I still remember having to visit a local Blockbuster in order to rent movies. That’s right, physically walking into a store to rent an actual DVD copy of Starship Troopers. This ritual, however, became ancient history with the rise of video streaming services like Netflix. Shelves of DVDs and Blu-rays were replaced with digital queues, and the need for devices to actually play these archaic tomes diminished. For the record, I refuse to get rid of my DVD collection and continue to grow my Blu-ray library…call me old-fashioned.

Blockbuster Store Closure
But I never even saw the first five movies….
Image credit: helloken.com

Fast forward to 2017, with Nvidia’s CES announcement of its GeForce Now game-streaming service available for PCs and Macs. The service essentially allows users to run high-end games on PCs not typically suited for gaming by utilizing a grid of Nvidia’s supercomputers. In short, users may (one day) no longer need to purchase or build high-end gaming rigs. While there are plenty of caveats, this is a service that could potentially change PC gaming in the same way that Netflix changed the video industry.

The Rundown

Nvidia originally released its GeForce Now game-streaming service exclusively for its Shield lineup of devices, including the Shield Tablet and Shield TV streamer. The inclusion of PCs and Macs opens this service to anyone with one of these devices, whether it’s a lack-luster laptop or high-end MacBook (well-known for not being very gaming-friendly). Nvidia notes that users will login to a “virtual desktop” and stream games from the users own library, supporting access to popular gaming platforms such as Battle.net and Steam. GeForce Now users will not be “renting” games from the service, but instead will pay for their time spent playing their own games using Nvidia’s resources as opposed to relying on their own hardware.

Games on a Mac
Queue Mark Morrison’s – Return of the Mac-K
Image credit: techcrunch.com

The Caveats

This all sounds great right? Why would I buy a high-end gaming PC when I could just stream the games on my garage sale laptop that may or may not be missing several keys? The answer is: price. The starting rate for Nvidia’s GeForce service is 20 hours of play for $25 dollars at the GTX 1060 (lower-end) level of graphics. Stepping up to the high-end GTX 1080 performance will get you only 10 hours for that same $25 bucks. While the initial price appears steep, it calculates out to $1.25 or $2.50 an hour, meaning an entire night of gaming could cost under $5 dollars. What would $5 dollars get you anyways? A fancy cup of coffee? Less than two gallons of gas in Southern California? This is what many gamers could likely decide as “chump change.”

GeForce Ad
Weird that they have a Toshiba laptop in the picture, or IS it….
Image credit: geforce.com

Pending a user’s willingness to fork out a few bucks in order to play games on their 6-year-old discontinued Toshiba laptop, the service will have some other issues to overcome before it takes over the world. Lag-free performance is a critical part of most competitive online multiplayer games, where a split second interruption could mean the difference between awe-inspiring victory and soul-crushing defeat. Even with top internet speeds, something that every user may not have access to, it is currently unproven whether this new streaming service will be able to offer the same level of performance as “the real thing.” Regardless, with increased resources and development, I have little doubt that it will one day be able to replicate hardware performance down to the millisecond.

The Competition

As with most services, Nvidia’s GeForce Now is already met with competition. Enter LiquidSky, revolving around a very similar concept of “cloud gaming” as Nvidia’s model. Like its competitor, LiquidSky offers several packages based on different levels of performance. This big difference appears to not only be price but options for earning “SkyCredits,” the currency used to purchase play hours. The company notes that a $10 monthly subscription will get you 4800 of these SkyCredits (allotting to 80 hours of gameplay on low-end performance). More importantly, there will be ways to earn these credits, such as watching a certain amount of advertisements from a pre-selected list. LiquidSky states that six minutes of ad viewing would equate to an hour of gameplay, with a maximum earning ability of three hours per day.

Liquid Sky
The Sky’s the Liquid… Get it?
image credit: liquidsky.com

The End Game

The emergence of competition is a good sign for this new offering, one that will ideally lead to more aggressive pricing, better performance, and more options. As faster internet connections become more common place, the idea of connectivity becomes less of an obstacle for game streaming, as we have seen with Netflix and the like. The incorporation of “points” that can be earned to purchase game time introduces an entirely new aspect to the field: advertising. Love it or hate it, advertising has driven media since the dawn of the radio era and could bring in more resources to this growing industry that may not currently be available (or provide incentives to step up to “premium” levels). 

While some in the industry may be quick to dismiss this new service as a niche offering, it is worth noting that at a certain point Netflix was seen in the same light. So, if you are wondering where the future of PC gaming may be going, ask yourself: are you watching a movie on Netflix tonight? Or stopping by a Blockbuster?

Goodbye Blockbuster SNL Sketch

Image credit: nbc.com