Depending on who you ask, game streaming may be the future of videogames. Streaming services like Google Stadia or PS Now let gamers play games from wherever they are, on any device, without having to worry about a bulky console of expensive gaming PC.
The challenge is that current gaming services vary in style a lot. Some let you play games you already own, some require you to buy them again. Some will work on any device, some have more restricted access. And of course, some will simply have better performance and speeds than others. Here's how to pick which is right for you.
With Microsoft's Xbox Cloud Gaming now here, and cloud gaming likely to be a big part of next-gen console plans, it's pretty clear that game streaming is only going to keep growing.
Best game streaming services of 2020
Nvidia GeForce Now
Until recently, Nvidia’s GeForce Now was the best-value game streaming service on the market, mostly because it was completely free to use while in beta. At £4.99/$4.99 a month it's still pretty affordable though - and there is a free tier too, if you don't mind being limited to one-hour sessions.
Unlike PlayStation Now, which offers a library of curated games to play, Nvidia’s game streaming service lets you stream games that you already own across the likes of Steam, Epic Games, Uplay, and other PC-based stores.
A library of over 650 games comes pre-installed on Nvidia’s servers and are available for instant streaming, not only on PC but Mac, mobile, Chromebook, and Nvidia’s own Shield TV. The games are rendered remotely using Nvidia’s own GeForce GPUs and for those with a fast-enough internet connection there’s an Ultra Streaming Mode that increases framerate from 60 to 120fps - though resolution is unfortunately capped at 1080p.
The one shift undermining GeForce Now as the game streaming platform of choice is that since the service moved out of beta, publishers like Activision-Blizzard and Bethesda have removed the majority of their games from the service, meaning support has been lost for some of the biggest titles currently out there.
So long as you're a fan of the supported titles that remain though, this might still be the best choice.
For more information, take a look at our Nvidia GeForce Now explainer.
Cloud Gaming with Xbox Game Pass
OK, so it's not the catchiest name ever, but Cloud Gaming with Xbox Game Pass is Microsoft's take on playing from the cloud.
Tested under the name Project xCloud, the service is part of the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription, which costs £10.99/$14.99 per month. That means you can't pay for the cloud gaming part on its own, but the other Game Pass perks are worth it, including a huge game library to play on Xbox and PC, special deals and discounts, and extra subscriptions to Xbox Live Gold and EA Play included.
As for the cloud gaming itself, it's Android-only for now with PC support is on the way, though don't hold your breath for an iPhone version - blame Apple.
It's launched with over 150 games from Microsoft and beyond, and you can play some games with touchscreen controls or use just about any Bluetooth controller that will connect to your phone/tablet - even a PS4 DualShock 4.
This is especially great for anyone already gaming on an Xbox or PC, as you can pick up from the same save file or play online with the same friends across a variety of platforms.
While many game streaming services are relatively new, Sony’s PlayStation Now service launched way back in 2014, and aside from boasting a library of over 600 PlayStation titles to play, it’s the only way to play PlayStation games on a PC. Yes, that’s right, PlayStation Now is available not only on PS4 but PC too, allowing you to stream your favourite PS4, PS3 and PS2 games on practically any Windows-based PC or laptop (with a 5 Mbps internet connection or faster).
The library consists of over 250 PS4 titles, along with over 350 classic PS2 and PS3 titles like Red Dead Redemption, Borderlands and The Last of Us. While streaming is primarily how the service works, you can also download games onto your PS4 to play offline, access higher resolutions (up to 4K on PS4 Pro) and experience 5.1 surround sound.
Is PS Now worth it? We think so.
Shadow differs from other streaming services in our roundup because it doesn’t just provide access to a select library of games. Instead, Shadow provides the entire Windows 10 experience, allowing you to install any game or launcher that you want.
Shadow’s infrastructure is impressive too. It runs on professional graphics cards that deliver the same performance as (at least) Nvidia’s GTX 1080, along with 12GB of RAM and 1Gb/s download speeds.
If your internet connection is up to scratch, you can stream games up to 144Hz in 1080p, or 60Hz at 4K, with no noticeable lag. There are apps available for not only PC and Mac but iOS, Android, and even Ubuntu.
The base Shadow Boost plan £14.99 a month or an equivalent £12.99 a month if you commit to 12 months.
