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4 Apr 2024
What Is Cloud Gaming? Your Complete Guide
What Is Cloud Gaming? Your Complete Guide

Cloud gaming is streaming your games online instead of playing them locally. Learn about the different services and find out which is right for you with Stone Refurb.

What is Cloud Gaming?

Cloud gaming is when you stream a game over the internet, a bit like watching shows or movies on Netflix or Amazon Prime. 

So you don’t need a powerful, expensive gaming PC or console to be able to play top games. There are no long waits while huge updates download or worries that you’ll run out of storage space. All you need is a compatible device - which could be pretty much any computer, phone or tablet, and some modern TVs - and a decent internet connection. 

You pay a monthly subscription to a cloud gaming provider, log on and play. It can work out cheaper than buying games if you play a lot of titles and want access to new games. On the flip side, you don’t own the games you play so once they leave the service that’s it - a bit like when a series leaves Netflix halfway through you watching it. 

It’s also a relatively new technology as internet speeds have only recently reached the point where high-quality streaming is viable. This means that different services are trying out different ways of doing things, so it’s worth checking if one might suit your needs better. 

What do I need to start cloud gaming?

The great thing about cloud gaming is that the entry requirements are low. There’s a pretty good chance you already have everything you need, with upgrades to the experience being low-cost if you get into it. 

First up you’ll need a device to play on. Almost any PC from the last ten years will get you going. You don’t need to worry about powerful processors or expensive GPUs - all that is handled in the cloud. As long as you can run an up-to-date version of a modern browser like Chrome or Edge you’re good to go. That means you can play from any operating system too - including things like Linux and MacOS. 

Most phones or tablets will work too, as long as you’re running a reasonably recent version of Android or iOS.  

The one thing you might need to upgrade sooner rather than later is your controller. Trying to play games designed for a PC or console on your phone’s touchscreen or laptop touchpad isn’t a great experience and you’ll probably get frustrated pretty quickly. So you might want to pick up a mouse or controller - just be sure to double-check that it will work with your device and service before buying. 

There will be PC system requirements but they’re usually pretty low. For example, one service - GeForce Now - requires 4 GB of RAM and a DirectX 11 compatible GPU. Xbox Cloud Gaming on the other hand only specifies the version of Windows you need to be running and doesn’t require a GPU. 

Whatever hardware you want to play on it's worth checking that it meets the minimum requirements before signing up for a service. 

You also might need to upgrade your internet connection to get the best out of cloud gaming. You’ll need a fast connection with good response time if you want to avoid controller lag (where there’s a delay between you pressing a button or moving and it happening on the screen) and for smooth gaming at high resolution you’ll need a very fast connection. 

You’ll also need a router and connection to your device that can keep up. A cabled connection will be the fastest and most reliable but a decent Wifi device that’s not too far away should do for most services.

If you want to play on something more unusual - like a Chromebook or Chromecast - then you’ll need to check the requirements for the cloud gaming service you want to use. 

What’s so great about cloud gaming?

It’s a great way to enjoy modern, high-end gaming without having to buy expensive PC hardware or consoles. 

With some services, games are often included in the subscription, so you’ll have plenty to get stuck into from the off. And there’s no faffing around with downloading massive game installs and patches - you can just sign in and play. You can also play seamlessly between supported devices. So you might start a game on your laptop, then put in some time at lunchtime on your phone and finish up on the big TV in the evening. If you’re short on time his added flexibility can be a great way to squeeze some gaming time into your schedule. 

There are also a few different platforms to choose from, all of which work in slightly different ways. This means that you should be able to find something that suits the way you want to play. 

Whichever one you choose, you won’t have to spend a fortune. Monthly subscriptions are usually priced similarly to streaming video services like Netflix, with more expensive options available if you want access to high-end performance. 


And what are the downsides?

The biggest downside of cloud gaming is that you don’t own the games you’re playing. That means if you decide to stop your subscription you’ll lose everything - not just the game itself, but any progress you’ve made too. Some services might save this for you if you resubscribe, but it’s worth checking. 

You’ll also find your choice of games much more restricted than if you just buy them outright. Much like Netflix or Disney+, you’re limited to what’s on there, and titles don’t stay on there forever. If a game goes off the service while you’re playing that’s it - you can’t get it back, and you’ll lose all your progress. 

