Today, video gaming is more popular than ever before. What was once a hobby exclusively for enthusiasts is now accessible to everyone. Whether you own a tablet, laptop, console, phone, or PC, you will have the ability to play some form of a video game.
However, as the demand for gaming grows every year, perfectly illustrated by the considerable rise of PC users in 2020, it’s becoming ever more difficult for people to obtain any type of gaming hardware.
In late 2020, with the release of AMD’s Ryzen and RX 6000 lineup, NVIDIA’s RTX 3000, and the two next-gen consoles, getting your hands on any kind of CPU, GPU or console was almost impossible.
The PC market was (and still is) riddled with scalpers and miners grabbing every single graphics card available. However, the biggest culprit was that the world’s largest chip manufacturer, TSMC, could not deliver enough supply for such high demand.
Fortunately, gamers have an alternative solution that will allow them to continue playing the latest games. That new solution is cloud gaming services.
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What Is Cloud Gaming?
Before we begin listing all the different cloud gaming services available, it may be a good idea to explain what these services offer and what you would get from them.
By definition, cloud gaming is a direct stream of a video game from a PC/server directly to a user’s device. The stream can be accessed via various platforms such as phones, tablets, Windows, Mac, etc., depending on which service you have subscribed to.
In other words, the user borrows the server’s hardware power to deal with the demanding graphics of today’s video games, while the user’s devices process the stream and handle the input/output of the controls.
This is why cloud gaming is such an appealing idea. Users don’t require a high-end GPU, CPU, or any other hardware upgrades. All they need is to subscribe to any of the available cloud gaming services from their phone, low-end PC, or even console. It is also not expensive at all.
At its core, the concept sounds great, but there are some disadvantages that we took into consideration while making this list.
One of the main disadvantages of cloud gaming is the severe input lag (input latency). Input lag refers to the speed, or rather the responsiveness, of the connection between the user and the server.
Responsiveness in video games is vital for most gamers, especially for multiplayer/competitive gaming. Unfortunately, the response time with gaming-on-demand services is still pretty bad.
The video below is a pretty good example of what input delay looks like.
As you can see, the player inputs the jump command, and the in-game character lags behind by several microseconds. It might not seem like a lot, but in multiplayer titles such as Fortnite, every microsecond counts.
The other major issue is the low resolution and low framerate. Some cloud gaming services offer a maximum resolution of 720p, which is relatively low by today’s standards. Even phones now run at 1440p resolution.
Even with these disadvantages in mind, it is a viable method for gaming, especially if you don’t have a device that can handle your most anticipated video games. Let’s look at the best cloud gaming services and determine which one is the best for you.
- Hundreds of AAA games available for free
- Access to day-one game releases
- Low input lag
- No access to games outside of the Xbox Game Pass Library
- Highest price per month
- Still limited to 720p
- Only available for Android devices (for now)
Currently in beta, this project from Microsoft aims to deliver cloud gaming services to consoles, PCs, Android, and iOS.
Right now, this service is only accessible to Android phones and tablets, but Microsoft has already started sending out early-access invitations for PC users. It should be fully available for PC users at the end of spring 2021.
Its subscription price of $15 a month might seem steep, but let’s look at what you would get by subscribing to this service.
The most obvious advantage of subscribing to Xbox Cloud Gaming is that you would gain access to a library of hundreds of video games.
To be specific, you wouldn’t only be subscribing to Microsoft’s cloud gaming services but also to Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass that grants access to tons of high-quality and triple-A titles, including DOOM Eternal, Grand Theft Auto V, Star Wars-related titles, Battlefield, Mass Effect, Need for Speed, and many more.
This also means that if you have an Xbox or a PC that can run these triple-A titles, you can download and play them outside of the cloud gaming service, as long as you stay subscribed.
Keep in mind that users have been reporting a considerable amount of input lag which is a huge negative, but Microsoft claim this will be addressed by updates in the near future.
Overall, it’s a great choice for anyone looking to game on their phone.
