While game streaming doesn’t need as much data as you might think, with faster internet connections and the widespread availability of 5G cellular networks, cloud gaming has quickly become a popular way to access today’s hottest titles.
Streaming Netflix is one thing, but having to both stream the game and relay your gamepad input requires speeds that simply weren’t available just a few short years ago. Today, however, most households can easily (and successfully) game through the cloud.
Cloud gaming might be the future, but there are plenty of factors to consider before signing up for one or more of these services. For one, you’ll need to ensure you have a reliable connection wherever you plan to game. Whether that’s a high-speed internet connection at home or an unlimited 5G plan for your phone, you’ll need to have a robust network to find success with any of the services listed below.
Once you’ve determined that your network is up to the task, you’ll need to figure out what games you’re interested in playing. Do you want to have access to a growing catalog every month for a set price? Or would you rather have remote access to an entire PC that lets you play anything you currently own? Cloud gaming is more diverse than ever—whether you’re looking to replace a gaming PC or play Xbox games on your smartphone, there’s an option with your name on it.
Pricing is always a factor with monthly services, and cloud gaming runs the gamut from entirely free to ridiculously expensive. Determining if a service is worth the cost depends on how much content it provides and how often you use it. Some of our favorite platforms are a bit pricey, but they bring a lot of functionality for the right user.
Since cloud streaming is finally coming into its own, there’s a lot of competition on the market. Google Stadia, for example, has seen a slowdown in releases in Summer 2022, and although there are still a few bigger releases on the horizon, it’s unclear what the future holds in store for the platform. Other services can easily follow the same path, so it’s important to be flexible on what services to sign up for.
It also serves as a reminder to check how often new titles come out for any service you’re interested in. A platform with few updates over the past few months is a clear red flag.
If you’re having trouble narrowing down the options, we’ve listed the five best cloud gaming services below. These are supported by a wide range of devices and come with various monthly price tags. No matter your budget or needs, one of these five should fit the bill.
- ✓ Impressive catalog of games
- ✓ Wide variety of supported devices
- ✓ Constant updates from Microsoft
- ✗ Can only play select games in the Game Pass catalog
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate has long been hailed as one of the best deals in gaming. For just $15/month, you’ll gain access to a catalog of downloadable games for console and PC, along with cloud streaming support for PC, console, and mobile via a feature known as Xbox Cloud Gaming.
If you’re playing on PC or mobile, you’ll be able to use your standard controller or mouse and keyboard to control the action. If you’re on mobile, you’ll also have access to touch controls on select titles. Mouse and keyboard controls are set to be added to Xbox Cloud Gaming in the future, as well
Microsoft is all-in with mobile cloud gaming, going as far as to create a lineup of official Otterbox gear to help get gamers up and running on the road.
Best of all, the Game Pass catalog continues to grow every month. With titles such as Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5 playable through the cloud, you’ll have instant access to some of the most popular games as part of your subscription.
The biggest downside is that you can only stream select games from the Game Pass Ultimate catalog. There’s also no option to just purchase Xbox Cloud Gaming—it’s only offered as part of a $15/month Game Pass Ultimate subscription.
That’s a small complaint, however, as just about everyone is bound to find bundles of value on the popular platform.
- ✓ Play games you already own
- ✓ Free membership option
- ✓ Regular updates
- ✗ Expensive for the highest membership tier
NVIDIA’s version of cloud gaming is quite different from the competition. Instead of giving you a set catalog of games, you’re free to play (many of) the games you already own through GeForce NOW.
This makes it a great option for established gamers with an overflowing hard drive. Steam, the Epic Games Store, Ubisoft Connect, and more are all supported, although not every game in their catalogs is compatible with GeForce NOW. The company is committed to growing its library of supported software, with new content announced weekly. It also offers a convenient way to search its roster for specific games.
One of the best parts of GeForce NOW is the availability of a free membership tier. You’re limited to hour-long sessions, but it’s a great way to test the waters before opting for a paid membership.
The most expensive tier is dubbed RTX 3080, which costs $20/month and gives you remote access to an RTX 3080 along with eight-hour long sessions, 4K resolutions, and up to 120fps. The mid-level tier (dubbed Priority) costs $10/month and offers RTX support, six-hour sessions, and up to 1080p and 60fps.
