Three long years after its CES 2017 reveal, and two years after its beta debuted on PCs, Nvidia’s GeForce Now game-streaming service is finally launching on PCs Tuesday. The wait was worth it. GeForce Now obliterates Google Stadia’s value proposition in every way, from game selection to pricing. It’s available in both free and paid forms, with a “Founders” premium tier costing just $5 per month.
While Google Stadia will eventually offer a “free” tier, it’s currently available only if you plunk down $129 for Stadia Founders Edition, then pay $10 per month for a Stadia Pro subscription. That Pro subscription gives you access to Destiny 2 and a couple of other games, but you’ll need to pay full price to stream any other titles in Stadia’s paltry library. Even if you own a game on another service, you can’t bring it over to Stadia. It’s like a locked-down console in the cloud.
GeForce Now, on the other hand, is essentially a powerful gaming PC on Nvidia’s servers that you can play anywhere.
How GeForce Now works
Nvidia’s service doesn’t sell you any games. Instead, GeForce Now taps into your existing game libraries from Steam, Uplay, the Epic Games Store, and the like, letting you play games you already own anywhere you want by signing into the service you own it on. That means the free tier can be truly free, unlike Stadia’s eventual “free” version. Nvidia’s service supports numerous popular free-to-play PC games like Fortnite, League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, Apex Legends, Warframe, Path of Exile, and the free Destiny 2 base game—the crown jewel of Stadia’s launch lineup.
GeForce Now officially supports around 400 games, which you can find via the service’s search bar. That tally includes most of the more popular titles being played today, and Nvidia says it adds four or five new games every week or so. PUBG, Witcher 3, Skyrim, Borderlands 3, Dishonored 2, XCOM 2, and many, many more triple-A games work with GeForce Now, as do indie gems like Battletech, Stardew Valley, and Disco Elysium.
Supported games install almost instantly, appearing in your GeForce Now library bar, and launch just as quickly after that. Your save data persists between sessions with supported games, and they play nice with cloud saves when available, so you can hop between Doom on your proper gaming PC and Doom on GeForce Now on your laptop seamlessly. Nvidia keeps supported games updated with no effort on your end.
GeForce Now can also work with about 1,000 more “single-session” games. These haven’t been officially optimized for the service yet, and they aren’t permanently stored on Nvidia’s servers, so you’ll need to download and install them every time you want to play one. Fortunately, Nvidia’s blazing-fast servers download games in the blink of an eye. Here’s how Nvidia’s Jordan Dodge describes single-session games:
“The single session installs are games that you can play after launching Steam, but ones that we haven’t had a chance to on-board yet (typically older games that you already own). The way it works is you log in to GeForce Now, and search for/click Steam as the “game” you want to play. Once connected, you can go into your Library and can try installing those games. These installs don’t persist from session-to-session (hence calling them single-session installs) but if the game supports cloud saves, you will be able to pick up where you left off during your next session.”
There’s bound to be some games you can’t run on GeForce Now, but between the supported and single-session games, there’s a huge chunk available.
How GeForce Now runs
Nvidia offers GeForce Now clients for PC, Mac, Android phones, and Android TVs (including its own excellent Nvidia Shield console). Soon, it’ll launch a WebRTC-based client so you can bring the power of PC gaming to Chromebooks, too. Apple’s mobile devices aren’t supported, however, with Nvidia representatives simply saying “ask Apple,” when I asked if iPhone or iPad support is in the works.
The games look incredible, as we noted in our impressions of the GeForce Now beta. Nvidia optimizes GeForce Now games to run well at 60 frames per second at 1080p resolution. (Unlike Stadia, there’s no 4K resolution support.)
The service offers a variety of streaming quality presets. Balanced uses 10GB of data per hour and offers the best blend of image quality and responsiveness. Data saver only uses 4GB per hour, which requires some compromises, but still promises “good image quality and gameplay.” Competitive uses 6GB and focuses purely on lowering latency, sacrificing visual quality for responsiveness when it needs to. You can also custom-configure your streaming settings, adjusting resolution, bitrate, V-Sync, and whether you want to stream at 60 fps or 30 fps.
Nvidia ensures you’re running the company’s latest and greatest Game Ready drivers, too.
GeForce Now played games like a champ in beta, assuming you met the modest system requirements, but will Nvidia be able to keep up once the floodgates open at the service’s proper launch? That’s the real question. Nvidia says that once you’re up and running in a game, the quality should stay consistent, but if the servers are full, you may need to wait for a few minutes before you’re able to boot into your gaming PC in the cloud.
That’s where GeForce Now’s subscription tiers come in.
GeForce Now: Free vs. Founders subscriptions
The beta version of GeForce Now was free throughout its lifetime, and the full launch continues that tradition. GeForce Now beta testers will automatically get converted to the free plan. Free users get standard access to Nvidia’s servers, and their play sessions end after an hour. You can hop back in immediately after—there is no limit to how many sessions free users get—but you can’t just play games endlessly without interruption. That should help keep the queue for the service moving smoothly.
The GeForce Now “Founders” tier lets you play for up to six straight hours, as often as you want, with priority queue access that should get you into your games immediately. GeForce Now Founders can also enable real-time ray tracing in games that support it, so if you can’t afford a $300 EVGA GeForce RTX 2060 KO, you can subscribe to Nvidia’s streaming service for cheap and try out the cutting-edge lighting technology for yourself. Not all ray-traced games are officially supported—Control, Battlefield V, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider are noticeable no-shows—but Metro Exodusis there with Wolfenstein Youngblood and Deliver Us to the Moon, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is available in single-session mode. (Metro Exodus is the one to try if you’re just interested in ray tracing’s eye candy.)
Nvidia’s going for Stadia’s jugular with pricing, too. The GeForce Now Founders edition only costs $4.99 per month for 12 months, and you’ll get a free 90-day introductory period before your subscription timer kicks in. The pricing will increase sometime later, Nvidia says, so give the introductory period a try now and lock in the cost if you’re interested.
So to sum it up: Nvidia’s GeForce Now launches in full today, giving you the power of a full kick-ass gaming PC on almost any Internet-connected device. It’s a lot cheaper than Google Stadia, plays vastly more games than Google Stadia, runs cutting-edge ray tracing effects that Stadia doesn’t, and even offers no-cost access to Destiny 2, the big draw of Google’s pricey Stadia Pro subscription. What’s not to like?
We’ll see how Nvidia’s servers hold up once the grubby gaming hordes descend upon them, but on paper, GeForce Now looks like the cloud gaming service we’ve been waiting for—the opposite of Google Stadia’s stunning disappointment.
Brad Chacos spends his days digging through desktop PCs and tweeting too much. He specializes in graphics cards and gaming, but covers everything from security to Windows tips and all manner of PC hardware.