- Supports Steam, Uplay, and Epic Games libraries
- Equipped with high-end RTX hardware
- Supports ray tracing
- Gaming sessions are limited
- Users forced to wait for queues
- No free games
An alternative cloud gaming solution from NVIDIA. Unlike xCloud, GeForce Now does not provide you with access to video games that you don’t own. You will need to connect your own library with your GeForce Now account to play what you want.
This might be the best of the bunch in terms of visual quality as it supports 1080p resolution and 60FPS. There are also services out there that offer 144FPS or 4K, but NVIDIA’s solution is always consistent and has minimal input lag.
GeForce Now is a perfect choice for anyone with a large library of video games that you want to enjoy at the highest possible settings.
However, there is one disadvantage we need to mention. Whether you have a free account or subscribe to the Priority membership, your gaming sessions are limited. The free account is limited to just 1-hour sessions, while Priority members can access longer gaming sessions of up to 6 hours. This is more, but it’s still limited.
The Priority membership costs $10 a month.
Something else you need to consider is the queue. If you want to play GeForce Now and the servers are too busy, you will have to wait in a queue. The waiting times can last anywhere between a few minutes and several hours.
It has its flaws, but when you consider that its servers can deliver high-end performance even with ray tracing enabled, it’s a solid pick.
- Supports 4K@60fps or 1080p@144FPS streaming
- Lack of servers makes it difficult to gain access, especially outside the US
- Company’s future unclear
Another competitor in the cloud gaming market is Shadow. It might not have been developed by a large corporation such as Microsoft, NVIDIA, or Google, but it is not a bad solution at all.
Their computers are not equipped with high-end RTX cards, such as those used by GeForce Now, that can support real-time ray tracing. However, they have GTX 1080 equivalents which is more than enough to handle 1080p @60fps gameplay with maxed-out settings.
Even with that GTX 1080 equivalent, Shadow offers resolution support of up to 4K or 1080p at 144 FPS. Pretty impressive.
Keep in mind that Shadow is planning to add new configurations with much better GPUs.
Additionally, Shadow isn’t only limited to gaming. It also allows users full remote access to its computers/servers. If you want to do some creative work, you can always boot up Photoshop or Premiere for some video editing.
For $12, Shadow is an attractive offer for new users in the cloud gaming world. However, don’t forget that you will need to own the games you want to play. You don’t gain access to a library of games, unlike Xbox Cloud Gaming.
Unfortunately, the availability is still awful for Shadow. The lack of servers means the probability of getting into Shadow cloud gaming is pretty low. We also need to mention that in early 2021, its parent company, Blade, declared bankruptcy, so tread carefully.
- Extremely low latency (for European users)
- Competitive pricing
- Lack of servers outside of Europe
Boosteroid is a cloud gaming company based in Romania with servers in countries including Italy, Romania, Slovakia, France, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, and the UK. As of writing, there are more than a million registered users on this platform and 100,000 active players, as suggested by Intel.
There’s currently no information regarding Boosteroid’s hardware, but they claim that their servers can support streaming at 1080p@60FPS. That’s exactly what we want to hear from a cloud gaming service, but we know that it is rarely that simple.
So, does Boosteroid really deliver good quality and performance?
Based on the hundreds of reviews on Trustpilot, it appears that Boosteroid does provide that promised performance. Numerous other reviews mention positive experiences with Boosteroid’s staff/support team. Good customer support is essential for these types of services, so that’s great to see.
With most of its servers located in Europe, Boosteroid might be one of the best cloud gaming services anyone can use on this continent. Europeans can expect much lower latency and higher image quality.
It is important to mention Boosteroid’s collaboration with Intel and ASUS to optimize their servers further. This should help considerably improve the average user’s gaming experience. These moves pit this company against some of the bigger sharks in the market (NVIDIA and Microsoft).
Let’s talk about game availability and the Boosteroid app.
Downloading and installing the application is a pretty painless process.
At first glance, the application has a clean UI and is quite responsive. From here, the user can access a couple of free games, including Fortnite, League of Legends, Apex Legends, Call of Duty Warzone, and more. The user also has access to hundreds of paid video games.
When using the built-in connectivity test, we saw a latency of just 12ms on a 100mbps network, which is pretty good.
