With flashy new game consoles like the PS5 and Xbox Series X (still) aggravatingly hard to come by, the dream of gaming without dedicated hardware has never been more appealing. At CES 2022, the tech industry’s largest annual showcase, big tech companies showed that they agree.
There’s just one problem: Game streaming has yet to fully pan out.
Microsoft, Amazon, PlayStation, and Google have all tried, but none have completely nailed cloud gaming just yet. Streaming apps like Google Stadia have impressive tech, to be sure, but none of these services have fully stuck the landing and become mainstays in the gaming space. Between technical troubles, lackluster libraries, and busted business models, the majority of cloud gaming apps have left us scratching our heads instead of having fun playing video games.
That isn’t stopping big tech, though. Whether it’s Samsung and LG announcing support for Google Stadia on smart TVs, or AT&T bundling Nvidia GeForce Now with 5G service, tech companies still clearly believe in the promise of cloud gaming.
Will the concept finally prove viable in 2022 or will we still be scratching our heads by the time the next CES rolls around?
The major players
As of January 2022, there are a handful of major cloud gaming services that you can use to play in web browsers, on phones, or, in some cases, on Samsung or LG smart TVs. A roll call of the most relevant parties in cloud gaming right now looks something like this:
Google Stadia ($9.99/mo with individual game purchases)
Nvidia GeForce Now (free with limits and $9.99/mo)
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate ($15/mo)
PlayStation Now ($9.99/mo)
Amazon Luna ($6.99/mo)
All of these services have different game libraries, different business models, and serve different audiences. For example, GeForce Now lets users stream PC games they already own to other devices for an hour at a time for free (or for longer, if you’re willing to pay a monthly fee), while Amazon Luna and Sony’s PS Now rely on a more traditional Netflix-like model where a monthly fee gets you unlimited access to a rotating selection of games. Stadia sells games individually in a store and also offers a Pro subscription that includes free games for active subscribers, 4K streaming at 60 frames per second, and store discounts.
The most unique offering in that group is Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. Its cloud feature is simply a bonus add-on for a monthly service that otherwise lets users download every game on the service (which includes any and all first-party Xbox games) and play them locally if they have an Xbox or PC. Streaming is a nice perk here, but it’s not Game Pass’ main selling point.