Game streaming seems to be the direction the Gaming Industry seems to be heading. The promises that this aspiring technology makes seem almost magical. With all the leading players incluging Google, Microsoft, Sony and now NVIDIA coming up with their implementation of the technology, it almost looks like it's inevitable. Will this be the new era of gaming? Or will this be just as gimmicky as the Windows Phone was.
NVIDIA's Geforce Now Game streaming service
On February 14, 2020 NVIDIA's Geforce Now went out of public beta and with a starting price of $5/mo attracted the attention of all tech enthusiasts and gamers alike. With the support of Steam, Epic, Battle.net and Uplay support, NVIDIA is taking a vastly different approach from Google Stadia. It's BYOG (Bring Your Own Game) model is different from anyone else working in this space.
But how does it stack up? Too bad they don't have a demo in India, as I personally could not test it out. But from what I have read from this amazing post from Will Greendwalt at PCMag, it is pretty amazing. Yes, it requires internet speeds above 15Mbps to even get started, but with 5G on the horizon, the future of gaming seems to be heading this way.
How does it stack up against Google's Stadia?
On paper, if you are an experienced gamer, you will likely have several games tied to your Steam account. The ability to just connect your steam account to Geforce Now, and being able to play those games on a macbook pro while you're typing a presentation sounds pretty amazing.
On the other hand, if you're a new Gamer without a dedicated gaming hardware, it still makes sense as anything you purchase on steam is not tied to the Geforce Now service, and you can stop paying for Geforce Now, and still play those games if you upgrade your hardware later down the line.
With Stadia, Google seems to follow the Netflix business model, with titles releaseed exclusively for Stadia, Google wants to lock you in and keep you paying $10 a month forever, nevermind the Games you purchase will vanish into thin air the moment you stop paying the subscription fee.
Overall, the open commitment-free nature of Geforce Now makes me pretty attracted to it, except with a small catch.
No Linux Support.
Why? Game streaming services, why? Being a software engineer, I have to be inside a linux system 24x7. And to be honest, Linux is simply a better operating system. While it doesn't make sense to develop and maintain games for Linux (even though Steam does think Linux is the future of gaming), but isn't it a bit weird to see Android Support (which is built on top of the linux kernel), but not Linux?
I reckon if you are building and maintaining a game streaming service for Windows, macOS and Android, adding support for Linux seems like a trivial task. The old driver issues are no longer there, and to be honest, a team of three to five people can port the game client within 3-4 months pretty easily, assuming the client is only receiving a video stream, sending out a event stream and playing back the stream.
What are the challenges faced by Game Streaming services?
For most of us ordinary people, Gaming is the most computationally intensive task that we perform. From you seeing a picture, to you moving the mouse or pressing a couple of buttons to an action happening in real time, every calculation has to happen extremely fast.
While all the game streaming services advertise that their games will work on 50Mbps connections, they are completely disregarding another piece of the puzzle: latency.
Latency is the arch nemesis of the Game Streaming industry.
Having a fast connection does not guarantee a low latency system. Open up Command prompt (Windows), or terminal (macOS and linux), and type
ping google.com I receive a ping of ~17-20ms on average(round trip). That means, every packet of information takes roughly 8-10ms to travel to the datacenter. that effectively means, if you fire a bullet, now, your gun will trigger 8-10 ms later, and you receive the information another 8-10ms delayed.
This essentially puts your interaction rate at ~20Hz. (1000/ping). While your video will play at 60fps, your game will not. and unless your ping is 2-3ms round trip, you are not going to get anything remotely comparable to having a dedicated gaming desktop.
This effectively means, they need to build datacenters at multiple places across the world like cellphone towers, and you're better off using a LAN connection rather than a WiFi or mobile network (as interference and other factors play a HUGE role).
Thus, I conclude, we are not going to get a full desktop like Gaming experience over streaming platform anytime soon.