If you don’t have a reliable internet connection, you won’t have a great time with cloud gaming. It’s that simple. You need a fast and stable internet. So if you’re lucky enough to have a fast fibre connection then you’ll be fine - if you’re stuck on older tech or a lower performance package then you might struggle. If you’re not sure, you can always test it for a month and see how it works for you. 

There are free subscription tiers for some of the services. But you’ll be restricted to low-spec gaming and there can be a long wait to get connected, especially during peak times. Free tiers can be a good way to see if your connection is up to the job, but they’re not great if you want to game a lot. 

And while the costs can seem low with only a monthly subscription to pay, they can soon start to add up. Upgrading to higher-tier packages, subscribing to more than one service and adding in extras like controllers for your different devices and games can soon see the cost spiralling. 

What are the main cloud gaming options?

There are a few main cloud gaming services and - as we mentioned earlier - they all work a little bit differently. Each provider wants you to play their way, so the key is working out which one will suit you best. 

Xbox Cloud Gaming

Xbox Cloud Gaming isn’t a standalone cloud service. It’s a part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which lets you install games on your PC or Xbox console and play seamlessly between them. There are hundreds of games to choose from, including some pretty new releases and some big exclusives too. You also get access to EA Play, which gives you access to lots of EA’s back catalogue, though not all of these will work in the cloud. 

As with any game subscription service, when games leave the service they’re gone, and you can’t get them back. Performance on Xbox Cloud Gaming is generally good, but some games can suffer from compression artefacts, especially if you’re on a slower connection.

Find out more about Xbox Cloud Gaming.

Nvidia GeForce Now

The first thing to note with GeForce Now is that the subscription doesn’t include any games. The cloud service connects to your existing Steam or Epic Games account and you can play some of the games you’ve bought on there. Not all of them - around 2,000 games are currently compatible, so you’ll need to check if your favourites will work. 

This way of doing things has a couple of advantages. Firstly, any games you buy are yours forever. If you stop paying for the cloud subscription you won’t lose them. There are often great sales on both stores (and Epic gives away a free game every week) so you can build up a collection pretty cheaply, especially if you don’t mind playing slightly older games. 

There’s also a free tier available which means you can theoretically play your existing games in the cloud for absolutely nothing. In practice, there can be some very long waits to get onto the free servers, and the experience you get isn’t super powerful - but if you’re flexible and don’t want to play too much it could work for you. 

There’s also a midrange Priority tier with up to 1080p and 60 fps with raytracing and a top-of-the-line Ultimate tier, which gives you a blisteringly fast GeForce experience with full RTX raytracing enabled, 4k resolution and up to 120 fps. 

Both of these are available as six-monthly, monthly and day pass options, so you can see which one works best for you before committing to a longer subscription. 

If you have a really good internet connection and a decent collection of games then the Ultimate GeForce Now tier is about the best cloud gaming experience you can get at the moment. But it’s not cheap, and you’ll need decent hardware to get the most out of it - which might mean you can already play the games locally. 

Find out more about Nvidia GeForce Now.

Playstation Plus

PlayStation Plus cloud gaming is a part of the top-level Playstation Plus Premium subscription. That means you’ll get all the other benefits of PlayStation Plus  - like online gaming, classic games from older Playstation generations, and access to hundreds of games including Ubisoft+ Classics - as well as cloud streaming. 

But to get the most out of it, you’ll need to have your own PS5. That’s because you can only play PS5 games in the cloud on a PS5. Older games will run in a browser on your PC or mobile devices. You’ll also need a Dualshock 4 or compatible controller - you can’t just pick up any old controller and use that. 

All of this makes it seem like PlayStation Plus Cloud is only any good if you’re already a PlayStation owner. But if you want to play a specific PS4 or earlier game without having to invest in the hardware, it’s still worth a look. The price isn’t too high compared to some rivals and you get access to a great selection of games, some of which are PlayStation exclusive. And if you do buy a PlayStation console in the future, you’ll be able to transfer all of your saves and progress across with no fuss. 

It’s also worth noting that if you already own a PS4 or PS5 you can stream from the console to another device using PlayStation Remote Play. You don’t need a cloud service to do this. Your console needs to be turned on and you’ll need a very good internet connection but if you want to play away from home, or just while someone else is watching the big telly, it could be a good solution

Find out more about PlayStation Plus.

