cloud gaming provider 2022: All GIGA recommendations in comparison
Is your gaming PC not the newest anymore and already working up a sweat just looking at graphics-hungry AAA games like Cyberpunk 2077? You now have two options: either you give your computer an expensive upgrade – for example in the form of a new graphics card – or you decide on one of the numerous cloud gaming services. This makes the purchase of a new, expensive computer obsolete.
Such services often only cost you a fraction of a powerful gaming computer per month and still allow you to play all imaginable games. But that is by no means the only reason why a subscription to one of the numerous providers could be worthwhile. We took a closer look at some of the most popular cloud services and go into detail about the respective services, options and costs.
In issue 8/2021 of Stiftung Warentest, several cloud gaming services were subjected to a detailed test. Above all, it became apparent that an adequate internet connection is still the biggest limiting factor. None of the providers tested was rated better than "satisfactory". Incidentally, the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate won the game with a score of 2.9. Price-performance tip Raytracing at a savings rate Own cloud platform Also for non-gamers For fans of console games Name Xbox Cloud gaming Nvidia GeForce Now Google Stadia Shadow PS Now Price (monthly) 12.99 euros free/from 9.99 EUR free/EUR 9.99 EUR 29.99 EUR 9.99 Platform PC, Xbox PC, Mac, Android, iOS, Shield TV PC, Android PC, Mac, Linux, Android PC, PS4/PS5 Advantage Wide range Numerous pre-installed games Free version Own virtual Windows PC Many exclusive titles can be played on PC Disadvantage Only beta so far Limited session duration Platform requirement Relatively expensive PS4/PS5 controller absolutely necessary Offer Amazon At Nvidia In the Google Store At Shadow Saturn
That's why you can trust GIGA
We conduct intensive research for every article of this type so that we can then pass on the knowledge we have gained to our readers in a compact and, above all, understandable way. Likewise, all listed products are always selected with care and different purposes and price segments are also taken into account. You can find more information about our purchase advice in the article "How we advise".
I myself have been enthusiastic about video games and the necessary hardware since my childhood. I assembled my first own gaming computer almost 10 years ago and since then numerous others have followed. So over the years I have acquired all the knowledge related to games and (PC) hardware myself – often to the delight of my family or friends. There I am usually the first point of contact when it comes to repairing something or advising you on the purchase of new equipment.
In order to be able to give you the best possible overview, we have based our own experience on user ratings and external test institutions such as the Stiftung Warentest.
The price-performance tip: Xbox Game Pass Ultimate
Top Value Includes Xbox Game Pass and Cloud Gaming Stream games from the cloud or console to mobile
Still in beta. App needs improvement
Microsoft hit the mark with Xbox Game Pass. The popular games flat rate is now being expanded to include cloud gaming – formerly known as xCloud. So if you want to gamble comfortably from the cloud, all you have to do is own the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for 12.99 euros per month. While the game subscription has been in the works for some time, the cloud gaming offering is still in beta. Accordingly, the service should still be used with caution. This is particularly evident in the mobile app, which still seems rather unfinished.
Despite the beta status, you already have the option to choose from over 100 Xbox titles and stream them from the cloud to your smartphone – both via WiFi and the mobile network. Console players also benefit from Xbox Console Streaming: Here you stream the games directly from your own Xbox to a mobile device. So if you have already subscribed to the Game Pass, you could definitely consider the upgrade.
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate at a glance
Contains Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Live Gold and cloud gaming for 12.99 euros/month Access to over 100 games including exclusive titles Stream games conveniently from the console to mobile devices
Own cloud platform: Google Stadia
Stadia Base can be used free of charge New free games every month for owners of Stadia Pro Optional controller with useful additional functions Can be used with Google TV
Games must be purchased separately Platform binding of purchased games Patchy crossplay
Google is currently driving a completely different concept with its cloud gaming offer Stadia . Stadia is an independent platform, such as the PC or the PS5. This means that only games that you have purchased separately for the platform or that are included in the Stadia Pro subscription for just under 10 euros per month can be streamed via Stadia. The free version Stadia Base is limited to streaming in Full HD with a maximum of 60 FPS and is therefore the ideal opportunity to try out the service without hesitation. Gaming in full 4K resolution or frame rates beyond 60 FPS is reserved for the Stadia Pro offer, which is subject to a fee.
The seamless integration of Stadia into their previous Google ecosystem is also commendable. For example, if you opt for the Google TV set, you will receive the Stadia Controller and Google TV stick in addition to the Pro subscription. Although the controller is purely optional, it is smarter than ordinary gamepads thanks to dedicated buttons for screenshots and the Google Assistant. As far as online titles go, not every game supports cross-platform crossplay out of the box. It would therefore be advisable to find out more about this and to take this into account when making a purchase decision.
