Streaming games are going to be big in 2020, with such heavy hitters as Microsoft, Sony, and Google already in play. NVIDIA, which has had its GeForce NOW (nee “GRID”) service in beta since 2015, is finally coming out of the shadows. Today it’s stepping up to the plate with a full release for GeForce NOW, and it’s swinging for the fences.
GeForce NOW has experimented with a lot of different formats in its beta period, at various points more resembling a Netflix all-inclusive service and a combination paid-and-free selection. The latest incarnation logs users into existing PC game stores like Steam, Origin, and Epic in order to access the games that they already own, meaning there’s nothing new to buy.
This is a huge advantage over something like Google’s Stadia, where your library is limited to new purchases offered directly from the platform. And to be clear, the games are streaming from NVIDIA’s data centers on its crazy-powerful virtualized systems. This isn’t like Steam’s in-home streaming or NVIDIA’s own GameStream.
GeForce NOW is offering a selection of games from these partner stores, which are available either instantly via NVIDIA’s hosted data platform, or downloaded in “single session installs” for classic, relatively small games. Game store features like cloud saves are supported—I was able to continue the game of Skyrim I’ve been playing on my PC for years, directly in NVIDIA’s streaming environment.
Game selection isn’t universal: a selection of games across all stores, mostly Steam, have been prepared for NVIDIA’s cloud service. These games install to your personal, virtualized Windows machine instantly: the launcher interface looks like it’s “downloading” the game, but it’s really accessing a pre-optimized copy stored at NVIDIA’s data center. Many of the latest super high-profile Steam games are ready to play on GeForce NOW, as well as a good selection of smaller titles, but it’s unlikely that you’ll get everything if you’ve been building a collection for over a decade.
A few quick searches found that Fortnite, Doom 2016, Rocket League, Overwatch, SoulCalibur 6, and the like are playable, as well as some older games like Team Fortress 2, Mount & Blade Warband, and Dark Souls. But I noticed a few holes in the lineup, like all of the Just Cause games, Far Cry 3 (4, 5, Primal, and New Dawn are supported), and Left 4 Dead (the sequel is in). You can play the new Fallout 76, and the older Fallout 3 and its quasi-sequel New Vegas, but not Fallout 4 from 2015. The system seems to prioritize newer and more popular games as well as “the classics” like Portal, but anything from smaller developers or publishers is something of a crapshoot.
NVIDIA claims that it currently supports “hundreds” of instantly-playable games (including 30 free-to-play games), plus “1000+” older games available via single-session installations. Unfortunately, there’s no master list at the moment. All these games run at their highest possible visual fidelity, with no need to adjust settings or drivers thanks to NVIDIA’s virtual environment.
And where can you play these games? On any PC or Mac via the dedicated GeForce NOW installer, on the NVIDIA SHIELD set-top box, and on Android devices running 5.0 or later. NVIDIA says that support for Chrome OS is coming later this year, but oddly there’s no mention of iOS. Gamepads and mouse-and-keyboard controls are supported. You’ll need a 15mbps connection (25 recommended) and the streaming tops out at 1080p, 60 frames per second at the moment.
How about the cost? There are two tiers at the start: free and “Founders.” The free tier gives you the same access to all the games and stores mentioned above, but play sessions are limited to one hour at a time. After an hour session you’ll be cut out, but you can hop right back on if the system isn’t overburdened. For the $5-a-month Founders tier, you get unlimited play sessions, prioritized at four hours each, plus access to some extra graphical fidelity in games that support NVIDIA’s RTX graphics card technology. Signing up for the Founders tier will give you a three month trial period.
At the time of writing, NVIDIA is opening GeForce NOW support to the United States, Canada, and western Europe, with Russia, Japan, and South Korea also supported by local partners. Players outside of these regions can still try the free GeForce NOW tier if their local connection is fast enough, but performance will not be guaranteed.
With a premium tier half the cost of Stadia ($10 a month) and a library already dozens of times larger, to say nothing of its compatibility with already-purchased games and cloud saves, GeForce NOW is already beating Google’s streaming game service in two key areas.
To be fair, Google’s is available on more platforms (thanks to Chrome compatibility) and does 4K resolution. It’ll be interesting to see how NVIDIA stays competitive with the likes of Microsoft as the 2020 console platforms get more fleshed out.
We’re actively testing the Founders version of GeForce NOW, and will have impressions for you later this week. But if you’re ready to sign up now anyway, hit the big button below to get started.