Last week, Nvidia’s long-awaited game streaming service GeForce Now graduated from a three-year beta to full public release. Since then, the internet has been buzzing with claims that Google Stadia is now obsolete before it ever got off the ground. Add in all the negative press Google’s service received after launch, and Stadia’s demise looks to be all but certain — except these two services aren’t actually competing with one another at all.
The first glaring difference between Stadia and GeForce Now are their players.
At its core, GeForce Now is a cloud solution for PC and Mac gamers that don’t have an adequate rig to play on, or who want to play on the go. The service plugs directly into existing PC game stores, like Steam, UPlay, and Battle.net, giving players access to most of the games they already know and love on storefronts that are familiar to them.
Stadia is for console and mobile players that grew up on older machines or who want the power of next-gen hardware without the hefty price tag. Stadia’s promise is that it will let players access AAA content from the convenience of any device they already own: phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, and TVs. The service still has a way to go before it’s available on handsets outside of Google Pixel phones, but it does perform well on other screen formats.
When Stadia was announced at GDC 2019, one of its biggest selling points was that its custom AMD GPUs can push 10.7 teraflops of power — more than the combined total of the current-generation PlayStation 4 Pro (4.2 teraflops) and Xbox One X (6.0 teraflops). When the free Base tier launches this year, players will be able to stream 1080p content at up to 60 FPS while Stadia Pro subscribers can already stream 4K HDR content at up to 60 FPS.
GeForce Now taps an Nvidia GTX 1080-class GPU that can achieve 8.9 teraflops, putting it just slightly above the Xbox One X in raw power. However, both free and paid users will only be able to stream 1080p content at up to 60 FPS, a glaring visual hit for players with 4K displays.
Latency and lag
One of the biggest challenges for any cloud streaming service is latency, or the time it takes for input on a controller, keyboard, or mouse to register on the screen. To complicate gameplay even further, latency has the potential to vary based on gamers’ internet connection speeds and how closely they are to a game server.
When testing Stadia and GeForce Now, we played Destiny 2 through a 100 Mbps wireless internet connection on a 15” 2017 MacBook Pro. We then pitted them against an Xbox One S, which served as our native controlled variable. We weren’t able to grab precise latency numbers for these platforms, but based on controller feedback, they all felt similar to one another. Both cloud instances experienced a slightinput delay when compared to the native version on Xbox. That said, the delay was so small that it would’ve been virtually imperceptible, had we not been testing it on three different systems at the same time.
As it stands today, both platforms have certain barriers that may keep players from diving in.
The only way to play Stadia right now is to have preordered the Founders Edition kit or to purchase the Premiere Edition kit for $130, both of which come with a Chromecast Ultra and a Wi-Fi Stadia Controller. Once activated, players only need to claim a game, and they can start playing almost immediately. The true test for Stadia will be in how it supports a larger playerbase when the free tier launches sometime in 2020, though given Google’s server bandwidth, upscaling is unlikely to be a problem.
For GeForce Now, gamers don’t need to purchase any special hardware to play, though a Bluetooth controller is necessary for some situations, like when gaming via a mobile device. The crux of GeForce Now is that once a game has been cued up, the player may have to wait in a digital line for a server to become available. So far, this hasn’t been a huge problem for players, but as GeForce Now grows in popularity, congestion and longer wait times may become an issue.
One of the truly magical things about cloud gaming is that these services aren’t tied to any one machine placed somewhere in a home. They can be accessed on numerous devices from virtually anywhere in the world, though these services do have their own unique limitations.
Stadia is arguably one of the most flexible game streaming projects ever contrived. Right now, it can be accessed on TVs via Chromecast Ultra (a device many people already own), any computer with Chrome (a browser many people already use), and tablets or Google Pixel phones via the Stadia app. Wider Android and iPhone availability isn’t ready yet, but it is expected to launch sometime soon.
GeForce Now is just a bit more limited. It can be accessed on Android phones, tablets, computers, and the Nvidia Shield. Unlike Stadia’s simple Chrome browser support, players will need to first download the official app on these devices and get signed in to GeForce Now, Steam, and any other game stores they want to use.
Before game streaming was ever on Google’s radar, the company spent decades developing a massive global server infrastructure that powers core services like Search, Maps, YouTube, Google Cloud, and more. Stadia plugs into this same system, allowing Google to deliver a stable gaming experience to more players around the world.
Nvidia, on the other hand, doesn’t have nearly the bandwidth or funds that Google relies on. The majority of GeForce Now servers reside in the United States and Europe, leaving many players beyond these regions unaccounted for.
The one place where GeForce Now unequivocally comes out ahead of Stadia is in game selection. Nvidia’s service supports a large library of games that players already own or can purchase from established stores like Steam, UPlay, and Battle.net. Players also get to keep their save data, achievements, and invested time.
On the flip side, Stadia players are largely expected to start fresh. They have to repurchase their games, and with the exception of a small number of titles that currently support cross save (namely Destiny 2), players will lose their previous game data. For gamers who have invested countless hours and money into other gaming platforms like PlayStation and Xbox, this is the hardest pill to swallow. But in the case of console gamers that don’t already own a large Steam library, they would ultimately be facing the same challenge if they chose GeForce Now over Stadia.
More ways to play
There are many similarities between these two game streaming platforms. Stadia and GeForce Now both rely on cloud technology to deliver a premium gaming experience. They both have paid and (will have) free tiers, once Stadia fully launches. And they both enable gamers to play on more screens than just their main PCs or consoles.
Ultimately, Stadia and GeForce Now are catering to very different audiences who have very different needs: PC players vs. console and mobile gamers — the same age-old war that has divided the gaming community for decades. That’s not to say that some PC gamers won’t be interested in Stadia and some console gamers won’t want to try GeForce Now, but the largest segment of players who want a cloud-first experience will remain in the camp they’re most comfortable. For that reason, both streaming services can coexist in a vibrant space where gamers simply want more ways to play.