Google Stadia overview
Free version Stadia Base is limited to gaming in Full HD and 60 FPS Monthly new games for owners of Stadia Pro for 9.99 euros/month Games must be purchased separately and are tied to the platform
Ray tracing at a bargain price: Nvidia GeForce Now
Free version available Pre-installed games make it easy to use Large selection of games Supports ray tracing
Limited session duration, sometimes long queues
Nvidia's contender for the cloud gaming throne is called GeForce Now and has its own concept: There is a predefined selection of games that, with several hundred titles (and counting), are significantly more extensive than, for example, the competitor Stadia. Games that have already been purchased can also be downloaded within a very short time or they are already pre-installed and you can start playing right away. However, some niche titles may not be available, so a preview of the supported games list would be wise.
The next big difference is particularly noticeable in the free version of GeForce Now: Here, the maximum session duration is limited to just one hour. Although you can log in for the next session as often as you like after the time has expired, you often have to expect longer waiting times, especially at peak times. This can quickly lead to frustration over time.
Editor's opinion: "With 50 Mbit DSL and 5 GHz WLAN, the performance is not perfect, but especially with activated ray tracing, Cyberpunk 2077 from the cloud looks a lot better than the version on the PS4 Pro. The PS4 controller was easily recognized on the Mac, but the controls are still based on the layout of the Xbox controller in places, which sometimes requires rethinking. If you don't mind occasional stutters or increased input lag, you can hardly go wrong with GeForce Now."
This is where the paid versions come into play: “Priority” and “RTX 3080”. They solve both problems by allowing you to gamble for up to 8 hours at a time, depending on your subscription, and also by taking a prioritized position in the queue. Raytracing is also available in both cases. If you want to get the absolute maximum in performance, you can treat yourself to a subscription with exclusive access to an RTX 3080 server and other bonuses such as a session duration of 8 hours for the equivalent of 16.67 euros per month. With regard to rising graphics card prices, this should be a further incentive for the subscription.
Nvidia GeForce Now at a glance
Free version limited to 1-hour sessions Priority subscription for €9.99/month or €49.99/6 months includes ray tracing, priority access to premium servers and extended session duration of up to 6 hours RTX 3080 subscription for €99.99 /6 months includes 4K HDR Shield TV, 120 FPS at 1440p, exclusive access to RTX 3080 servers and extended session duration of up to 8 hours Numerous games are preinstalled
Also for non-gamers: Shadow
Own virtual Windows PC cloud storage space for games or other software Available for PC, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS
Rather weak hardware Relatively expensive
If you are looking for a true all-rounder among cloud gaming services, Shadow is the right choice. Here you get access to your own virtual Windows PC. So you can easily install any game, regardless of the platform, and then stream it from the cloud. The provider also promises gaming with up to 60 FPS with activated 4K resolution or 144 FPS in Full HD. In addition, users can also use the virtual computer for numerous things apart from gaming – image editing, video editing or 3D rendering? No problem.
The biggest point of criticism, however, would be the far too high price for the subscription, in my opinion. Although you enjoy an enormous amount of freedom here in terms of the selection of games or other possible applications, the competition never sleeps and offers their services at much more affordable prices. What makes it even more difficult is the fact that, according to the website, only the performance of a GTX 1080 is available to you in this country – that's definitely not enough according to current standards. So it remains to be seen whether Shadow will adapt to the competition in a timely manner or will ultimately be pushed out of the market.
Shadows at a glance
For 29.99 euros/month you get your own virtual Windows PC Installs any game or other software without restrictions Includes 256 GB SSD storage, which can be expanded by up to 2 TB if required (if available)
For fans of console games: PlayStation Now
Selected PS4 exclusive titles playable on the PC Large selection of PS2, PS3 and PS4 games Numerous titles can also be played offline
PS4/PS5 controller necessary (also on the PC) Availability of games often only for a short time Limited quality when streaming games
Sony's subscription service doesn't even require a console. Because PlayStation Now not only works on PS4, but also on Windows PCs. The service is available for EUR 9.99 per month, EUR 24.99 for three months or EUR 59.99 for one year. The rich program includes over 800 games from all genres that originally appeared on the PS2, PS3 or PS4. You can get a taste of the service thanks to a seven-day trial period.
The titles can either be downloaded (not for PS3 games) or streamed directly – depending on whether you have enough hard drive space or a good internet connection. Caution: Some games are only in the program for a few months, which is why you should tackle them first. Saved games remain local or in the cloud and can continue to be used with the purchase of the purchase versions.
The selection of games is excellent: there are must-haves like GTA 5, Uncharted 4, The Last of Us and Persona 5. PS3 classics like Red Dead Redemption, Metal Gear Solid 4, Bioshock or Fallout New Vegas are also convincing. Incidentally, multiplayer games (e.g. in GTA Online or Elder Scrolls Online) are also possible via PS Now. You can also get trophies. Sony recommends a bandwidth of at least 5 MBit/s for streaming. In practice, however, 25 MBit/s and connection via a LAN cable are advisable. Otherwise there may be occasional dropouts and stuttering. In short, PlayStation Now offers a wide range at a fair price.
