Cloud gaming: from Playkey to Google Project Stream
We are often asked about the current state of cloud gaming, so we have decided to prepare a full answer. In the late 2000s, this direction seemed experimental. But now, cloud gaming has developed considerably. Most importantly, it is in high demand, otherwise, such giants as Microsoft and Google would not be so particularly interested in it. Let’s discuss the main service providers — Shadow, Project xCloud, and other platforms — and compare them to Playkey.net.
Cloud gaming services enable users to play games on a remote computer while receiving the game’s visuals and audio on their computer. For a proper gaming experience, visuals and audio should be synchronized, commands should be processed without delay, and there should be no lost data packages between the server and the user’s device. In theory, when using a cloud platform, a game can be run even on a calculator. But in practice, a good gaming experience depends on connection speed and quality. That is why movie and music streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify have skyrocketed in popularity so rapidly. Cloud gaming is still trying to achieve that goal, but at a slower pace — from the failure of OnLive to the success of new platforms in recent years.
Many users have a lot of praise for Shadow, developed by the French company Blade. The platform is available for PC, Mac, and iOS, as well as Android smartphones and tablets. Blade offers Windows 10 based machines, powered by GeForce GTX 1080, 12 GB of RAM and 256 GB storage. The first 30 days of subscription are offered at a discounted rate of $29.95. After that period, the subscription fee goes up to $34.95 per month. Blade reports having 36 thousand users across 7 countries and 5 data centers. The startup has been operating in France since November 2017.
New York’s LiquidSky would not be in this article if we had not been asked about it. The reason is that the service was officially shut down in December 2018. While the headline “Something big is coming” is on their homepage, its return seems highly unlikely.
As a startup, LiquidSky successfully attracted investments and even launched its open beta in March 2017. Servers initially operated in many countries, but very soon, the company decided to only keep data centers in the United States, some European countries, and Hong Kong. The target platforms for LiquidSky were PC, Android, and Mac. They required Internet speeds of 15 Mbit/s and upward. LiquidSky’s monetization came primarily from advertising and subscriptions. The beta was the final version of the project, as the service was never fully launched.
NVIDIA’s GeForce Now is also still in beta. It’s interesting to note that NVIDIA is developing two cloud services under one name — one for its Shield console, and for PC and Mac. The Shield subscription is paid, while the PC and Mac subscription is free as it is still in beta.
Some games are present in the subscription package, while others can be purchased directly through GeForce Now. There are also games available via Steam. A Shield subscription starts with one free month, but you will need a connection speed of 25 Mbps for 1080p / 60 fps, 15 Mbps for 720p / 60 fps, and 10 Mbps or above for 720p / 30 fps. The 32-bit version of Windows is not supported, and using Wi-Fi requires a 5 GHz router.
Google started testing its cloud gaming service in October 2018 in the United States. Unlike the companies listed above, Google is streaming the game (or more precisely, just one — Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey) right through the Chrome browser. The minimum connection speed is 25 Mbit/s.
At GDC 2019 Google revealed the Stadia cloud gaming platform, which is intended to bridge the gap between gamers, streamers, and developers. One of its most promising features — among many others — is the option to launch a game directly from a YouTube video. According to a brilliant and exciting presentation, AMD has developed a special GPU for Stadia servers, which is a few times more powerful than the graphics units on the PS4 and Xbox One. Stadia will also offer a special controller with a separate button for Google Assistant, which will assist players in multiple scenarios. For example, if you get stuck in a game, Google Assistant will guide you by suggesting walkthrough videos from YouTube.
However, the business model and UX details are still unclear. Will players be required to buy games to play in Stadia, or will the games be included in the subscription? Will use a subscription model at all? Will players be able to play any game, or are they restricted to games published on the Stadia platform? There are still many questions, but Google will hopefully answer them this year. Stadia is going to be launched in late 2019.
Tencent, in partnership with Intel, is working on a cloud gaming service called Start. In March 2019, the company started to sign up participants for its closed beta, but exclusively from the Guangdong province and Shanghai. No specific details about the service itself were available at the moment of writing.
Another big player in the cloud gaming scene is the renowned game publisher Electronic Arts. However, it seems EA’s Project Atlas is more focused on game developers than players, allowing them to create much more spectacular and feature-packed games that will run on a powerful cloud service.
