The Merriam-Webster Word of 2020 was ‘pandemic,’ and understandably so. But it wouldn’t be a stretch to consider ‘remote’ a close second. Remote work, remote meetings, even remote hangouts, have all penetrated the cultural lexicon—a product of necessity and modern technology. The gaming industry has also boarded the train of change, and remote gaming is getting increasingly popular. In essence, there are two ways to play a game remotely, and the terminology gets a little iffy since we’re talking about new technology, and every company brands it in its own way.
1) Streaming gaming: This is what happens for those who have a beefy computer with several games on it and choose to stream the gaming experience to another screen (e.g. a TV in the living room). The game runs on the computer but streams video to this second screen. Downloadable software like Parsec and Moonlight are used for these purposes. This type of gaming is mostly for people who already own the hardware and the game but just want to sit somewhere other than in front of their computer while they play.
2) Cloud gaming: This is what's commonly called the ‘Netflix-for-games.’ In cloud gaming, a gamer pays a subscription fee to access a company’s library, and it streams just the video while the game runs entirely on the company’s server. This type of remote gaming is designed for play anywhere from the ground up. This type of gaming is aimed at general consumers and entails, for example, diving into Halo on your cellphone while commuting to work or jumping into the battle arena game of League of Legends on your MacBook. Yes, this also means spending less time and money on expensive consoles and gaming computers.
And the cost is a big pro for cloud gaming. In a survey conducted last year, 6 out of 10 gamers believed that their hobby had become too expensive. Half even admitted to dipping into their savings or using credit cards to fund their gaming. And then there’s the in-game purchase model, which is becoming commonplace in the industry and tempting gamers at every turn. Given the challenges facing the physical gaming experience, it’s not shocking to find out that remote gaming is a booming business. According to Newzoo, the cloud gaming industry is expected to attract over 23 million paying customers and profit $1 billion by the end of 2021. The latter figure is expected to balloon to $5 billion by 2023, as the technology continues to improve.
Challenges to cloud gaming
Despite the promise, we’re still very much in an experimental phase of cloud gaming, and it’s often affected by glitches that leave gamers frustrated. It also requires a strong internet connection, which can be an issue even in places like Europe and the U.S. Nvidia, the chip-maker that also makes gaming hardware, has a cloud program called GeForce Now that runs for $10/month. The company’s vice-president, Phil Eisler, has admitted that the service still isn’t as fast as a powerful gaming computer, but thinks it’s the “way of the future.”
Furthermore, tech giants like Amazon and Google have invaded the market, seeing it as an opportunity to get into the global gaming business—but rushing into the space may have adverse side effects. For instance, Google launched Stadia exactly two years ago and offered subscribers the chance to play 22 games on their phones, Chrome web browsers, and TVs for just $10/month. The service was immediately criticized for having few games and poor performance, putting off gamers for a while. This year, however, Wired reported that Stadia had made some improvements. Whether they are significant enough to attract more gamers remains to be seen.
Best streaming and cloud gaming services for remote gaming
- Xbox Game Pass Ultimate: $14.99/month will give you more than 100 games for both Xbox and Windows 10. Cloud gaming is accessible on Android devices.
- Amazon Luna: Luna offers several, channel-based options for game streaming, a selection on the $5.99/month Amazon's Luna+ channel and $14.99/month Ubisoft+ channel. For a better experience, the Luna Controller, which uses its own WiFi connection, is recommended at a cost of $69.99.
- Nvidia GeForce Now: This service doesn't provide any games yet, but it allows you to stream titles from your own Steam, Epic Game Store, and UPlay libraries. It costs only $4.99/month.
- Sony PlayStation Now: This Netflix for video games spans the entire PlayStation family's lifetime but doesn’t let you buy new games. The service runs $9.99/month. ($4.99 if you subscribe per year.)
- Parsec: This downloadable desktop application allows users to remotely stream a computer’s display through another device, making it perfect for the remote streaming of video games. This software costs $9.99/user/month for individuals ($8.99 if you subscribe per year) and $35/user/month for teams ($30 if you subscribe per year).
- Moonlight: An alternative to Parsec, Moonlight is an open-source implementation of NVIDIA's GameStream protocol. It streams up to 4K resolution and supports 120fps streaming. The greatest benefit, however, is that Moonlight is completely free.
Some gamers are using Parsec and Moonlight to remotely stream games from, for example, a hotel room across the country, but the truth is that the technology still needs to catch up to prevent lagging and glitches. Currently, your best bet to play from anywhere is cloud gaming, and the options highlighted above offer great possibilities. If you want to make the most of the hardware you already have, but would like to play those games on a big screen, then both Parsec and Moonlight are extremely reliable options.