With the rise in popularity of streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime providing thousands of hours worth of TV and film content at the click of a button, it was only a matter of time before video games followed suit.
The UK gaming industry is worth £1.7bn and, with literally thousands of titles on offer from Sony, Microsoft, and other game industry giants, cloud gaming is fast becoming the way to play the latest and greatest games. But what is cloud gaming? And is it really any better than traditional console or PC gaming?
What is Cloud Gaming?
Essentially, cloud gaming is a service that runs games on a cloud server and streams the output to your device. In other words, you connect to these servers while the game streams in real-time over the internet.
Perhaps the biggest advantage to cloud gaming is that you don't need the latest and most powerful console or hardware - like a Playstation 5 or a massive gaming rig - to play. The cloud server does all the heavy lifting. Devices that support cloud gaming services include laptops, desktop PCs, consoles, tablets, and smartphones.
Benefits of cloud gaming
There are a number of benefits cloud gaming has over the more traditional method of buying a physical copy of a game or digitally downloading a title from an online game store:-
Patches (fixes) are applied automatically, meaning you avoid the need to download large files in order to get the latest bug-free version of a game.
No download or installation required
Because the games you're playing are streamed in real-time from the server, there's no need to download and install large files.
Access via almost any device
You can play some of the latest games on offer without the need for the latest console or gaming PC. From low-spec tablets to iPhones and smart TVs, cloud gaming allows you to play at the highest resolution and best specs with the device you have available.
How important is broadband speed for cloud gaming?
When it comes to cloud gaming, broadband speed is essential. Similar to streaming content in 4K Ultra HD on Netflix, streaming games is a bandwidth-heavy activity, so having fibre - or better yet, a full fibre - broadband connection is recommended. You can run a quote to find out whether a fibre broadband connection is available to you.
Most cloud gaming services will recommended a minimum download speed of 10Mbps. And the higher your frame rate and resolution, the higher speeds you'll need. For example, Nvidia's GeForce requires a minimum of 25Mbps to stream at 1080p resolution and 60 FPS (frames per second), with latency lower than 80 milliseconds (ms).
Ensuring you have the right broadband speed for your household is key when deciding whether or not you'll get into cloud gaming. Having faster speeds and more bandwidth also means that anyone else in the household will be able to get online at the same time - either a group gaming session, or for other online activities altogether.
Dealing with latency
In addition to broadband speed, latency is another important factor when considering jumping into cloud gaming.
In online gaming terms, latency - or "ping" - is the time it takes (measured in milliseconds) for an input to be sent to the network and back again.
When gaming online, no data needs to be transferred over the network, only commands and inputs. So, for example, if you're playing a round of Call of Duty Modern Warfare with a latency of 75 milliseconds, and in the game you press the command to shoot somebody, it will take 75 milliseconds for that input to be sent and for that action to be reflected on screen.
Thankfully, difference in latency between broadband providers is negligible, so it's not something you'll need to consider when selecting a broadband package. But you will want to ensure you have the right kind of broadband connection so that your latency stays at a minimum.
What cloud gaming services are available in the UK?
There are a number of cloud gaming services currently available in the UK. Below is a run down of some of the most popular services, and what they have to offer.
Boosteroid offers access to both free and paid games from a wide range of popular storefronts, including Battle.net, Epic, and Steam. All you'll need to access the service is a Boosteroid-supported device and to pay a monthly subscription. Included in the Boosteroid library are titles such as Elden Ring and GTA V.
Nvidia's cloud gaming service, GeForce acts similar to Boosteroid in that it allows you to access and stream a list of free and paid-for titles, with new games added every Thursday. Titles on offer include the Assassin’s Creed, Hitman, and Far Cry series.
If you're looking to save on subscription fees, Nvidia offers a baseline tier for free. In order to take advantage of the free tier, you'll need to wait in a queue to play and your play time will be limited to one hour per session. However, it's a great opportunity to test whether your broadband connection is reliable enough to handle cloud gaming.
Rather than just a cloud gaming service, Shadow is more of a PC renting service in the cloud. Instead of paying a monthly subscription fee to access a library of games, the fee you pay gives you a powerful Windows 10 PC available over almost any device - including Macs and iPhones. This means you'll be able to install any game on any DRM (Digital Rights Management) platform - such as Steam and Epic - as well as DRM-free games from services like GOG.com.
Playstation (PS) Plus Premium
Subscribers to Sony's PS Plus Premium service (£13.49 per month), will be able to select from over 800 titles from the Playstation library. The library includes games from the Playstation 4, Playstation 3, as well as a select number of titles from the Playstation 2. Aside from the array of classic titles on offer, more recent hits such as Assassin's Creed: Valhalla and Fallout 4 are also available.
Xbox cloud gaming
In order to access cloud gaming with Xbox, you'll need Xbox's Game Pass Ultimate Edition - a monthly subscription service currently priced at £10.99 per month. The service will give you access to a library of more than 100 games, with titles added regularly.
What about Google's streaming service Stadia?
On the 29th of September 2022, Google announced that its cloud streaming service Stadia, would cease operating by late January 2023. You can no longer make purchases through the platform, and Google is offering full refunds to any customers who made purchases in the Stadia ecosystem during its three-year existence.
Which devices can be used for cloud gaming?
Although cloud gaming is device-agnostic by design, some cloud services are more flexible than others. Below is a list of cloud gaming services currently available in the UK with the devices they support:-
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How can I optimise my cloud gaming experience?
Here are some practical steps you can take to optimise your cloud gaming experience:
Test your ping time
Most games available over cloud streaming will let you check the communication speed between you and the network. For a lag-free experience, you'll ideally want a ping time under 50ms.
Use servers that are close to you
Wherever possible, connect to game servers that are closest to your location rather than far away (e.g., abroad).
Make sure you have the strongest Wi-Fi signal available
Ensure your router is nearest to the device you're using and if you can, use 5GHz Wi-Fi (802.11ac).
For the fastest and most reliable connection available, link your device to your router via an Ethernet cable.
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