So, Booster offers solid performance, image quality, low latency, and a variety of games which leaves us to talk about pricing.
The monthly subscription is €9.89 ($11.67). This is a competitive price tag, but nothing too impressive. However, their Ultimate plan is far more appealing, with a price tag of €4.16 ($4.91). This makes it considerably cheaper than all its competitors on this list. Keep in mind that the Ultimate plan requires a single payment of €49.89 ($58) annually.
- Minimal input lag
- Can access up to 78 games (some require a license)
- Users limited to just 50 hours each month
- Unimpressive game library
- No Full HD
Vortex’s cheapest subscription plan starts at $10, similar to GeForce Now. This is pretty solid pricing, but we have to consider several factors before deciding whether this is a good subscription plan.
The first major disadvantage is that the user can access only 78 games. This isn’t necessarily a small library, but there’s a higher probability that you won’t be able to find the game you want to play. Moreover, a license will be required to play some of them.
Users are also limited to just 50 hours a month. That is less than two hours of gaming on each day of the month.
Although Vortex provides a smooth 60FPS experience with minimal input latency, we simply can’t recommend going for the basic subscription plan. If you really feel like going with Vortex, we recommend choosing the Pro or Ultra plan.
With Pro, users get 80 hours of playtime each month with access to 170 games. There is still no Full HD, though the official website claims that 1080p will soon be implemented.
Vortex can be a good option but only for people new to cloud gaming services. If you have used any of the other services we listed above, this one is unlikely to fulfill your needs.
- Access to some of the best PlayStation game exclusives
- Game library dating back to the PS2
- Supports 1080p@60FPS
- Many games are locked at 30FPS
- Considerable input lag on Windows
- Sony removes titles from the library
PlayStation Now is a cloud gaming service developed by Sony, allowing PS4, PS5, and Windows users to play games from current and previous PlayStation generations.
At $10 a month, PS Now is the perfect solution for those who have never owned a Sony console. The list of awesome PlayStation-exclusive games is huge, and it would be a real shame not to play through them.
Some of those exclusives include The Last Of Us 1 and 2, the entire God of War franchise, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Bloodborne, Demon Souls (remake), and many more. You will gain immediate access to these games once subscribed. There is no need for individual licensing.
To properly use PS Now, it’s best to have a DualShock controller, specifically a DS4. The PS5 DualSense controllers are not supported.
Let’s look at some of the drawbacks. The first major setback has to be the awful input lag, especially when running the service from a Windows platform. Users have also reported that the store’s UI is exceptionally bad.
Another setback is the fact that Sony is continuously removing games from the library. Your favorite game could be gone from the library tomorrow.
Even so, the user interface and awful input lag could be fixed in the future with a couple of updates, making PS Now a solid all-rounder. We recommend it for anyone that wants to play some PS3 or PS4 exclusives.
- Google Stadia – This service supports game streaming at 4K resolution at 60FPS. It is not a bad pick, but considering Stadia’s awful launch and the fact that Google shut down their dedicated Stadia game studio, the future of this platform is unclear. Because of this, it didn’t end up on our list of best cloud gaming services.
- Amazon Luna – A promising contender at just $6 a month, which makes it the cheapest option in this entire article. It is usable on almost any device, playable at 1080p@60FPS, has free games, and has a huge library. Sounds too good to be true, right? It is still in early access, so we don’t know exactly when it will see its full release.
Which Cloud Gaming Service Is For You?
All of the cloud gaming services we listed above seem like pretty good choices. They are reasonably priced while offering tons of features, but which one is the best? Which one should you get?
The award for the best overall cloud gaming service goes to GeForce Now. Although there are queues and limited gaming sessions, the low input lag, 1080p@60 FPS experience, $10 price tag, and support for ray-tracing easily make this the overall best choice, at least for now.
Xbox Cloud Gaming easily wins the best cloud gaming service for mobile phones. The sheer amount of triple-A games included with Game Pass is simply incredible. This cloud service will also become available for PCs and iOS pretty soon.
Get PlayStation Now if you are interested in Sony’s exclusive video game titles.
Vortex and Shadow are good alternatives but only get these if you can’t gain access to any of the other three.