Game streaming offers an enticing alternative to buying either physical or digital games. While the cost of subscribing to a streaming service is significantly lower than purchasing new games outright, streaming services also allow you to jump into the action without waiting for huge installations and updates.
For players with a good, consistent internet connection and a penchant for jumping from game to game without plans to return to any one title, it’s the perfect option. Here are some of the best game streaming services you can try right now, with some game recommendations to give you a sense of the titles you’ll get to play on each one.
PlayStation Now (PS4, PC)
Sony has some of the best first-party video games around, but you previously needed to own one of the company’s consoles in order to play them. With PlayStation Now, you can play a wide variety of exclusive PlayStation games from your PC or your PlayStation 4.
On PC, all you need is a DualShock 4 controller with either a wireless adapter or USB mini cable, as well as a PlayStation Network account and at least 5 Mbps of internet download speed. PlayStation 4 users need the same internet speed on their game console, and with either a seven-day free trial or a paid subscription, you’re ready to play the best PlayStation exclusives.
For PS4 players, a PlayStation Now subscription includes full access to multiplayer support, even if you have not subscribed to PlayStation Plus. Your save files will be compatible on both PC and PS4.
The service added a feature included with Xbox Game Pass: The ability to download games and play them directly on your system. More than 250 PlayStation 4 games are eligible for download and support DLC and other features you would get in the standard digital versions. It’s likely you’ll never need to download them, but doing so in case your internet goes out will ensure you can still enjoy your favorites.
PlayStation Now currently features some older PlayStation exclusives, including Killzone: Shadow Fall, The Last of Us, Until Dawn, and God of War III: Remastered. It also supports a number of third-party games, such as Dishonored, Batman: Arkham Origins, BioShock Infinite, and Saints Row IV.
New games are added every month and the full catalog now includes more than 600 titles. PlayStation Now costs $20 for a one-month subscription or $45 for a three-month subscription.
PlayStation Now also looks to be getting a potential upgrade, thanks to a partnership made between parent company Sony and Microsoft. The two companies will work to integrate Microsoft’s Azure cloud technology — the same technology powering Project xCloud — into Sony’s streaming and AI services. The exact impact this will have on PlayStation Now remains unclear at this time, but Microsoft’s data centers dwarf those used by PlayStation Now at the moment.
As we approach the next generation of consoles, Sony is also planning to allow players to use PlayStation Now on more devices, including mobile platforms. Content quality will, according to Sony, reach 1080p and beyond, putting it in line with services such as Nvidia GeForce Now, but trailing what Google Stadia promises considerably.
GeForce Now (PC, Mac, Nvidia Shield)
Own a Mac, Nvidia Shield, or a low-end PC, but want to play the latest AAA games? With GeForce Now, you can play the latest and greatest from major publishers without having to worry about your computer catching fire or, worse, running Bootcamp.
GeForce Now is not a content service like many of the other services on our list. You have to purchase the games you want to play through a digital store, such as Steam, Uplay, or Blizzard’s Battle.net. Once you’ve installed the app on your machine, GeForce’s cloud-based processors will allow you to run the game on any device, independent of their specs.
The service requires a higher internet download speed than GameFly Streaming — 15 Mbps minimum and 25 Mbps are recommended — and you must have MacOS 10.10 or higher or Windows 7 64-bit or later in order to run it.
Either an Ethernet connection or a Wi-Fi connection using a 5 GHz router is required, and you can use either a mouse-and-keyboard setup or one of several gamepads. Sessions are currently capped at 4 hours per player before you have to start a new session in order to keep the servers available for other players.
GeForce now is compatible with a huge assortment of games, though you do have to buy them in order to use them with the service. The list includes Assassin’s Creed Origins, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Injustice 2, Sid Meier’s Civilization VI, and Middle-earth: Shadow of War, to name a few. GeForce Now is currently in beta testing and is free for users during the trial period. You can sign up for the waiting list on the official website.
The other game streaming services on our list focus primarily on big-budget AAA games from major publishers. That’s great and all, but there are times when you’re more interested in playing an independent game from a small studio instead, and Jump is the perfect service for doing so.
Jump provides a latency-free game streaming service the company says is on par with what you expect from a game fully installed on your device. Whether you’re gaming on a Windows PC, Linux PC, or Mac, you can play the service’s library of games.
It also supports both the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive headsets. Save data is stored in the cloud, so you can always pick up right where you left off, even if you switch devices. Another neat feature: There are no microtransactions in any of Jump’s games.
The one caveat with Jump is that the technology used — dubbed “HyperJump” — uses your local system hardware in order to run games. This means your system will have to be capable of playing the game, though the majority of the games offered through Jump aren’t particularly taxing.
The roster of games you can play with Jump — all of which are included in the $5 monthly subscription cost — includes well-known indie games such as Cook, Serve, Delicious!, Gunhouse, Nidhogg, and The End is Nigh.
New games are added every month, and 70 percent of the proceeds go back to the developers whose games are included in the Jump library. You can try a two-week free trial, and subscriptions can be canceled at any time.
