What Is Cloud Gaming: A Definitive Guide
Updated: August 17,2022
There's a new way to play video games: in the cloud. It is a term that describes video games accessed and played online rather than from a physical game console or personal computer.
The technology has been around for some time but has only recently become more popular with developers and PC gamers who want to play their favorite titles without investing in expensive hardware.
In this article, we'll go through online gaming basics: what is cloud gaming, how does it work, and what are the best cloud gaming options for gamers? Let’s dig right in.
Playing Games Without the Hardware
Most new technologies have a low adoption rate in the beginning. Special ergonomic chairs for gaming were considered an overpriced fad until studies have shown the health benefits they bring. The same adoption challenges are faced by streaming technology powering cloud gaming: it’s not free of detractors, either.
Gaming on the cloud is a type of online gaming that allows gamers to play games without having to download or install them on their own devices. Instead, the games are stored on and run from remote servers or “clouds.” This means gamers can play cloud-based games on any internet-connected device, including laptops, smartphones, and tablets.
These services work by streaming games from remote servers to gamers' devices in real-time. This requires a fast and reliable internet connection and powerful hardware on the server side.
In most cases, cloud gaming services allow gamers to either play their already purchased titles online or subscribe to access a library of games. Some streaming gaming services also offer individual game purchases.
Playing via streaming services has several advantages over traditional gaming. One is that it removes the need for gamers to invest in expensive hardware, such as a high-end gaming PC or console. You don't have to buy expensive graphics cards or the latest consoles to enjoy gaming this way.
It also makes it possible to play games on devices that would not normally be able to run them, such as low-powered laptops or smartphones. In addition, subscription-based (if not free) cloud gaming services often offer a wider selection of games than most people could afford, and sometimes more than console gaming subscriptions do.
The main goal of this technology is to give users unparalleled access to games in a few quick clicks.
How Does It All Work?
Game streaming clients stream video games from remote servers to the player's device. This means that the game runs on a server in a data center, and the client is simply displaying the output.
The player's input is sent back to the server, where it is processed, and the results are streamed back to the client. With cloud gaming technology, the entire process happens in real time, without downloading or installing anything.
Gaming via the cloud is all about bringing simplicity to ordinary users, a bit like gaming controllers did to replace mouse and keyboard setups for people who enjoy sofa gaming. If you invest in a PC controller, you’ll be able to play almost any game from your couch without losing much (if at all) from the control scheme and sometimes even improving on it.
Cloud gaming aims to bring comparable simplicity to the new generation of gamers.
Streaming clients typically use a high-speed internet connection to minimize lag and ensure a smooth gaming experience. As long as the player has a reliable internet connection, they can enjoy their favorite games without any issues.
Streaming clients are also designed to work with various networks, including broadband and mobile. It typically uses adaptive bitrate streaming to adjust the quality of the video stream based on the available bandwidth.
This allows the game to be played on a wide range of devices and networks, with minimal buffering, quick loading times, and responsive controls with little lag, even with free cloud gaming titles.
Because always-online gaming services stream games in real-time, they require a fast and reliable internet connection. In most cases, gamers need an internet connection with a download speed of at least 5 Mbps to play cloud-based games without lag. For 4K resolution streaming, an internet connection with a download speed of at least 25 Mbps is recommended.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Game Streaming
Every technology has to mature and grow to reach its full potential. For example, consider PC speakers: early devices could barely reproduce rough MIDI sounds, but today’s best models can stand toe-to-toe with at least mid-range dedicated audio hardware.
Gaming in the cloud is the same - it’s still technically a nascent technology, so we’ve yet to get to the part where it becomes just as good or better than having the hardware. Even so, there are some undeniable benefits even now:
- Instant Game Access
One of the main advantages of this type of gaming is that it offers instant access to games. There is no need to wait for downloads or installations. Simply sign up for a service and start playing your favorite games.
- No Hardware Requirements
Another benefit of streaming gaming is that it removes the need for gamers to invest in expensive hardware, such as getting the latest Xbox. With cloud gaming, you don't need a high-end gaming PC or the latest console to enjoy games. All you need is a device with an internet connection, and you're good to go.
- Wide Game Selection
Streaming gaming services often offer a large selection of game titles comparable to the best subscription services, such as the Xbox Game Pass. And, since you won’t have to buy the games to play them, it further saves your money compared to traditional gaming methods.
There are also some drawbacks to this form of gaming, though:
- Internet Connection Dependency
One of the most significant drawbacks of game streaming is that it requires a fast and reliable internet connection.
This is the time it takes for your input to be processed by the server and for the results to be displayed on your screen. Streaming services are constantly working to reduce latency, but it is still a potential issue, especially in fast-paced titles.
