Nvidia has been testing its GeForce Now cloud gaming service for years. But now the company is revving up its efforts, expanding the service around the world with a free version and offering a beta for a $5 per month premium service with access to RTX-based graphics.
The move is a shot across the bow for rivals such as Microsoft’s xCloud and Google Stadia, but it’s also a push to ensure that PC gaming thrives in an age of cloud-based computing. Nvidia has been fine-tuning the service for a while, holding down its reach to 300,000 gamers. Now it is making memberships — both free and paid — available to everyone.
Rather than set up its own library of cloud games, Nvidia is enabling players to access their Steam libraries with GeForce Now, so they can play those games anywhere they want, said Phil Eisler, general manager of GeForce Now, said in an interview with GamesBeat.
“We’re an open platform in that we don’t have our own game store,” Eisler said. “Gamers told us in an early beta that they didn’t want us to have our own game store. They just preferred we support existing game stores. So we support Steam, Uplay, and others as well as 30 free-to-play games.”
An open system that uses your game library
There are over 300 instant games, and you can go into Steam and download another 1,000 games before each session (known as single-session installs). GeForce Now supports multiple platforms so you can play those Steam games across the PC, Mac, TV via the Nvidia Shield, and Android mobile devices. Nvidia supports the service with 15 data centers around the world.
“We want to be the destination for PC gamers when they go to the cloud,” said Eisler. “If you are heavily invested in the Xbox ecosystem, you might as well get xCloud. If you are heavily invested in PlayStation, then you might as well get PlayStation Now. If you’re heavily invested in PC gaming, you might as well get GeForce Now. That’s what makes sense to us.”
Nvidia said that more than 1.2 billion people play games on the PC, but only a fraction have a modern PC with the power to play their favorite games. If you have an old laptop, you can still play a high-end game. That’s because the game runs in the data center on an RTX graphics card. Then the video is sent via broadband to the gamers machine and it is displayed on that device, even if it is an old one. The gamer can interact with the game and then the changes are sent back to the server, which computes the changes and sends the video back down the broadband connection in real time. That’s how cloud gaming works, but the system can bog down if the internet slows down (less of a problem in the broadband age) or if too many gamers try to play at the same time.
Eisler said that Nvidia has about a million people on its waiting list for GeForce Now.
“This may be the first time that they are able to experience real-time ray tracing,” Eisler said. “The next generation of computer graphics — we’re making it available across all of our devices.”
Expanded world coverage
Of the data centers, nine are in North America, and six are in Western Europe. Nvidia says that’s enough computing capability to deliver 20 millisecond response times to 90% of broadband homes in those regions. In other regions like South Korea, Japan, and Russia, Nvidia has partnered with co-location companies that can provide low-latency game performance as well. Games can run at 60 frames a second or sometimes 120 frames per second. The GeForce Now client requires only about 100MBs of space on the client device.
Eisler said that Nvidia has now upgraded its data centers with its GeForce RTX-based graphics cards, which offer features such as real-time ray tracing for better shadows and lighting. If you want to use GeForce Now with the RTX cards, then you have to pay the $5 a month fee in the beta premium service.
The open platform means that you can play games you have already paid for. Nvidia doesn’t have to worry as much about securing exclusives for its platform because you already own the games that you want and can play them on the service. If you own Red Dead Redemption 2 on the PC, you could play it on an Android smartphone via GeForce Now.
Free versus paid options
Free players can play games with single-session installs, which means that you can play one session for one hour. After that, you save that progress and start a new session. This helps Nvidia ensure there are pauses in the gameplay and that all free players can access the servers to get their own session time.
Games get added to the service weekly based on member requests, game popularity, and publishers’ input. Nvidia said it will add Chromebooks to the mix of screens that can run GeForce Now later this year.
Over 300,000 beta testers have streamed more than 70 million hours of gameplay in 30 countries throughout North America and Europe. All GeForce Now beta testers have been converted to the free plan as of today, and others can sign up for the $5 a month, no-wait, longer session-length premium experience. These members can play for sessions up to six hours in length and access the RTX content.
With the Founders membership, Nvidia is offering the premium experience with the first three months free, followed by a discounted rate of $5 a month for all of 2020. That price is notable as it is the same that Apple charges for Apple Arcade, which has 108 games that can be played on Apple TV, Macs, or iOS devices.
Nvidia’s GeForce Now service originally used first-generation servers based on Pascal graphics processing units (GPUs), and now it is switching to Turin-based GPUs such as the RTX cards. Depending on circumstances, each GPU can handle one or two users.
“Our goal is to bring more people into PC gaming, because you know, not everybody can afford a new PC,” Eisler said.
Sustainability of cloud gaming
Some folks are concerned cloud gaming could contribute to global warming if it becomes really popular. On the issue of sustainability, Eisler said that Nvidia is trying to reduce power consumption in its data centers. On the other hand, we may not have to recycle as many PCs if players can put off their purchases because of cloud gaming.
“We are actively working on a policy to work toward carbon neutral, but we’re not there yet. But it is something that we take seriously and the company is working towards,” he said.