On October 1, NVIDIA Corporation (NASDAQ:NVDA) formally launched its long-awaited cloud gaming service, GeForce NOW. For $7.99 per month, GeForce NOW gives members instant access to more than 50 PC games -- no discs, downloads, or software updates required -- including AAA titles like Batman: Arkham Origins and LEGO Marvel Super Heroes. And GeForce NOW can do so without sacrificing the quality or responsiveness gamers demand; it's the first cloud-gaming service capable of streaming at 60 frames per second at full 1080p HD.
And if its price didn't immediately invoke a mental comparison to certain popular video streaming platform, NVIDIA left no room for doubting its intentions by describing GeForce NOW as "a revolutionary game-streaming service -- the Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) of games."
After all, similar to Netflix, NVIDIA's GeForce NOW primarily operates on an unlimited streaming model. Though more similar to Amazon Instant Video, GeForce NOW also lets players purchase and stream hit new releases for an additional cost, such as The Witcher 3 and Resident Evil: Revelations 2.
Just one "problem"
But there's a catch: GeForce NOW is only available through NVIDIA's SHIELD family of devices. As it stands, that means you can only subscribe to GeForce NOW if you own one of NVIDIA's $299 SHIELD portable handhelds, a high-powered NVIDIA SHIELD tablet starting at $299, or -- most recently -- a $199 SHIELD Android TV console.
Part of this requirement stems from the fact that NVIDIA's SHIELD family is powered by its own Tegra series mobile superchips, which NVIDIA can ensure will work seamlessly with the Kepler architecture-based GPUs contained in the remote servers that host the games. To be sure, it only seems rational that, served to a similar-sized audience, NVIDIA's sheer computing, hardware, and bandwidth requirements for handling interactive games from the cloud would easily trump Netflix's comparatively "simple" one-way display of video content.
Of course, this might be a moot point if NVIDIA's SHIELD devices were wildly popular. But while each piece of SHIELD hardware has its merits, the simple fact is that NVIDIA has sold very few overall.
To be fair, NVIDIA hasn't disclosed exactly how many SHIELD tablets, portables, and Android TV units are out there. But we can glean an estimate from a battery-related recall of the SHIELD Tablet issued in July, which NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang admitted involves "most" SHIELD Tablets the company has sold to date. A subsequent press release from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reveals that the recall covers 83,000 SHIELD tablets sold between July 2014 and July 2015 in the U.S., and another 5,000 affected devices in Canada.
That said, this doesn't give us an idea of SHIELD Android TV or Portable sales. But SHIELD Android TV was only just introduced this past March, and the SHIELD Portable doesn't exactly boast the same consumer appeal as the SHIELD tablet. It's no wonder, then, that the three devices have collectively had little material impact on NVIDIA's top or bottom lines so far.
Apples and oranges
By contrast, Netflix added 3.3 million subscribers in the second quarter alone, ending the period with more than 65 million streaming customers. And as any technologically aware consumer can attest, part of the allure of Netflix is its relative ubiquity in a vast array of electronic devices. No matter which television, Blu-ray player, streaming media stick or gaming console you purchase, you can generally rest assured the Netflix logo will be available the first time you press the power button. Heck, even SHIELD users can effortlessly speak the words "launch Netflix" into their controllers to browse their favorite TV shows and movies.
That's not to say NVIDIA SHIELD won't continue to expand its reach. Since the initial launch, the SHIELD team has announced new curated content for the devices on a weekly basis. And less than two weeks ago, NVIDIA announced the availability of SHIELD Android TV in the U.K., France, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden. Also last month, Google began offering SHIELD as an accessory to all current and prospective Google Fiber customers in Provo, Utah, Kansas City, Missouri, and Austin, Texas.
But to realize GeForce NOW's full potential, NVIDIA needs to find a way to make the service accessible through a much broader array of hardware devices, ideally from multiple manufacturers. Unless that happens, it remains unlikely NVDIA will ever be able to accurately call GeForce NOW the "Netflix of games."