A relatively new addition to the gaming industry, game streaming services give players remote access to some of the best titles on the market. Each service works a bit differently than the next, but in essence, these services allow users to stream video games to their screen in a manner similar to Netflix or Hulu. That means you won’t need a fancy PC or lots of storage space on your console to play high-fidelity games — instead, you’ll just need a stable internet connection.
Anyone looking for a relatively affordable way to access hundreds of games without upgrading their hardware will find much to love with these services. Although the technology is new, the marketplace is already becoming crowded with companies looking to create the next big thing. Here are the best game streaming services currently available.
Xbox Game Pass (Xbox One, *PC)
Kicking off the list is arguably the best example of a streaming service, Xbox Game Pass. 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, so long as you remain a member.
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 is 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 are included with an Xbox Game Pass subscription at no extra charge on launch day. That means games like Halo Infinite, the next Forza Motorsport, Gears, and the mega-popular Grounded are all available on day one through Game Pass. Speaking of Grounded, that’s a great example of a game that’s available through Microsoft’s Game Preview program — which allows users to play a game in what is effectively beta form. It’s yet another perk to having Game Pass and is a leading example of a subscription service done right — both from an economic point of view, as well as in its superb selection of games.
* Only Xbox Play Anywhere games are also available on PC through Xbox Game Pass.
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 5Mbps 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 with 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 the first three Uncharted games, Killzone: Shadow Fall, The Last of Us, Until Dawn, God of War III: Remastered, and Bloodborne. It also supports a number of third-party games, such as Dishonored, the Batman: Arkham games, the BioShock trilogy, and Saints Row IV.
New games are added every month, and the full catalog now includes more than 800 titles. PlayStation Now costs $10 for a one-month subscription or $25 for a three-month subscription. A yearly subscription is now $60.
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 and Project xCloud are capable of.
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 — 15Mbps minimum and 25Mbps 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 5GHz router is required, and you can use either a mouse-and-keyboard setup or one of several gamepads. Sessions are currently capped at four 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. Even behemoths like the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 will be available to play through this service. GeForce Now exited beta testing and is now available in three different tiers.
The free version offers standard access with a one-hour play session cap. The $4.99 per month Founders option gives priority access, extended session lengths, and enables RTX. There’s also a limited-time high-end option that costs $24.95 for six months, and offers all the benefits of the Founders version but adds special Hyper Scape perks and exclusive content.
Google Stadia is Google’s take on a streaming service, boasting the ability to stream games in 4K from a Chrome browser. Available to stream on devices including Android (and eventually iOS) phones, laptops, tablets, and televisions via Chromecast Ultra, Google Stadia effectively replaces the traditional game console. You have access to several of the biggest AAA games on the service, including Mortal Kombat 11, Destiny 2, Borderlands 3, and Darksiders Genesis, and updates are handled on the server side so you never have to wait before playing your games.
Not all of Stadia’s most impressive features are integrated yet, but Google recently showed off its long-awaited connection to YouTube, allowing you to click a link from within a video’s description to be taken to it on Stadia. Viewers watching a streamer on YouTube will be able to instantly jump into their game to play with them, or use a state-sharing system to replicate their save file and play from where the streamer left off. They’ll even be able to start playing games directly from YouTube ads in as little as five seconds, and they can access the Google Assistant for tips on how to clear tricky sections of games they’re playing.
Stadia will receive timed exclusive games, with a few hundred titles added to the service overall, and it continues to be updated with new features. However, the service has a long way to go if it wants to compete directly with xCloud or with the upcoming PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles. That should happen eventually, as Google’s internal development staff is growing, led by veteran producer Jade Raymond. It also recently acquired Journey to the Savage Planet creator Typhoon Studios.
Stadia is certainly one of the most robust game-streaming services today, but we would still suggest waiting until it receives a better game lineup. Still, if you don’t own a traditional console, it’s a quick way to jump into AAA gaming, and you can cancel your subscription if you decide it isn’t for you. You can currently access the free version, which caps its games at 1080p resolution. The Pro option costs $10 a month and allows 4K streaming, along with a library of “free games” each month and discounts.
The main issue with Stadia is in its library, which is currently limited to just over a hundred games — a tough sell when competing with entire libraries of thousands of games across PS4 and Xbox One. Though, it is comparable to those platform’s services — PS Now and Xbox Game Pass — at least in terms of price.
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 (now known as xCloud) service back in 2018, and it aims to eliminate the hardware barrier between its library of games and potential players. It currently has a release date of September 15, 2020.
Using Microsoft’s 54 Azure data centers, xCloud allows 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 eventually, and you will be able to access your games wherever you have a network connection. You will also be able to use your own Xbox console as a server through xCloud without having to pay at all.
Unlike Stadia, which ties your controller of choice to your Wi-Fi connection, xCloud does so via Bluetooth, which theoretically will lead to low latency during gameplay. Xbox One (and Series X) 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.
xCloud is currently available for free during its preview phase, but only to those who already registered on the official website. During this period, more than 50 different games are available to play, ahead of its full release next month. Then, over 100 titles will be available to stream on an Android phone or tablet, PC, or Xbox console. You can also use it on a Smart TV through the Game Pass app.
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 or Xbox Series X, and need to leave, you can pick up your mobile device and resume your progress.
The coolest thing about xCloud is that it will tie to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which costs $15 a month, but gives you access to all the benefits of Xbox Game Pass and Games With Gold (as well as a Gold subscription to play online with others). So, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers will gain access to xCloud at no additional cost — and it’s something Microsoft is aiming to be as ubiquitous as possible, regardless of if you own an Xbox console or not.
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.
Shadow Ghost accessory lets you transform your TV into a Shadow device that you can use controllers, keyboards, and other accessories to play your favorite games via Bluetooth. And if you need to move your current game to a mobile device, Shadow even allows you to switch to a different screen while still running the game on your previous screen. This eliminates any downtime in between sessions. A 15 Mbps connection will give you optimal performance, but you can also use a 4G LTE connection to play on the go.
A Shadow subscription costs a little more than PlayStation Now or Stadia. The month-to-month option will cost you around $15, while subscribing for an entire year will lower the monthly price to $12. There’s no free trial available, but Shadow does offer a 14-day refund policy.