The Best Cloud Gaming Services Aren't Great (Yet)

Game streaming services let you play big games on your phone or browser, with some trade-offs.

The Best Cloud Gaming Services Aren't Great (Yet)

What is cloud gaming?

Cloud gaming lets you stream games from a remote location, much like streaming movies on Hulu or Netflix. Cloud gaming eliminates the requirement to install certain games on your computer or match hardware requirements. You can also play across devices and resume progress saved in the cloud.

If you live in a country that offers the service you want to use, you only need a cloud gaming subscription, an Internet connection, a device compatible with it, such as a smartphone or laptop, and in some cases, a controller. Our testing has shown that a wired connection is the best option.

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Cloud gaming is a great option for those who don't have the money to upgrade their consoles or PCs, but still want to play their favorite games.

We tested games across a variety of devices and locations, including Xbox Cloud Gaming and PlayStation Plus Premium. On every front, we experienced mixed results. We have yet to find a definitive recommendation that would work for everyone. We had inconsistent results regardless of the internet speed, connection type and device used. It's impossible to know in advance if you will get the streaming quality that you want, and a faster internet connection does not guarantee better performance.

How do we test?

Wirecutter recruited 15 Wirecutter employees from California, Massachusetts Michigan, New Jersey New York and North Carolina to test cloud gaming services under different scenarios.

Each cloud service was tested on a variety of iOS and Android devices, Macs and Windows computers, as well as Chromebooks, Smart TVs and gaming consoles. on smart TVs and Netflix on game consoles were used to measure and record our connection speeds. Others used Wi-Fi and mobile data, while others tested hardwired connections. The download speeds of the testers ranged between 13 Mbps and 980 Mbps.

We played Assassin's creed: Odyssey on each device for at least 30 mins. This is a game with a high graphic intensity that we found in every cloud gaming service. We also tested Stardew valley to see if it could be supported by the service. We substituted Guacamelee for Dead Cells because it was not available in the library. It is similar to Dead Cells, in terms of its speed and responsiveness.

We recorded the time it took each game to load and made notes about resolution, latency and overall performance.

Xbox Cloud Gaming is included in an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate Subscription. This is the best deal for money, even though Xbox will increase the monthly Game Pass Ultimate fee from $15 to $17 starting July 2023. There's no way of knowing if you'll enjoy the performance.

You can stream games from the Game Pass Library. Xbox has a large selection of major and indie titles. It also offers access to all Forza and Halo games. There is no other service that offers the same selection of games and price.

The service is easily accessible across a variety of devices. Xbox's service loaded games for us in less than one minute and was intuitive. It was easy to switch between devices and resume a game we had previously played.

The performance was unpredictable and erratic. Only 50% of the staff members who participated in our testing said they would return to Xbox Cloud Gaming. The performance of the games varied from perfect for some testers, to unplayable for others. It didn't appear that any single factor such as internet connection or device type was responsible for poor results. We don't recommend Game Pass for cloud gaming unless there is a great deal and you can test it first.

It is possible to play games without using a controller. However, you may not enjoy it. Some cloud games in Game Pass offer touchscreen controls. However, depending on the game and device, these controls might cover your entire screen or be unintuitive. Xbox doesn't yet support keyboard and mouse input, so you will still need to use a controller on other devices.

Compatible devices: Android devices, iOS devices, Macs, PCs, web browsers, and select smart TVs. (Visit Nvidia FAQ for a complete list).

Nvidia GeForce Now allows you to stream digital games you already own. The service is not for everyone because Nvidia does not have its own collection of games like Xbox, PlayStation and Amazon. In reality, you'll pay twice. You buy PC versions of games from other online retailers and then pay Nvidia for a membership fee that allows you to play them through their service.

Xbox and Nvidia announced in May 2023 that selected titles from the PC Game Pass version would be available via GeForce Now. Details are still lacking on how this will work and which games will qualify.

The free tier has its limitations, but it is still nice. The free tier is not a good way to test out Nvidia's premium tiers. You can stream games for one hour on the free tier before you have to restart. The free tier also offers lower quality game streaming, and longer queue times to launch games.

Only games that you own can be played. You must sync your library from other stores such as Epic Games Steam and Ubisoft Connect to use GeForceNow. GeForce Now is not compatible with every game that you have on these services. Publishers must decide to include the games on a case by case basis, and they often don't. GeForce Now supports many free-to play games, such as Fortnite or Apex Legends. You can check Nvidia’s library to see if you game is supported.

For the best performance, your device must be hardwired to a router. Only a wired connection was able to deliver the best performance on GeForce Now Priority and Ultimate. Most devices, like phones and tablets, do not have this feature.

The majority of people should not pay for either the Priority or the Ultimate tier. You might want to consider the Priority or Ultra tier if you still have an old PC that uses a wired network and are not yet ready to upgrade. If you want to use GeForce Now on any device and play your games, the membership costs are not worth it.

Compatible devices: Android devices, iOS devices, Macs, PCs, web browsers, and select smart TVs. (Visit Amazon Support for a complete list).

The service we tested with the least amount of games had the worst performance. Luna Cloud Gaming requires an Amazon Prime membership to access. However, we do not recommend signing up for Prime for this service.

The price is too high for the game catalogues. Luna only offers four games free for Amazon Prime subscribers; all other titles require a subscription. Luna+ has a limited selection of obscure games, while Ubisoft+ is a more popular channel with titles like Assassin's creed, Far Cry and Watch Dogs. However, it comes at a steep monthly cost.

The majority of people would be better off signing up to Xbox Game Pass rather than one the Luna channels. Game Pass is compatible with the majority of devices and offers more games and a higher quality for less money. It provides better performance.

Luna was the worst performing service we tested. Our testers reported the most freezes, crashes and game-breaking problems. If you want to try it out, you can do so with the four games that come with your Prime membership.

We tested the most popular cloud gaming services but also other options.

For the same price as Blacknut, Xbox Cloud Gaming has a larger selection of games and more compatibility with devices.

Shadow allows you to run productivity apps and games that you already own. This is a great option for those who want to game and work on a powerful PC, without upgrading their system. It starts at $30 a month for a GTX1080 graphics card, with an extra $15 for the Power Upgrade required for gaming.

Moonlight is an open-source, free service that lets you play PC games on multiple devices. It only works if you have a PC that can stream to other devices.