Xbox Game Pass (Xbox One, *PC)
The other services on our list rely on streaming technology to deliver you your games, but Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass works a little differently. For $10 per month, a subscription to Xbox Game Pass gives you access to more than 100 games, and you download them onto your Xbox One’s storage device just like you would with any other digital game.
This means you don’t have to worry about your internet speed affecting the quality of your game experience, and even if you lose your connection, you’ll still be able to play games.
And the games — the games. Xbox Game Pass has perhaps the best library of free games of any service on our list. From Rise of the Tomb Raider to Gears of War 4, nearly every notable Xbox One game you can think of is included through the program, and a selection of Xbox 360 games are also available through backward compatibility. It isn’t limited to Microsoft-published games, either, with a variety of third-party games also available.
The kicker, however, is Microsoft’s policy for future Xbox exclusives. All first-party Xbox games going forward will be included with an Xbox Game Pass subscription at no extra charge on launch day. Sea of Thieves is available as are big-name games like Crackdown 3 and State of Decay 2.
* Only Xbox Play Anywhere games are also available on PC through Xbox Game Pass.
Google took a leap into the game streaming business with Project Stream, a service that underwent a closed beta from late 2018 to early 2019. It allowed players to enjoy Assassin’s Creed Odyssey using only a Chrome browser on their computer, with a 25 Mbps download speed giving them gameplay nearly as smooth as it would be in the natively-running version.
Project Stream was then unveiled officially as Google Stadia, a game-streaming service designed to better serve players, developers, and content creators on YouTube through its integrated services. Playable on practically any device with a browser, Google Stadia allows players to immediately begin playing new games simply by clicking on a YouTube video of their trailers, and they can instantly get help with tricky sections with Google Assistant.
Google says that Stadia will initially support 4K resolutions, with potential for 8K resolution further down the line. However, allegedly leaked technical specifications for the data centers’ hardware suggests it will be using a GPU based on a design released in 2017. Should the service support 8K in the future, it will likely have to have its server-side hardware altered beforehand. Based on comments made by 3D Realms VP Frederik Schreiber, the next-generation consoles will also be capable of more than Stadia can offer.
Google Stadia will be compatible with traditional gamepads, and a special Stadia controller will also be available, complete with the Google Assistant button and microphone built in. It will also be bolstered by first-party games, with Ubisoft and Electronic Arts veteran Jade Raymond leading Google’s internal development efforts.
A final release date for Google Stadia has not been made public yet, but it is aiming for a 2019 launch in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Europe. Pricing has not been revealed yet.
Google isn’t the only company that wants you to be able to play console-quality games regardless of your location. Microsoft first unveiled its Project xCloud service back in 2018, and it aims to eliminate the hardware barrier between its library of games and potential players.
Using Microsoft’s 54 Azure data centers, Project xCloud will allow users to stream games originally made for Xbox One or PC on their device of choice. Everything from the Xbox One and PC themselves to mobile phones and tablets will be supported, and you will be able to access your games wherever you have a network connection.
Unlike Stadia, which ties your controller of choice to your Wi-Fi connection, Project xCloud will do so via Bluetooth, which will theoretically lead to low latency during gameplay. Xbox One controllers made after 2016 will be supported on your device of choice, and you will also have access to custom touch control interfaces when gaming on a mobile device.
Because xCloud is built on the same backbone as Xbox Live Gold and the Xbox Play Anywhere program, it supports cross-platform cloud save data. This means that if you are playing a game on your Xbox One and need to leave, you can pick up your mobile device and resume your progress.
Project xCloud is planned to launch slightly later than Google Stadia. We don’t have a final release date yet, but global tests will begin later in 2019.
One of the most technically ambitious game streaming services we’ve seen thus far, Shadow is designed to give your device of choice the power of a high-end gaming PC — whether it’s another PC, a Mac, television, phone, or tablet. As with Nvidia GeForce Now, Shadow doesn’t require you to buy new games to play. Instead, you can import your current games from stores like Steam, Origin, Epic Games Store, or Battle.net and play the ones you already own.
Currently, Shadow makes use of a GTX 1080 GPU capable of playing games in 4K at 60Hz or 1080p at 144Hz. It makes use of 12GB of DDR4 RAM and gives you access to 256GB of storage so you can have several different titles installed at once. Unlike Google Stadia or Project xCloud, you will still have to download and update your games, as Shadow is essentially letting you rent out a high-powered gaming PC remotely.
Using the Shadow Ghost accessory, you can turn your TV into a Shadow device, and it includes Bluetooth connectivity and support for everything from controllers to keyboards. Need to get up and game on a mobile device? Shadow promises that you can even switch to a different screen while still running the game on your previous screen, meaning you will have zero downtime in between sessions. It recommends 15 Mbps for the best possible performance, and is compatible with 4G LTE connections if you want to game on the go.
Shadow is slightly more expensive than PlayStation Now, and could hint at the pricing structure for xCloud and Google Stadia. If purchasing a yearly plan, it will cost $25 per month. On a month-to-month plan, that price shoots up to $35 per month. The first 10 days are $10, so you can try it and see if it works well before making your final decision.