Loudplay lists Skolkovo, NVIDIA and Huawei among its partners, and invites you to play any game from Steam, Origin, Uplay, Epic Games Store and Battle.net on PC. It costs 49 rubles per hour, just like in the old days in the computer club. Loudplay’s services and facilities are only described very briefly on its official website, and it is not entirely clear how the company gained access to the entire catalog of these popular online stores.
Paperspace / Parsec
This service stands out in its different approach to monetization. Fees change depending on the PC you’re leasing. So, for $ 0.51 / h you get a GeForce GTX 970 and 8 GB of RAM. For $ 0.78 / h you get a GTX 1080 and 16 GB, and $ 1.1 / h will get you a Titan Xp and 24 GB of memory. Parsec allows you to play in the cloud not only on PC, Mac and Android, but even with Linux and Raspberry Pi 3.
A P2P platform that connects those who want to play games in the “cloud”, with those who can provide a suitable computer. The quality of the visuals varies on a case per case basis, as does the delay. PC owners who agree to offer the service, are promised a commission for leasing their “hardware”.
Microsoft Project xCloud
Microsoft showed off Project xCloud on a recent Inside Xbox broadcast. Kareem Choudhry, who is responsible for the development of cloud technologies in the Xbox ecosystem, offered the presenter to play Forza Horizon 4 on an Android device (see video below). Microsoft wants to give PC, phone and tablet users the possibility to play Xbox games. This is a logical extension of the idea behind the Xbox Play Anywhere and Xbox Game Pass.
Public “beta” Project xCloud Redmond Corporation will launch before the end of the year. Microsoft data centers are located in 54 regions (they are connected to Azure), so problems with data transmission latency or packet loss seem unlikely, regardless of the user’s location.
The PlayStation Now service has developed from Gaika, and partially from OnLive. At different stages of the game using PS Now, it was possible to stream games on PS3, PS Vita, PS TV, TVs, and Sony Blu-ray players, Samsung TVs, PS4 and PC. Now, the program only supports PS4 and PC. The PS Now the library has over 750 projects for PS4, PS3 and PS2. In the US, a 30-day subscription is priced at $ 20, and a 3-month subscription at $ 45.
There are several drawbacks: the lack of recent games (on the other hand, there is no need to buy games, because they are provided by subscription, like the Xbox Game Pass), the need for a DualShock 4 controller, and no Mac support.
Just like Shadow, Vortex originated from Europe. This is a product of the Polish company RemoteMyApp. As in Project Stream, the primary feature is streaming games through a browser. Computer requirements are Windows 10, an Intel Core i5 processor and 1 GB of video memory. Vortex also has plans for Mac and Android. Access to 100+ games in the “cloud” for 100 hours per month, will cost you $10. Here’s the important part. The games you want to play must be purchased on Steam / Origin before installing the Vortex application. The main drawback is the same as for Shadow — still not enough servers, particularly in the USA.
There’s one more European cloud service worth mentioning — PlayGiga (Spain).
To conclude, let’s look at Playkey.net. As on other platforms, Playkey provides you with a powerful remote machine powered by an up-to-date processor (up to 8 cores), a video card with up to 8 GB, and a corresponding amount of RAM (up to 20 GB). The image is transmitted at Full HD at 60 fps. The requirements for your hardware are minimal — a 1.5 GHz CPU, 1 GB of RAM, and an Internet connection of 10 Mbps or higher. Your OS needs to be Windows or macOS 10.8 ir higher. Playkey.net supports Steam, Uplay, and Origin.
The servers are based in the Russian Federation, which means Russian users tend to get a better experience. Additionally, all new AAA games are added to the service on the day they are released.
Before purchasing a subscription ($ 20–35 per month), you can test your latency and image quality in a free demo mode.
Following OnLive’s failure, cloud gaming seemed destined to die soon. But contrary to expectations, it is clear that it is in fact alive and growing. It is not a whim of corporations or another impossible dream of start-ups — it is a requirement of the digital age. Microsoft is talking about cloud gaming as a universal way of exploring games on any device. And we have all the technologies for that. Cloud gaming makes it perfectly possible to play comfortably on any device as though you were playing on top-spec PC. Furthermore, cloud gaming has the potential to popularize technologies such as ray tracing and similar innovations, because a subscription is way cheaper than buying an RTX video card, which in addition to its high price point, also has a limited lifetime.
So, what do you think of the platforms and services listed in this article? Have you experienced cloud gaming in person? Are you considering trying it? Share your opinion in the comments below!