Nvidia’s GeForce Now cloud gaming service has been available on the company’s Nvidia Shield streamer for a while, but the versions for PC, Mac and Android phones have finally left beta. Like Google Stadia, Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass for PC/Project xCloud and other cloud gaming services, GFN renders and streams supported games from its data centers to phones, PCs and Macs so you can play on devices with all the power of a potato.
GFN differs in that it works with games you’ve already bought (primarily on Steam) rather than requiring you buy a special version of the game or games from a particular library. Given that model, it makes sense that Nvidia’s has people with lots of games in its marketing sights.
How it works
You install the GeForce Now Android, PC or Mac app, create an account or sign in and then begin searching for the games you want to play to add to your library. Games fall into two camps: “instant access” and “single session.” Instant access games are those formally supported: They’re preinstalled on Nvidia’s servers, kept up to date, optimized for streaming and findable within the GFN apps. There are also about 50 to 60 free-to-play games.
Playing Google Stadia for the first time
But GFN remains very Steam-centric. For single session games, you launch Steam from the GFN interface and play it as you’d play any Steam game — but not every game works, and you have to try them one by one and get the error messages to figure out which ones will. There are a handful of instant access games using the Epic Games, Battle.net and Origin launchers, but if a game is available from multiple places, GFN always assumes it’s the Steam version and you can’t change that (you can for Uplay Plus). So you can’t use it to play any single-session games from anything but Steam or any games from vault subscriptions like Origin Access.
Cloud syncs are handled by the respective services, which also handle account management. When you click Play in GFN, it takes you to the external service; in Steam, for example, it takes you to the game in your library where you hit “play” again. GFN basically acts as a rendering and streaming engine. Because it’s running a sandboxed virtual machine — a server version of Windows in a window — there’s no access to local storage for backing up or restoring games and so on.
How much does it cost?
GFN has two tiers: one free and one Founders membership (sound familiar?). Both deliver a maximum of 1080p/60 frames per second and run on the same devices, but the Founders subscription gives you priority access in the queue to get into the service, turns on RTX ray-tracing acceleration for use with games that support it and allows a six-hour limit per session compared to the free version’s one hour. It’s up and running in North America, western Europe, Russia, Japan and South Korea.
Both tiers are available now. Founders costs $4.99 (£4.99) per month; the first 90 days are free, followed by 12 months at $4.99, giving you a total of 15 months for just under $60. As to what you’ll pay once your twelvemonth ends, Nvidia isn’t saying yet, except that it will be higher. Nor has the company said if it will be different than the Founders subscription.
Nvidia GeForce Now subscription tiers
|Cost||Free||$4.99 (£4.99)/month for 12 months; free initial 90-day trial|
|Availability||Now||Now. This is a limited time offer based on system capacity; will end once paying members start experiencing wait|
|Perks||None||Priority access, RTX ray-tracing acceleration|
|Restrictions||One hour per session limit||Six hours per session limit|
|Platforms||Nvidia Shield, MacOS, Windows 10, Android; Chrome OS (early 2020)||Nvidia Shield, MacOS, Windows 10, Android; Chrome OS (early 2020)|
One hour per session doesn’t sound like a lot, but Nvidia says during the beta the average session lasted about that long. You can have an unlimited number of sessions — launch back into the game — but keep in mind that you might not be able to get back in immediately since Founders are always ahead of you in line. Beta testers will automatically be flipped into the Free tier.
Nothing changes for Nvidia Shield owners with respect to price and session length.
GeForce Now terms of service
Since there’s no game access or data to lose if you cancel your subscription — presumably you’ve made sure that it’s synced with Steam or another launcher — there’s less of a cancellation downside than with services like Stadia. But you can’t get a refund for the unused time. Nvidia can cancel your membership or restrict your access for any reason and with no notice and it bears no responsibility if the service goes down and you lose progress. Those are pretty typical.
But the most counterintuitive aspect of the terms is that games get pulled — in this context, that means they become unplayable. It’s counterintuitive because unlike a game vault or Netflix, you’ve paid for the games (essentially, you’ve bought your own license for each game). But in order to host and serve them, Nvidia has to license them from the publishers as well. “Content will generally continue to be available to you for purchase or streaming from the GFN service, as applicable, but may become unavailable due to potential content provider licensing restrictions and for other reasons…”
And that’s happened to a lot of games lately. In mid-December it disabled a host of games, including Devil May Cry 5, Monster Hunter: World, Resident Evil 2, Final Fantasy XV, NieR: Automata and more, then followed up at the end of January by removing the Pro Evolution Soccer franchise, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and others.
GeForce Now requirements
As with most cloud gaming services, GeForce Now requires a base level of hardware that’s capable of decoding the incoming stream and a minimum bandwidth and stability for your internet connection. In this case, you need at least 15 megabits per second for 720p at 60 fps and 25 Mbps for 1080p at 60 fps over Ethernet or a 5GHz Wi-Fi. Data consumption can range from 4GB to 10GB per hour, depending on game and network settings.
- For the Mac you’ll need to be running Mac OS X 10.10 or later (Yosemite), and chances are if your system can run that it’s hardware-capable for GFN.
- On the PC, it requires a 2GHz dual-core CPU or better, at least 4GB of memory, a DirectX 11-capable GPU (at least a GeForce 600 series, AMD Radeon HD 3000 series or Intel HD Graphics 2000 series) and at minimum the 64-bit version of Windows 7.
- GFN runs on Android phones with at least 2GB of memory and Android 5.0 (Lollipop).
USB mice, keyboards and controllers are recommended for PC and Mac, and a Bluetooth gamepad for phone.