As competition continues to accelerate in the cloud gaming ecosystem, what you get with each platform already causes some confusion. Each platform operates differently. Some cloud gaming platforms require a subscription to play, others allow you to play for free (so long as you purchase games through them).
The question we answer here is, “do you own your games” and we don’t mean in a physical sense. We mean: “do I need to pay a subscription in order to play?” Each competitor answers this question differently, each with advantages and disadvantages.
Use this guide to understand the fundamental differences between the platforms and their approach to cloud gaming, as it relates to your streaming library of games.
The big differentiators in the game streaming competitors’ models: Can you purchase games outright? Can you stream games without a subscription or do you have to pay a subscription in order to play? What do you get with a subscription?
Microsoft Game Pass Ultimate Streaming (Project xCloud)
Subscription-Only Streaming Library
Game Pass Ultimate offers access to a streaming game library through a monthly subscription. You must pay for the Game Pass Ultimate subscription in order to access the Xbox streaming library. Project xCloud, now rolled into Game Pass Ultimate, allows you to stream these games to Android devices.
Streaming is only a subset of the overall Game Pass Ultimate subscription. If you also own an Xbox console or a gaming PC, Game Pass allows you to download games in the Game Pass library to your device and run the game locally. Downloaded and streamed games through Game Pass can only be played as long as they’re offered in the library, similar to how other streaming services manage their game libraries.
Nvidia GeForce Now
Purchased Game Library
GeForce Now offers access to a platform where you can add and play games that you’ve purchased elsewhere, unlike Game Pass. GeForce Now also offers streaming of any of the free-to-play games also on the platform.
GeForce Now’s free tier is more limited than Google Stadia’s free tier (see below), with a one-hour limit and queues for server time. Nvidia’s Premium tier (Founders Membership) is a paid subscription, giving users access to a priority queue and an increased session time limit of six hours. Given this, if you’d like to play your purchased games for more than an hour at a time without having to get back in line, GeForce Now requires both the Premium subscription and game purchases for a competitive streaming experience. The advantage with GeForce Now is you can bring games that you’ve purchased elsewhere to the platform, so long as it has been added to the the large library of compatible games.
There has been some controversy surrounding GeForce Now, with some game publishers and developers prohibiting users from activating game licenses on the platform that were originally intended for traditional PC gaming. This has resulted in many games being removed from the platform, upsetting many consumers with the belief that their purchased game should be playable on any machine they see fit. GeForce Now has the largest library of games to play over the other services listed in this article.
Purchased Game Library or Subscription Library
With Google Stadia‘s free tier, users can purchase games on the platform and stream them with no subscription fee, unlike Xbox Game Pass, but similar to GeForce Now. Games previously purchased cannot be “activated” on the platform, as they can with GeForce Now, making the game library experience more like getting started on a new console.
Stadia’s Pro subscription offers a rotating library of games and enhanced streaming quality. Once a game is claimed under the subscription, it stays in your library even after rotating out of Pro, but can only be played while your subscription is active.
Subscription Library with Channel Add-Ons
Amazon Luna‘s game streaming library appears to be most similar in approach to Microsoft’s game streaming library, though it’s not yet clear if any type of game purchasing will be available. Users must subscribe to Luna in order to play games on the platform, unlike Stadia and GeForce Now, but similar to Xbox Game Pass.
Amazon is the first to announce a “channel” approach, which is an additional subscription add-on for access to an expanded library of games. The first of these channels will be Ubisoft’s, which has widely embraced game streaming services across the board. Amazon is not the first to partner with existing publisher service offerings (such as Xbox’s relationship with EA Play) and will certainly not be the last.
Check back here for updates on Amazon Luna and its game streaming library.
Publishers and Other Streaming Services
This article covers the wide range of differences between the largest competitors in game streaming, though there are many other players and service providers out there. PlayStation Now for PC has a streaming library approach similar to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. Shadow PC, the competitor not solely focused on gaming, requires a subscription to access the platform, where you can install and play virtually any purchased PC game as if it was your own machine (with some exceptions).
Publishers are the key players in how the streaming game libraries of the future will be accessed and paid for on streaming services. Activision Blizzard, Bethesda, Konami, and others have prevented their games from being on the GeForce Now platform for various reasons. Only time will tell if gamers of the future will play and stream games they’ve purchased without subscriptions or if the value offered by subscription-only libraries will be great enough to satiate our game library appetites.