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Is Nvidia Building the Thing People Actually Wanted From Stadia?

Nvidia's streaming service has quietly existed since 2013, but these days, it can stream the games you already own on Steam.

by Patrick Klepek
Jan 31 2020, 3:42pm

Image courtesy of CD Projekt RED

The premise of Google’s streaming service, Stadia, is simple: play a game wherever you want, whenever you want. That remains an attractive pitch, but as evidenced by growing complaints in the months after launch, reality is more complicated. Google has promised Stadia will get better—it has nowhere to go but up—but in its best form, Stadia is a limited platform; the games that you already own cannot take advantage of Stadia’s technology.

Which brings us to a tweet I saw going around yesterday:

Excuse me? GeForce Now is the currently-in-beta streaming service from graphics card manufacturer Nvidia, and it’s actually been kicking around in various forms for years—all the way back to 2013. Previously, it was a service that’d been tied to the company’s handheld device, Shield. It works like Stadia in concept. You click a button and a stream whizzes to life, letting you play a video game the same way you start to binge a show on Netflix. But GeForce Now has a key differentiation: it takes advantage of the games you already own on Steam, uPlay and Battle.net, which means GeForce Now has access to a huge library.

For example, Darksiders Genesis is a game available on both Steam and Stadia. If you want to play Darksiders Genesis on Stadia, you need to buy it for Stadia because it’s a unique platform. If you’ve already purchased Darksiders Genesis on Steam, that doesn’t matter.

But that’s not how GeForce Now works; it’s a gateway to other storefronts, not a storefront in and of itself. When you click on the Darksiders Genesis log into GeForce Now, you’re asked to input your Steam credentials. From there, GeForce Now takes over. The game spins up.

Steam itself has a streaming service of sorts called Steam Link, but it requires you to already own a powerful gaming PC—it’s spitting a video signal out from the PC that it’s already connected to. Steam Link works remarkably well for what it is, but what if you don’t want to spend $1,000 on a PC? What if you want to buy a game in a Steam sale and just play it?

With some caveats, that’s basically what GeForce Now is, and it sounds potentially great.

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The ramifications of this are enormous. Take The Witcher 3, for example. I signed up for GeForce Now last night, and after “installing” The Witcher 3 to whatever computer had been assigned to me by Nvidia—you literally watch the game download and install to a computer that’s in some server warehouse—I was able to start playing with my existing cloud saves.

Here in the VICE offices, using extremely spotty Internet, I was able to pull up my most recent save for The Witcher 3, a game I’d put nearly 150 hours into, without a problem.

Again, the Internet here isn’t great, so performance was iffy, but at times, it worked like a charm. It looked good enough. Given that, I can’t 100% vouch for how well GeForce Now performs, arguably one of Stadia’s best strengths. (I know others have run into problems with Stadia, but in various environments, including at Starbucks, I had great experiences.) That said, I have talked to several folks who’ve used GeForce Now in more ideal scenarios and report it’s entirely playable. Plus, that tech is only going to get better. That’s not a big worry.

GeForce Now has its own limitations, of course. It doesn’t not give you access to every game in your Steam library, only the ones it supports. Right now, that library is pretty small. There are lots of big games beyond The Witcher 3 Fortnite, PUBG, Destiny 2, Borderlands 3, etc.—but you are at the mercy of the games Nvidia deems worthy of supporting, instead of being able to just flick a switch and start streaming any game you have bought on Steam.

The real dream, I suppose, is Valve themselves offering a service that lets you pay to play everything you own through the cloud, but in the absence of that, GeForce Now sounds like it has the potential to deliver more of what people wanted from the potential of a thing like Stadia. And potentially $5 a month? Heck, free if you only want to play around for an hour?

Nvidia declined to comment when asked to confirm the specifics of this rumor, but it almost doesn’t matter if the rumor is off. GeForce Now is a very real technology with a very real service, and all that’s left is for Nvidia to figure out how they want to monetize it. If it can deliver on the idea of letting me play games I already own from anywhere? Take my money.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).

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