A little over six years after unveiling its first cloud gaming service in beta, Nvidia (NVDA) - Get Report is doing a full commercial launch. And it has a unique selling point or two as it battles Google (GOOGL) - Get Report, Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Report and others.
On Tuesday morning, Nvidia announced that its GeForce Now service, which delivers cloud gaming via servers running Nvidia gaming GPUs, is now generally available via free and paid offerings. Until now, GeForce Now had only been available through an invite-only beta program.
Nvidia shares were rising 2.9% to $247.21 on Tuesday late morning.
The free GeForce Now service will provide 1-hour gamers sessions -- once a session is up, users have to request another one. Those paying for a “Founders” membership get 6-hour sessions and priority access to resources when making session requests, along with -- provided the feature is supported by and available for a particular game -- the ability to play games with real-time ray tracing enabled.
The Founders membership, which is available for a limited time, comes with a 90-day free trial. After the trial period is up, it costs $4.99 per month for the rest of 2020. Nvidia said that it will subsequently offer a premium plan that is priced “somewhat higher” than the Founders membership, and which will likely have a shorter free trial period.
GeForce Now apps are available for Windows PCs, Macs and Android devices, as well as Nvidia’s Shield living room devices. Nvidia also says it’s working on an app for Chromebooks, and notes that users will be able to save and retrieve their game data both across different GeForce Now apps and local game installs.
Nvidia is relying on its own data centers to provide GeForce Now to North American and Western European gamers, and is supporting gamers in Japan, South Korea and Russia via partnerships with local telcos. As tech analyst Patrick Moorhead observed, GeForce Now deployments rely on GPUs placed at the network edge -- a move that could help keep latency at acceptable levels.
As is the case for Google’s Stadia cloud gaming platform, which was formally launched in November, GeForce Now users looking to play a paid title have to purchase a game first. But Nvidia's service also supports more than 30 free-to-play titles, including Fortnite, League of Legends and Activision Blizzard’s (ATVI) - Get Report Destiny 2. And unlike Stadia, GeForce Now users can play paid titles using game licenses that they obtained on their own and retain access to them after cancelling their subscriptions.
According to Nvidia, GeForce Now supports “hundreds” of games overall from more than 50 publishers, and it’s adding new titles each week. In addition to directly working with game publishers, Nvidia has struck GeForce Now partnerships with game-distribution platforms such as Steam, Origin and Battle.net.
GeForce Now's library of instantly-available games is extensive, but not comprehensive. While Activision’s Call of Duty games, Take-Two Interactive’s (TTWO) - Get Report NBA 2K games and Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed games are instantly available to those who own a license, the same doesn’t hold for Electronic Arts’s (EA) - Get Report Madden, FIFA and Battlefield games, nor for Take-Two’s Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption games.
Nonetheless, GeForce Now’s library is substantially larger than Stadia’s. For the moment, Google’s Stadia Pro service, which costs $10 per month, supports less than 50 titles. Microsoft’s xCloud gaming platform, which for now is only available on Android phones and tablets through a free preview, currently supports a little under 100 titles, but should have many more in time.
One limitation of GeForce Now: It features a maximum gaming resolution of 1080p (1920x1080). As a result, those looking to play games at a 2K or 4K resolution will have to opt for a rival platform that supports such resolutions or (provided one's GPU is powerful enough to do it) run them locally. By contrast, Stadia Pro supports 4K gaming on TVs and 4K PC gaming is promised to arrive later, as is a free Stadia Basic service that will support 1080p gaming.
In my experience, the fact that GeForce Now relies on 1080p streaming can also cause some user interface headaches when one is using a PC with a higher-resolution monitor and (as is the case for titles such as Fortnite and Destiny 2) has to navigate a third-party website such as Steam to log in and access a title. Navigating a website that’s being displayed at 1080p on a 4K monitor can be a painful experience.
However, once a game was launched in GeForce Now, I found the user experience to be pretty good. Connections were reliable, frame rates were high (Nvidia is promising 60 frames per second or more) and input lag/latency was fairly low. And since this is a cloud gaming service, there was no need to download and locally install anything outside of the GeForce Now app.
In addition to wanting to directly profit from cloud gaming, Nvidia might have a strategic motivation for rolling out GeForce Now: Stadia and xCloud both rely on AMD (AMD) - Get Report GPUs. As a result, if cloud gaming ever takes off to a degree where it meaningfully impacts consumer purchases of gaming graphics cards, GeForce Now and the Nvidia GPUs that power it could serve as a valuable hedge.