If you want something beefier, there's Shadow Ultra for £29.99/£24.99 a month, which grants you 4K visuals with ray tracing by way of an Nvidia RTX 2080 equivalent (plus a few other enhancements), while the company's top-tier Infinite service costs £49.99 or £39.99 a month and throws in twice the memory and storage of Ultra, with an RTX Titan equivalent running the show.
Comparatively speaking, the service is pricey, but considering what’s on offer, we think it’s worth it – it’s certainly cheaper than buying a gaming PC with similar specs.
Check out our review of the Shadow Ghost, the optional hardware component of the service that lets you plug in peripherals and play on a TV too.
Most similar in nature to PS Now, Google Stadia is the company's first real foray into gaming and it's an ambitious concept right out the gate.
Google's using its might and resources to offer gamers a high-powered cloud-accessible console capable of delivering up to 4K visuals at 60fps, complete with 5.1 surround sound.
If you've already read anything about Stadia you know that at its November 2019 launch, a fair few promised features were missing and in some cases, still are. Things are always improving, however, with a growing games library that now includes titles like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Cyberpunk 2077.
What's more, the service will see tight integration with YouTube, so you can watch or stream Stadia games and jump directly from being a viewer to a player with a click or a tap.
4K support is now available across the Chromecast Ultra and compatible PCs, while Google also extended smartphone support to include devices like the OnePlus 8 and Galaxy S20 lines.
You can play on your PC or phone using the official Stadia controller or a number of other compatible controllers, connected via USB, though if you want to play on TV through the Chromecast Ultra you'll need the official Stadia controller.
Stadia Pro (4K visuals, free games each month and 5.1 surround sound) costs £8.99 a month, while regular Stadia (1080p visuals, no free games, stereo sound) is totally free.
While most other entrants in our chart are PC or console-based game streaming services, Hatch aims to look after the mobile gamers. The game streaming service offers a range of 100+ highly-rated mobile games, including Leo's Fortune, Monument Valley, Crashlands and Hitman GO, available to stream instantly.
As well as playing games whenever you fancy, you can also join casual eSports tournaments and go up against friends and other mobile gamers around the world to compete for real prizes.
The streaming service works surprisingly well too, with little-to-no difference in terms of graphics or gameplay, and brings the high-end mobile gaming experience to those without a high-end smartphone.
The only limitation right now is that the game streaming service has been built with 5G in mind, so you'll need a decent internet connection to stream the library of games on offer.
We've tried it on 4G with middling results, so unless you're an early adopter of 5G, chances are you'll only be using it when connected to Wi-Fi - until 5G is more readily available, anyway.
Interested? Take a look at it on Google Play right now.
Game streaming service buying advice
Before we get into our selection of the best game streaming services available right now, let’s first discuss what you should consider before subscribing.
Types of streaming service
As it stands, there are two types of streaming service available right now: one type provides a range of games for you to stream from a dedicated library, like PlayStation Now or Google Stadia; the other provides the tech to stream games that you already own, like GeForce Now and Shadow.
You need to consider what you want out of your streaming service. If you’ve already got a large collection of PC games, but your computer just isn’t up to scratch anymore, a service that provides a way to play existing games like Shadow or GeForce Now would be ideal.
But if you’re new to the world of gaming, a service that provides a large library of on-demand games (like PS Now or Stadia) would likely be better.
With any kind of streaming service, internet connectivity is key, but it’s more crucial than ever where game streaming is concerned. This is due to how game streaming works; the games are rendered remotely at data centres and streamed to your PC (or other device of choice), with your inputs then sent back to the same data centres in real-time.
If you’ve got a sub-par internet connection, chances are you’ll experience severe input lag that makes gaming virtually impossible. The minimum requirements vary by streaming services, so do your research and run a speed test on your home network to see which is best for your needs.
For those with slow internet speeds, why not consider a game subscription service instead? It may take longer to access the games initially, but it’s certainly better than dealing with streaming issues.
While this may seem fairly obvious, it’s always worth mentioning: make sure your platform of choice is supported by the streaming service you subscribe to. Most offer PC support as standard, but depending on the service, you might also be able to stream your favourite games on Macs, tablets, smartphones, Chromebooks, and even TVs.
It’s also worth noting that if you’re a PS4 player, you’re limited to PlayStation Now, the only game streaming service available on Sony’s console. If you're looking for an Xbox-compatible streaming service, you’re out of luck then be warned: Microsoft's Xbox equivalent will let you play Xbox games on your phone, but won't let you actually stream games to the console itself.