Cloud gaming is, at its core, a basic premise: stream games from a server to your laptop or computer, and was originally designed as a streaming service like Netflix, only for video games. The idea is that you connect to a remote server that does all the game's processing; things like the player input, audio, and graphics and game rendering. This allows for two major upsides:
- Any system capable of connecting to the server can play any game the server is offering. This has broad appeal for users of lower-end computers, laptops, and mobile devices, allowing them to play games at graphical fidelity only possible on higher-end systems.
- PC Hardware can be prohibitively expensive in certain countries due to regional pricing, so cloud gaming services can offer a solution to those who cannot upgrade for any reason.
- In the case of the PlayStation 4, it's used to implement backwards compatibility without having to design it into the hardware or software of the unit.
- In the case of the Nintendo Switch, it's used as a way to run games that the handheld cannot run otherwise due to technical constraints, such as Hitman 3 which would bring the Switch's CPU to its knee's.
On top of this, these services, if they're not free, run on a subscription based system and that allows you to access all of the content. However, despite the positives, people were quick to point out its drawbacks:
- When cloud gaming first launched, you needed a really good internet connection, and back when OnLive was around in 2009, internet speeds the world over were never consistent enough for the service to be reliable. At the minimum a 1.5Mbps for SD graphics are needed, with up to 8Mbps for HD streams, on top of being a steady reliable connection. That, and don't live out in the sticks where broadband connections are notoriously bad. This isn't so much of a problem today, however, as US, UK and other respective country initiatives to make reliable internet nationwide a priority.
- If the ping time between you and the server is too much (say, a jump between 15ms and 60ms), it creates jarring input lag for the end user, making the game either frustrating to control, or borderline-unplayable. This makes single player games the ideal games to sell on cloud gaming services, as they rely less on accurately timed button presses.
- Since the services are usually subscription based, you are at the mercy of the service to provide you the games you want to play. If the service goes defunct, you lose the ability to play those games as well.
If you're looking to play the games you do own, you can use a remote play tool. It's the same concept as cloud gaming in that you're having a computer connect to a server to handle all of the game processing. The difference is your computer, or in some cases game console, is the server.
Examples of Cloud Gaming Services
- OnLive - Now defunct.
- Gaikai - Now owned by Sony.
- PlayStation Now - For PlayStation family titles.
- Project xCloud - A planned service for Xbox games.
- GeForce Now - Available for PC and mobile devices.
- Stadia - A service for Google devices and Chrome.