PlayStation Now at a glance
Streams selected exclusive PS4 titles to your console or PC for 9.99 euros/month Streaming quality is also limited to HD resolution and 30 FPS on the PC Contains over 800 PS2, PS3 and PS4 games To play, a PS4 or PS5 controller required
That's why cloud gaming is worthwhile
Cloud gaming is now available on almost all popular platforms. With the increasing selection of different providers, you are no longer dependent on a current console or gaming computer. But is cloud gaming even worthwhile or would you be better off with powerful hardware? To make your decision a bit easier, we list some scenarios where you would benefit from cloud gaming:
You only play occasionally , which is why you don't need a console or gaming PC? In this case, cloud gaming could be the optimal solution for you. Your hardware is getting on in years , but you can't buy a new console or new gaming computer at the moment? With cloud gaming you can completely avoid this problem, especially since a subscription only costs a fraction of a new purchase and can also be canceled at any time. Are you particularly interested in the idea that you can enjoy AAA titles on your smartphone or laptop on the go ? Cloud gaming makes it possible! Another advantage is that your battery should last much longer, since all calculations are done on external servers and not on your device.
Before making a final decision, you should also check again what the exact requirements of the respective service are in terms of internet speed. This is where the use of any cloud gaming service stands or falls – if in doubt, it may be worth investing in a more powerful Internet connection, which in turn can lead to higher costs. That should also be taken into account when making your decision.
Cloud gaming: how does it even work?
As a rule, the majority of cloud streaming services work in the same way: you have a server with powerful hardware at your disposal, on which your respective games then actually run. Only the displayed image is streamed to the corresponding end device via an app. So it doesn't matter how much power it has. The actual work is done by the external server.
This means that as long as the device of your choice – it can be either a smartphone, tablet or even an outdated PC or laptop – can play videos smoothly, you can probably easily use cloud gaming.
What internet connection is required?
The devil is known to be in the details. The most important factor when it comes to gambling from the cloud: a fast and stable internet connection. Of course, the numerous services try to undercut each other here by advertising with the lowest possible minimum requirements in relation to the required Internet performance. This information ranges from 5 Mbit/s to 35 Mbit/s or more. The rule of thumb is: the better you want your gaming experience to be (FPS, frame rate, resolution and graphics quality), the more powerful your internet needs to be.
So that you don't lose track of so many numbers, here is a short calculation example: Assuming you have a 16,000 line, that would correspond to a speed of around 16 Mbit/s. However, most services require at least 20 Mbit/s so that you can play with at least 1080p resolution and a smooth 60 FPS.
Our recommendation: For the best gaming experience, you should have at least a 50,000 line and look for a reliable provider – a LAN cable is also usually more reliable than a WLAN connection. Conveniently, you can have your internet speed tested directly on the website of some providers such as Google Stadia. This way you can find out in advance whether an upgrade of your own internet is necessary at all.
This is how the services differ
At first glance, the cloud gaming offers may all look very similar, but they differ greatly from one another in some respects. It starts with what resolution you want to play in. While some services only offer 1080p resolution, other services even allow you to play in 4K resolution or with ray tracing enabled. Again, everything depends on your available internet connection – more pixels or FPS always need more bandwidth .
The next big thing would be the games themselves. Many of the providers offer a predefined selection of games. Experience has shown that this is constantly being expanded, but if your absolute favorite game is still not included, this could represent a KO criterion. It would therefore be advisable to find out in advance about the games catalog offered. In the case of Shadow, you are even provided with a complete virtual Windows PC. In this case, you have theoretically unlimited possibilities, which do not have to be limited to gambling.
The future of cloud gaming
At this point, another cloud gaming service should be mentioned that is currently in the starting blocks. The shipping giant Amazon also wants to gain a foothold in the cloud gaming segment in the future. Your service is called Amazon Luna and is currently still in the early access phase. It is interesting that, similar to Google Stadia, there is a controller specially developed for the service – including Alexa voice recognition, of course.
Currently you pay $5.99 per month and get access to a growing number of games that can be streamed on up to two devices at the same time: PC, Mac, Fire TV, iOS and selected Android smartphones are currently supported. The subscription package consisting of Luna and Ubisoft+, which should also be usable in combination with the cloud gaming service, could also be exciting. However, the service is only available in the US for the time being .
The numerous subscription structures also seem to be merging more and more at the moment, so there are also hybrid offers – good examples of this are Xbox Game Pass or PlayStation Now. Both subscriptions not only offer you a flat rate for games, but can also be used, among other things, to stream games to your console, your PC or even your smartphone at the same time. Nintendo is also involved and allows you to play selected titles via cloud streaming that would otherwise be too graphically demanding for the handheld console.
The cloud gaming trend is just really taking off. It therefore remains exciting to see in which direction the market will develop. But one thing is already certain: Gamers in particular will benefit from the ever-increasing range of games and the corresponding streaming options. Especially in times when high-performance hardware is becoming increasingly rare, such services can represent a practical alternative.