What to look for in a cloud gaming service in 2022?
While game streaming doesn’t require as much data as you might think, with faster internet connections and the widespread availability of 5G mobile networks, cloud gaming has quickly become a popular way to access today’s hottest titles.
Streaming Netflix is one thing, but to both stream the game and pass the input from your gamepad takes speeds that just weren’t available a few years ago. Today, however, most households can easily (and successfully) game via the cloud.
Cloud gaming may be the future, but there are plenty of factors to consider before signing up for one or more of these services. First, you need to make sure you have a reliable connection wherever you plan on gaming. Whether that’s a fast internet connection at home or an unlimited 5G subscription for your phone, you need a robust network to be successful with any of the services below.
Once you’ve determined that your network is up to the task, you need to figure out which games you want to play. Do you want access to a growing catalog for a fixed price every month? Or would you rather have remote access to an entire PC that lets you play everything you currently own? Cloud gaming is more diverse than ever: whether you want 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 ranges from completely free to ridiculously expensive. Determining whether a service is worth the cost depends on how much content it offers and how often you use it. Some of our favorite platforms are a little pricey, but they offer a lot of functionality for the right user.
With cloud streaming finally coming into its own, there is a lot of competition in the market. For example, Google Stadia has seen a slowdown in releases in the summer of 2022, and while there are still a few bigger releases in the offing, it’s unclear what the future holds for the platform. Other services can easily follow the same path, so it’s important to be flexible about which services you sign up for.
It also serves as a reminder to check how often new titles come out for a service you are interested in. A platform with few updates in recent 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 different 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 certain 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 a month, you get access to a catalog of downloadable games for console and PC, along with cloud streaming support for PC, console, and mobile through a feature known as Xbox Cloud Gaming.
If you’re playing on PC or mobile, you can use your standard controller or mouse and keyboard to control the action. If you’re mobile, you can also access touch controls for certain titles. Mouse and keyboard controls will also be added to Xbox Cloud Gaming in the future
Microsoft is all-in on mobile cloud gaming, going so far as to create a range of official Otterbox gear to help gamers get started.
Best of all, the Game Pass catalog continues to grow every month. With titles like Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5 Playable via the cloud, you have instant access to some of the most popular games as part of your subscription.
The main drawback is that you can only stream select games from the Game Pass Ultimate catalog. There’s also no option to just buy Xbox Cloud Gaming – it’s only offered as part of a $15-per-month Game Pass Ultimate subscription.
That’s a minor complaint though, as almost everyone will undoubtedly find valuable bundles on the popular platform.
- Play games you already own
- Free Membership Option
- Regular updates
- Expensive for the highest level of membership
NVIDIA’s version of cloud gaming is very different from the competition. Instead of giving you a fixed 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 overcrowded 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 expanding its library of supported software, with new content being announced weekly. It also provides a convenient way to search the selection for specific games.
One of the best parts of GeForce NOW is the availability of a free membership tier. You’re limited to one-hour sessions, but it’s a great way to test the waters before opting for a paid membership.
The most expensive tier is called RTX 3080, which costs $20 a month and gives you remote access to an RTX 3080, along with eight-hour sessions, 4K resolutions, and up to 120 fps. The mid-level tier (called Priority) costs $10 per month and offers RTX support, six-hour sessions, and up to 1080p and 60fps.
Price is GeForce NOW’s biggest downside, with the top tier clocking in well above others on this list. You also don’t get games for free like many of the other services available. But the ability to buy games from your favorite store makes GeForce NOW a great option for those looking for a real alternative to a gaming PC.
Best cloud gaming service for classic titles: PlayStation Plus
- Huge catalog of classic games
- Multiple subscription tiers
- Streaming limited to PS4, PS5 and PC
PlayStation Plus went through a massive rework in the spring of 2022. The platform merged with PS Now, allowing subscribers to both play online multiplayer games and access a massive number of titles via the cloud.
Unfortunately, the only way to access cloud streaming is by opting for the Premium tier, which costs $18/month. Jump for it though and you’ll be able to stream several classic games from PlayStation history.
Sony’s cloud streaming service is currently only available on PS4, PS5 and PC, although Sony may bring the service to mobile devices in the future. The massive rework recently went live, and the company may want to iron out any kinks before taking it to a new audience. But for now, if you’re looking for cloud gaming for its mobile capabilities, look elsewhere.
Despite a few limitations, there is a lot to love about the cloud gaming platform. Availability varies by region, but players will have access to 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 limitations, PlayStation Plus Premium can be a great option for your streaming needs.
Best cloud gaming service for power users: Shadow
- Provides remote access to an entire PC
- Play all the games you already own
- Works on mobile and PC
- Not specifically for 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 is not limited to gaming. With a Shadow subscription, you can remotely access an entire PC, so you can play games, surf the web, or flip through an Excel spreadsheet at your own discretion.
That versatility comes at a price. A basic plan costs $30 per month, and the Power bundle (with 4K support and hardware-accelerated ray tracing) adds another $15 per month. However, it does give you access to a real PC, no matter where you are or what screen you’re looking at.
While expensive, Shadow is a great option for some gamers. Anyone who doesn’t want to worry about maintaining a gaming rig or dropping $1,000+ on a pre-built system will love the power that Shadow offers.
The ability to use it as a bona fide computer means you can essentially hook up a cheap laptop to a large monitor and play as if you were using the latest hardware. It also means you can multitask and use it as a powerful tool for working during the day and gaming at night. And the ability to check in on your smartphone makes it more attractive.
Best Cloud Gaming Service for Prime Members: Amazon Luna
- Playable on various devices
- Different subscriptions
- Prime members get a free rotation of monthly games
- Catalog is divided into multiple bundles
- Uncertain future
Although it didn’t go public until 2021, Amazon Luna already has a lot to offer. Not only do Amazon Prime members get a free rotation of games (such as: Far cry 4, Lumines: remasteredand To move house), but there’s an affordable Luna+ bundle that costs just $10 a month and includes access to some of the biggest games around, including Saints Row: The Third Remastered, Devil May Cry 5, Dirty 5and Yakuza 0.
If none of these games catch your eye, there are other bundles available. Whether you’re looking for family games, retro classics, or the latest games from Ubisoft, there’s probably a bundle that’s right for you. Luna has a robust roster, but the games are spread across several packs. That means you’ll have to look 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 dedicated Luna controller that helps reduce input lag, though it works great with Xbox and PlayStation controllers, as well as a mouse and keyboard.
The biggest bottleneck with Luna is the lifespan. As a relatively new service, nobody knows what to think of it. But Amazon Prime members should at least give it a try. If it ticks all the right boxes, picking up a premium bundle could be a good move.