PC gamers have a ton of different options when it comes to playing their favorite games. They can purchase titles directly on services like Steam or the Epic Game Store, and they can gain access to digital copies with the Xbox Play Anywhere program. What is shaping up to be the future of PC gaming, however, is game streaming, and two of the biggest contenders appear to be Microsoft’s Project xCloud and Nvidia’s GeForce Now.
The two game-streaming services allow you to play games your device couldn’t typically run, requiring just a moderate download speed to function properly. But when looking at xCloud vs. GeForce Now, you’ll see that they operate a little differently. We’ve detailed the two services so you can see which one will best fit your style.
Immediately, you’ll learn that Project xCloud and GeForce Now are not necessarily designed with the same users in mind. Project xCloud allows you to play Xbox One and PC games on your device of choice, including an Xbox console, a PC, a tablet, or a mobile phone. Because it supports the same cloud saving system already in place for Xbox Play Anywhere, this means you can drop one device, pick up another and continue playing your game from the same point.
Nvidia GeForce Now is not designed to offer the same ease-of-access, because its purpose is to allow you to play games your current PC or Mac rig is incapable of running. As of right now, it supports the PC, Mac, and the Nvidia Shield handheld device. Because it uses remote PC systems to actually run your games, you can play a game designed only for PC and it will work on your Mac or Nvidia Shield. Your hardware plays just a very small role in the process and Nvidia says a decade-old system should still function nicely.
Microsoft will let you choose a few different controllers for Project xCloud, so you can play your games both at home and on the go. If your device supports Bluetooth, you’ll be able to connect most Xbox One controllers – those made after 2016 – and it will function as if it were connected to a console.
We also know that touch control will be enabled when playing on mobile devices, with virtual buttons on the screen to allow for the same functions to be performed. Rather than use a generic setup, games will have specific touch configurations to best serve their gameplay. Microsoft hasn’t touched on mouse-and-keyboard support yet, but seeing as PC games are going to be supported, we anticipate you’ll also be able to play with your mouse and keyboard.
Nvidia GeForce Now lets you use many of the same controllers you can use when playing PC games the traditional way. This includes wired and wireless Xbox One controllers, the DualShock 4 for PlayStation 4, and Logitech’s F310, F510, and F710 controllers. Because it’s designed for PC games, it also supports mouse-and-keyboard controls, which will be preferable for genres like first-person shooters and strategy games.
Regardless of whether you choose Project xCloud or Nvidia GeForce Now, you should not expect resolution or image quality on par with what you can get playing games in a more traditional fashion. However, especially when considering the smaller screen sizes the services could be running on, it isn’t wholly disappointing.
Currently undergoing invite-only beta testing, Nvidia GeForce Now is capable of running at 1080p resolution. To do this, Nvidia says you need to have a wireless router with 5GHz support or an Ethernet connection, as well as a download speed of at least 25 Mpbs. If your speed is at least 15 Mbps, you can play games at 720p, and they should run at 60 frames per second in either resolution. During the beta, sessions are capped at four hours before needing to refresh.
Because Microsoft hasn’t fully detailed Project xCloud yet, we don’t know its full quality capabilities. However, in a blog post published by Microsoft, the company said it didn’t see the service as a replacement for a console “connected to a 4K TV with full HDR support and surround sound.” This seems to imply that xCloud will be targeting lower resolution and will not include HDR support, but we will likely know for sure after E3 in June 2019.
The games you play on Project xCloud and Nvidia GeForce Now are going to likely be the deciding factor in which service you use – not because of what the games are, but because of how you gain access to them.
Microsoft wants Project xCloud to be a way for players to access an enormous library of Xbox One and PC games that currently numbers in the thousands. Even if you weren’t playing games on an Xbox One console this generation, the back-catalog and lack of installations or updates will allow you to quickly start enjoying games. As Microsoft continues to focus on first-party game development with new studios and new entries in established franchises, the game library will only grow, and xCloud’s existence will likely make owning a gaming PC or new Xbox system optional for enjoying the full library of Xbox Game Studios games.
Nvidia GeForce Now works differently. You must purchase the games you want to play first on a service like Steam, Uplay, and Battle.net, and about 400 games are supported at the moment. If you already own a supported game, you can find it in the “My Library” section of the GeForce Now app, and there is also a tab on the app to purchase different supported games. Third-party AAA games are continuously added to the list of supported games. Mortal Kombat 11 and Rage 2 are among the most recent additions, and a selection of the games will be pre-optimized for the service when you start playing.
Microsoft xCloud’s main unique feature is its ease of access and compatibility across multiple devices. Provided that you have an internet connection, you can continue playing the same game on the bus or train as you were at home. For those traveling on vacation, this also means you can continue making progress during your downtime. The experience should be nearly identical across your devices, particularly if you are using an Xbox One controller, and Microsoft says it will let you access content “seamlessly” across your systems. A demonstration on Inside Xbox used Forza Horizon 4 as an example, and it seemed to work as advertised.
Nvidia GeForce Now’s primary feature is essentially eliminating system requirements for PC games. If your system is not capable of running the latest Battlefield or Metro game without the framerate tanking, using GeForce Now will make this a non-issue. Mac users who don’t want to shell out cash for Windows 10 or partition their hard drives will also be able to enjoy the exact same games, opening up the door for dozens if not hundreds of more games to them.
GeForce Now also includes a feature it dubs “Ultra Streaming Mode.” Using this, Nvidia says your framerates should increase from 60 frames per second to north of 120 frames per second, which will reduce latency.
Because neither service requires you to install any of your games, they share one very important feature in common: no game patches. You will never have to wait for the latest content update to download before playing your favorite game on either service, which will save time as well as space on your storage drive.
Pricing and Availability
Nvidia GeForce Now is still undergoing beta testing. During this period, you can sign up for beta access on the service’s website, and if you are given access, you can access the service for free. Because free-to-play games are also supported, you can effectively try GeForce Now without spending a dime this way. You will still need to purchase premium games to use them through the service during the beta period.
Project xCloud will begin public tests later in 2019, but Microsoft hasn’t revealed a final release date for the service or a pricing structure. If it falls in line with what the company charges for Xbox Live Gold or Xbox Game Pass, it will likely cost between $15 and $20 per month.
A user on the forum NeoGAF who alleged to have information on Microsoft’s E3 2019 press conference said more information on xCloud will be given during the show. This includes public test dates, but we’ll have to wait and see if the user’s information is accurate during the Xbox E3 press conference on June 9.