- Potential Game Loss
One of the risks of games streaming is that you could lose access to your games if the service goes out of business. Even when you purchase a game through the best cloud gaming service you can find, you’ll probably still not own the game -only pay for the right to play the game for as long as the service keeps running.
These services use a variety of business models, including subscription, pay-per-use, and free-to-play. Some streaming gaming services offer a library of games that can be played for a monthly subscription fee. Others have a pay-per-use model, where gamers can purchase or rent individual games.
There are also free-to-play online gaming services that allow gamers to play a selection of free games, such as with a Microsoft cloud gaming client.
Such services make money by selling in-game items, offering severely time-limited free trials, which can be expanded with subscriptions, or displaying advertisements to gamers.
All these streaming options depend on being connected to the internet, which is full of dangers, such as spyware and viruses. If you intend to dive into the world of gaming via streaming technology, you need to have an internet security tool to protect your device while you’re online.
Playstation Now is Sony’s subscription service that also allows users to stream games on their Playstation or a PC. Playstation cloud gaming relies on a combination of video compression and cloud computing to deliver high-quality gameplay with minimal input lag.
Users subscribed to the highest subscription tier can stream certain PS1, PS2, PS3, and PSP games and titles from the most recent console generations, the PS4, and the PS5.
Playstation Plus offers a wide range of titles, from first-party exclusives to third-party blockbusters. While not all of the 700+ games in the library will be available for streaming, you can still stream over 250 PS3 games alone, so you won’t be running out of titles to play anytime soon.
NVIDIA GeForce Now is Nvidia’s cloud gaming service that allows users to stream games from a computer powered by NVIDIA GPUs. The service can be accessed through various devices, including PCs, Macs, smartphones, and tablets. GeForce Now uses NVIDIA's own GRID technology to deliver high-quality gaming experiences to users.
The service is divided into three tiers, each offering progressively more session game time and more powerful gaming rigs. It’s not like Playstation Now, though - you already have to own the games you want to play on Steam, Battle.net, Epic, and so on.
Google Stadia is similar to having a console online. Instead of downloading games to a console or computer, users can stream games directly from the internet. This means they can play games on any device with an internet connection, including phones, laptops, and TVs.
In order to use Google cloud gaming, gamers simply need to purchase a Stadia controller and sign up for a Stadia Pro subscription. Once done, they will be able to access a library of free games.
Google Stadia uses cutting-edge technology to deliver a high-quality gaming experience. The platform uses Google's server infrastructure to provide low latency and high-resolution graphics.
There are over 100 titles on Google Stadia. However, you still have to purchase a game and own it before you can play it. The $9.99 Stadia Pro subscription has a free trial, and you can cancel it anytime.
Xbox Cloud Gaming
Xbox’s answer, formerly known as Project xCloud, is a game streaming service that allows users to stream Xbox games on their Xbox One console or Windows 10 PC. Xbox game pass has a cloud gaming feature that uses Microsoft Azure servers to render and stream games, which are then played on the user's device.
Xbox game streaming is currently in beta and is available to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers.
To use this service, users must first install the Xbox app on their device. Once the app is installed, they can sign in with their Microsoft account and select the games they want to play from the library. There are over 400 games available on Xbox and 200-ish on the PC Game Pass, which is what you’d want for cloud PC gaming.
Since the list of games for subscribers constantly changes (with titles entering and leaving the program every once in a while), users can also pay for the game to keep it in their library forever. Streamed games work on both the Xbox controller and touchscreen devices.
The Next Step in Gaming Evolution
The future of cloud gaming is bright. The technology is still in its early stages, but it has already gained a lot of traction with gamers and developers alike. With the ever-increasing hardware prices, and more and more companies investing in cloud gaming platforms, it is only a matter of time before it becomes mainstream.
Frequently Asked Questions
Online gaming refers to the act of playing online video games, which are often created for multiplayer only. Cloud gaming is a technology that allows you to play all kinds of games via streaming technology, similar to Netflix for movies.
You need a supported device (desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone) and a stable and reasonably fast internet connection to play games via cloud services.
PUBG is a multiplayer game you can play via streaming services such as Google Stadia.
Cloud gaming will undoubtedly become more popular in the future, but it is highly unlikely to ever completely replace traditional console and PC gaming. Read our “What is cloud gaming?” article above for more details on why we feel that way.
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A true tech and gaming savant, Ivan has been fascinated by the digital world since the early days of gaming on antiques such as the ZX Spectrum and Commodore’s beloved Amiga. Whether you’re interested in the latest PC and console gaming news, antivirus software, or smartphone reviews, or simply want to learn about the newest geeky gadgets around, we at KT have you covered, and Ivan’s likely the one we’ll ask.