Price is the biggest downside to GeForce NOW, with the highest tier clocking in well above others on this list. You also don’t get any games for free, like many of the other available services. But the ability to purchase games from your preferred storefront makes GeForce NOW a great option for those seeking a true alternative to a gaming PC.
- ✓ Huge catalog of classic games
- ✓ Multiple subscription tiers
- ✗ Expensive
- ✗ Streaming limited to PS4, PS5, and PC
PlayStation Plus went through a massive rework in Spring 2022. The platform merged with PS Now, giving subscribers a way to both play online multiplayer games and access a gigantic roster of titles through the cloud.
Unfortunately, the only way to access cloud streaming is by opting for the Premium tier, which costs $18/month. Spring for it, however, and you’ll be able to stream various classic games from across PlayStation’s history.
Sony’s cloud streaming service is currently only available on PS4, PS5, and PC, although Sony may bring the service to mobile devices at a future date. The massive rework just recently went live, and the company might want to iron out any kinks before bringing it to a new audience. But for now, if you’re looking into cloud gaming for its mobile capabilities, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Despite a few limitations, there’s a lot to love about the cloud gaming platform. Availability varies by region, but players can access iconic titles such as Devil May Cry 4, Fallout: New Vegas, God of War HD, inFAMOUS 2, Ninja Gaiden 3, and more. So, if you don’t mind working through a few restrictions, PlayStation Plus Premium could be a great option for your streaming needs.
- ✓ Gives remote access to an entire PC
- ✓ Play any games you already own
- ✓ Works on mobile and PC
- ✗ Expensive
- ✗ Not specific to gaming
Shadow has gone through quite a few iterations over the years, but it’s still one of the most unique cloud gaming services on the market. In fact, it’s not limited to gaming. A Shadow subscription gives you remote access to an entire PC, letting you play games, surf the web, or wade through an Excel spreadsheet as you see fit.
That versatility comes at a price. A base subscription clocks in at $30/month, and the Power bundle (adding 4K support and hardware-accelerated ray tracing) bumps that up another $15/month. However, it does give you access to a true PC regardless of where you are or what screen you’re looking at.
Although it’s expensive, Shadow is a great option for some gamers. Anyone who doesn’t want to worry about maintaining a gaming rig or doesn’t want to drop $1,000+ on a prebuilt system will love the power Shadow offers.
The ability to use it as a bonafide computer means you can essentially hook up a cheap laptop to a big monitor and be gaming as if you’re running the latest hardware. It also means you can multitask—using it as a powerful tool for work during the day and gaming in the evening. And the ability to check in on your smartphone makes it more appealing.
- ✓ Playable across a variety of devices
- ✓ Several subscription plans
- ✓ Prime members get a free rotation of monthly games
- ✗ Catalog is split across multiple bundles
- ✗ Uncertain future
Although it only went public in 2021, Amazon Luna already has much to offer. Not only are Amazon Prime members given a free rotation of games (such as Far Cry 4, Lumines: Remastered, and Moving Out), but there’s an affordable Luna+ bundle that costs just $10/month and gives access to some of today’s biggest games—including Saints Row: The Third Remastered, Devil May Cry 5, Dirt 5, and Yakuza 0.
If none of those games catch your eye, other bundles are available. Whether you’re looking for family games, retro classics, or some of the latest games from Ubisoft, there’s probably a bundle that fits your needs. Luna has a robust roster, but its games are spread across different packages. That means you’ll need to spring for multiple bundles to check out everything it offers.
Despite the limitations of bundling, Amazon Luna is still a surprisingly good service. You can access the platform on PC, Mac, Fire TV, Fire tablets, Chromebook, iOS, and Android. There’s also a specific Luna controller that helps reduce input lag, although it works fine with Xbox and PlayStation controllers as well as a mouse and keyboard.
The biggest sticking point with Luna is longevity. As a relatively new service, no one is sure what to make of it. But, Amazon Prime members should at least give it a try. If it checks all the right boxes, picking up a premium bundle might be a solid move.