Nvidia GeForce Now is as exciting as it is poorly marketed. It’s a game streaming service that’s been stuck in Beta Purgatory for more than two years. In that time, Stadia released and Microsoft opened its own Project xCloud beta. Meanwhile, GeForce Now still hasn’t claimed mindshare or word of mouth.
But GeForce Now might not need mindshare to win out over its competitors. That’s because it has a different tact – GeForce Now streams the PC games you already own. Because the games are cloud-based, there’s no updating or maintenance required. But it also means only select games are supported. Still, that’s a much better deal than Stadia, which asks you to pay a subscription and to buy a completely new (or replacement) library you want to own or may already own. Better yet, Nvidia is under cutting Google’s game streaming service by offering a $4.99 per month plan when Stadia costs $9.99 per month.
It’s not aimed at tech enthusiasts and early adopters. It’s explicitly aimed at people who own outdated gaming PCs or Macs and still want to play the hottest PC games.
Interface and Library
Setting up GeForce Now for the first time was a bit of a nightmare.
When you log into GeForce Now, you’re presented with a sort of junior varsity Steam client. There’s a carousel of hot games, but at this point, it’s filled with old titles like Cuphead and Tropico 6. I was thrilled to load up Halo: The Master Chief collection, but it wasn’t available. Neither was Monster Hunter, Red Dead Redemption 2, or Temtem. Nvidia touts “over 400 supported top games,” but the latest games I wanted to play weren’t available.
When you finally find a game you want to play, you click a button to add it to your library. GeForce then asks you to confirm that you own the game. (Again, you can’t play any games you don’t own.) Then, a new dialogue box appears, establishing your connection to the GeForce servers.
The screen chugs along for a minute with a display that’s a dead ringer for the AOL 56k modem dial-up connection. (Only 90s kids will understand!) It’s a weird system that feels really outdated. Thankfully it doesn’t seem to happen every time you start a game.
Once you’ve connected with your “Rig,” things get really weird. GeForce opens what looks like a virtualized desktop, complete with a virtualized Steam client. To play a game, you have to authenticate your “new” PC from Steam. My Steam password was generated by a password manager – which means its a long, inscrutable string of letters, numbers, and symbols. But in GeForce Now, you can’t copy and paste your password, so I had to hand-type the painfully obfuscated password. On the third try, I got it right.
When I finally finished authenticating everything, I had to wait about 5 minutes for an available rig to play Destiny 2. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I was able to start a game.
So far, performance on GeForce Now has been a tale of two rooms. In my office: a sleek, fully specced 5k iMac. In my living room, a crappy MacBook from 2013, barely hanging together.
First, I played in my office – which is the furthest room from my modem and router, but connected via a mesh network. I wasn’t surprised to find GeForce struggle there, despite having much faster speeds than required. When I checked, I was rocking 48.56 Mbps Down and 41.63 Mbps Up. But, for reasons beyond my comprehension, at one point my internet speeds dropped to 11 MBps Down, which is below the recommended 15 MBps.
Even when speeds got sluggish, the quality of my experience depended on how resource-intensive the game was. I was able to make my way through Cuphead unimpeded, despite the game requiring lightning-fast reflexes. But when I tried more graphically intensive games, like Destiny 2, the game stuttered, I felt noticeable latency, and the visuals descended into a smudgy, cubist hellscape.
During one mission, I died over and over again, unable to discern friends from enemies from random trees. For many rural Americans, without access to high-speed internet, this is the kind of experience you can expect from game-streaming services for years to come. Which is to say, it’s not worth your time.
But in my living room, on my 7-year-old MacBook, everything was different. Destiny 2 looked stunning and played perfectly. And you would hope so; my speeds held steady at about 200 Mbps down. I don’t think many people will have this kind of Upload/Download luxury, but it completely changed my experience.
No matter how I tried to stress it, it worked perfectly. At one point, I was streaming music to my Sonos, watching YouTube TV, and loading a video on my smartphone, and I still couldn’t get Destiny 2 to falter in the slightest. The game still looked pristine and I had no noticeable latency.
If you have a gaming PC, you’re probably within your rights to be incredulous. After all, what’s the difference between being stuck in the room with the fastest internet and the room with your gaming rig?
But for that small contingency of gamers who 1) don’t own a gaming PC, 2) want to play the best PC games, and 3) have blazing fast internet – GeForce Now seems like a winner. In some ways, it’s almost perfectly suited for Mac enthusiasts. I still have plenty to test, and I’m excited to test the exact latency, figure out just how much bandwidth GeForce Now is gobbling up, and, perhaps most exciting, try the service via the Nvidia Shield TV streaming box.
What else do you want to see? Let us know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to test it out.