Not so long ago, video games seemed to be on the verge of a revolution. With the games-as-a-service model already threatening the individual sales model, consoles and local copies of games seemed likely to be the next targets of cutting-edge tech: It was possible to imagine a future in which video games lived online and were streamed at home by gamers using relatively lightweight hardware without lots of local storage and other console-era necessities.
As tech companies have circled, Sony and (in particular) Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) have taken steps to ready themselves for a streaming video game future, but a bit of shine has come off of the concept in the past few months -- thanks in no small part to the decidedly lackluster run we've seen thus far from the Stadia video game service operated by Alphabet's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Google.
Stadia has botched things at every turn, from a marred launch to a recent dearth of information updates that has upset the fledgling platform's relatively small fan base. But Stadia isn't the only video game streaming platform that observers and investors have been keeping their eyes on. While its mistakes have dominated the streaming games discussion lately, it's worth remembering that there are other contenders for the "Netflix of games" crown -- including NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA), which might just benefit from Stadia's mistakes.
NVIDIA's streaming plans
NVIDIA has long been a player in the gaming space, though its offerings once focused only on the hardware side of the equation. NVIDIA is still best known for its hardware products, which include beefy video game cards that PC gamers swear by. But NVIDIA has also tried its hand at other aspects of gaming. For instance, there's NVIDIA's Shield TV device, which is a Roku-like device that runs Google's Android TV platform and is aimed at the gaming set. The Shield TV boasts impressive specs, a video game controller, and the ability to play games both locally and via streaming. And, speaking of streaming, NVIDIA is also working on that: The company has been fine-tuning its GeForce Now video game streaming subscription service for years now. In fact, some form of the service has existed since 2013 (it was then known as NVIDIA GRID).
Here is how the two services compare at the moment:
|Service||Google's Stadia||NVIDIA's GeForce Now|
|Free tier||Planned, but Stadia's hardware will still be required and costs $130||Yes|
|Paid tier||$9.99 per month for access to a rotating selection of free game downloads||$4.99 per month for a "Founders" package that puts users in priority queues, reducing loading times|
|Games included||Rotating free downloads for Pro subscribers only; five titles currently available||More than 30 free-to-play games, plus whatever compatible games users already own|
|Platforms/ hardware||Stadia hardware required. Screen via Chromecast, Chrome browser, or Android (Pixel only)||PC, Mac, NVIDIA Shield TV, Android (select phones)|
|Key details||Stadia games are separate from their PC or console counterparts and are purchased through Stadia's platform.||GeForce Now's focus is taking games that players already own and allowing them to stream those games anywhere.|
Like Stadia, GeForce Now is a video game streaming platform. But GeForce differs from Stadia in key ways. Chief among them is the fact that GeForce Now is designed to stream games that customers already own. If you've purchased a PC game through a popular storefront, you may be able to stream that game via GeForce Now. With Stadia, you'd have to buy it all over again for the Stadia platform.
This approach is reminiscent of Microsoft's recent strategy on the cloud gaming front, and it's an appealing one for gamers who are currently less-than-thrilled with Google's small library of Stadia-compatible games.
Time to pounce
GeForce Now is barely more finished than Stadia -- despite having existed in some form for seven years or so, it's still technically in beta. At a time when Stadia is taking flak for being in beta in all but name, though, NVIDIA's decision not to overhype its platform as a finished product seems savvy. GeForce Now hasn't enjoyed as much press as Google got ahead of the Stadia launch, but neither has it suffered the bad press that Google has gotten after that launch. The more marketplace-agnostic vision that NVIDIA's platform offers looks ever-savvier, too: Gamers love their existing games marketplaces (particularly Steam) and loathe what they see as cash grabs. The fact that GeForce Now plays existing games and doesn't require new purchases should appeal to these customers.
With this update, GeForce Now could be in the perfect position to change the dialogue on video game streaming. A free tier of the service already exists, while Stadia's is vaguely promised for within a few months. The latest version of GeForce Now just went live in early February -- right around the time when Stadia's fans were making their displeasure known. Stadia's disaffected fan base is small, but video gamers and their online communities have a long history of creating narratives to go with industry shifts; it's easy to imagine the memes that might soon contrast GeForce Now's virtues with high-and-might tech giant Google's failure to understand gaming.