 Shadow Game Streaming

Shadow is a bit different to the other services in that it’s not just about games. A Shadow subscription gives you access to a fully featured Windows 10 or 11 PC in the cloud. This gives it some unique pros and cons. 

The biggest disadvantage of Shadow is that it’s expensive. Even the cheapest gaming tier is more expensive than most other services, and the high-end tiers are eye-wateringly expensive. There is a cheaper ‘Essential’ tier, but as this doesn’t include a GPU it’s not much use for gaming. Shadow also doesn’t include access to any games - you’ll need to provide your own. 

But the biggest advantage of Shadow is its flexibility. You don’t just get access to a specific gaming app. You can log on to a full Windows PC from any compatible device. This means that you can install all of your favourite gaming apps - like Steam and Epic Store - as well as any more unusual ones you might prefer. 

You can also install any other software you like, from word processing to 3d modelling, and use your Shadow PC exactly like you would a local PC. That’s what really sets Shadow apart from other services. You can use it as a work PC, to create content, to design games - anything you could do locally, but without having to spend loads on high-end hardware. 

Performance is generally good - the PC specs you have access to are not super modern, but they’re not bad either. If you only have a base-spec laptop then you’ll see a huge difference. And as long as you have a good internet connection the speeds are great too. 

If you only want to play games and nothing else then Shadow is probably not right for you. It’s expensive and doesn’t include any games. But if you already have a catalogue of games to play and you want to use your cloud service for other things then it could be a great deal.

Find out more about Shadow.

 Shadow Game Streaming

At the other end of the scale is Amazon Luna. If you’re already a Prime subscriber then you get the lowest tier of Luna included. This gives you access to a rolling selection of around ten games to stream. Don’t expect access to recent blockbusters (though there is the odd surprise) but if you just want the have a bit of fun now and it might be enough. 

You can also stream any Ubisoft games you already own on Luna. Ubisoft has occasional giveaways and very cheap sales, so it’s worth keeping an eye on those, especially if you already have Prime. 

If that’s just not enough for you then the next tier up - Luna+ is well priced and opens up a decent range of games for you to play. You’re still not going to see all the big releases on there, but you will find a good selection of older AAA titles, genre classics and some casual and indie games too. As with any streaming service, they’re only there until they’re gone, but as long as you’re ok with that it’s not a bad entry into cloud gaming. It will also work with a Ubisoft+ subscription, which opens up more games. 

The performance is okay but not amazing. You won’t get the super-high-end raytracing and 4k that you can get with other services, but it will still be much better than a basic laptop if you have the connection speed. You can buy a dedicated Luna controller but any PC controller should work fine. And Luna will work across a range of devices including Amazon’s own Fire TV, which makes it a very efficient way of accessing big-screen gaming.

Find out more about Amazon Luna.

So which is best for me?

The best cloud gaming service for you depends on what you want to get out of it - and what you have to put in. 

If you want access to lots of top games quickly and easily then check out Xbox Cloud Gaming or Playstation Plus. There’s no messing around with linking up different game launchers and worrying about compatibility - just log on and play. Have a good look at the games that are available and see which ones you want to play the most. 

If you already have a stash of PC games on your Steam or Epic Games account but nothing to play them on then GeForce Now might suit you best. You’ll be able to play all of your games (as long as they’re compatible) without having to invest in expensive hardware. It’s also great if there are specific games you want to play that aren’t available on other services. As long as they work on GeForce Now, you can pick up and play the latest blockbusters on a super high-end cloud machine. 

If you’re not so fussed about the biggest selection of games or the greatest performance then try Amazon Luna. There aren’t tons of games, and it’s not like running a super high-end rig, but it’s also really cheap - or even free if you already have a Prime subscription.

Finally, there’s Shadow. If all you want to do is log on and game then it’s probably not for you. The extra flexibility it brings also means that there are more layers of complexity to getting a game up and running, and there are no games included. But if you want a fully-featured Windows PC in the cloud that you can access from anywhere - and game on if you want to - then you should consider it. 

The great thing about cloud gaming is that all of the services listed offer rolling monthly subscriptions so you can sign up and see if it works for you. If not, cancel the subscription and try something different. You can even pay for a day pass to GeForce Now if you want to dip your toes into the waters of high-performance cloud gaming with minimal commitment. 

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and get gaming!