HomeTechnologyNewsCloud Gaming Is A Myth – Review Geek

Cloud Gaming Is A Myth – Review Geek

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Justin Duino/Review Geeks

The rise of cloud gaming was supposed to be accompanied by a 5G revolution. But 5G is not living up to expectations, and “cloud gaming” is more like “gaming on demand”.

Cloud gaming was supposed to be the future. But here we are, nearly five years after Stadia’s release, and cloud gaming remains as niche and unsatisfying as ever. You can’t experience AAA titles on the go, and if you want to play a lot of games, your best bet is still a traditional console.

The 5G hype led to nothing

Telecommunications and technology giants promised that 5G would revolutionize our world. They insisted that this technology would provide ultra-fast gigabit Internet in the United States, opening the door for more complex cloud-based applications.

The tech sector, for its part, decided that 5G could make cloud gaming a viable replacement for console gaming. Until 2018 or 2019, cloud gaming had been an incredibly specific idea. Companies like OnLive sought out this technology in the early 2010s, but average home internet speeds were (and still are) too slow for high-quality, low-latency cloud gaming.

Several cloud gaming services materialized during the initial rollout of 5G. And most of these services, notably Stadia and Xbox Cloud Gaming, relied heavily on “play anywhere” marketing. The idea was simple and appealing: with a 5G connection, you could play a AAA console game on your phone, regardless of your location or your home internet speed.

Playing with Logitech G Cloud.
Hannah Stryker/Review Geek

These companies made a very smart assumption. They figured that while 5G phones will become commonplace, gigabit home internet will remain rare. Focusing on a “play anywhere” mentality gives hardcore gamers something to be excited about, but more importantly, it provides an entry point for customers who lack a strong broadband connection.

Unfortunately, the promise of 5G didn’t really work. This is due to several technological and economic limitations. For one, high-frequency radiation is easily obstructed by objects, including air. Even if you have a 5G connection, the signal probably isn’t strong enough to provide a noticeable improvement over LTE. (This kind of weak, intermittent signal is also terrible for cloud gaming.)

And economically, carriers simply can’t build the 5G future they promised. Ultra-fast mmWave 5G has an incredibly short range, so carriers spend most of their money on the slower sub-6, or “mid-band,” 5G spectrum. This version of 5G operates at lower frequencies than mmWave, which improves coverage and reduces the amount of infrastructure required for a 5G deployment.

“Cloud Gaming” is more like “On-Demand Gaming”

Loading Xbox Cloud Gaming on a very large computer monitor.
Josh Hendrickson/Review Geek

The failure of the “5G revolution” is evident. And unfortunately, it has landed cloud gaming services in a tight spot. Cloud gaming is relegated to the home, as usual, and still requires a fast and reliable broadband connection.

For this reason, many people question the concept of cloud gaming. The benefits of this technology are somewhat limited: yes, cloud gaming can eliminate the need for a dedicated game console, but if you can afford fast internet access and play enough games to justify a $15 to $1 monthly subscription 20, the $300 Xbox Series S probably won’t plunge you into debt.

It seems that the main benefit of cloud gaming technology is on-demand gaming. This is something Review Geeks has argued several times in the past. Cloud gaming allows you to try a game before you download it or buy a physical copy. And if your PC isn’t powerful enough for modern AAA gaming, cloud gaming can help you get over that hurdle without a hardware upgrade (which costs a lot more than a new game console).

And, as I learned while testing Logitech G Cloud, services like Xbox Cloud Gaming or NVIDIA GeForce Now let you play your favorite games while a family member uses the TV. But in most situations, you’d be better off using Remote Play, which streams games directly from your Xbox, PlayStation, or PC to other devices on your network.

Until high-speed internet becomes more common in the United States, cloud gaming is stuck in this weird space where it can’t reach a broader audience. And because of that, the leading cloud gaming companies may be looking for a way out.

This business may not be sustainable.

A photo of a phone poorly connected to a Stadia controller.
Michael Crider/Review Geek

The people who could benefit the most from cloud gaming are low-income families. Those who can’t afford the initial investment of a console could pay $15 or $20 for a cloud gaming subscription, which turns any laptop, phone or table into a “game console.”

Of course, internet speeds are the limiting factor here. And spending $15 to $20 a month on top of a premium internet plan (with unlimited data) is an expensive tactic. Cloud gaming services bet on the “5G revolution” to solve this problem, but things did not go as planned.

So who is left to embrace cloud gaming? If you own a game console, the benefits of this technology are marginal at best: you’ll have a better experience if you just download your games. And if your internet is fast and reliable, there’s a pretty decent chance you already have or can afford a game console, reducing your personal need for cloud gaming.

This may explain why cloud gaming services are losing momentum. Google dumped Stadia in the trash, Amazon is slowly phasing out its Luna library, and Microsoft now seems uninterested in affordable cloud-gaming hardware (like its canceled Keystone TV dongle). My guess is that Xbox Cloud Gaming will stick around, as Microsoft seems interested in keeping its foot in the door, but the service doesn’t seem to be gaining significant popularity.

Things could change, eventually

Xbox Cloud Gaming on a phone with a gamepad attached.
Michael Crider/Review Geek

The concept of cloud gaming is exciting. In theory, it could lower the cost of entry for games by reducing the need for dedicated consoles or PCs. Also, cloud gaming could allow you to play AAA titles from anywhere, even outside your home.

But these concepts will not come to life without major technological advances. In 2018 or 2019, such developments seemed just around the corner – 5G was supposed to change everything! Today, we are looking at a longer and murkier calendar.

Perhaps fiber optic internet is the saving grace. Or perhaps the operators will invest in mmWave 5G, which will strengthen the coverage and reliability of this standard. Unfortunately, these tasks cannot be done overnight. They require an incredible amount of manpower, resources, and money.

So don’t hold your breath. At the moment, “cloud gaming” is a myth, and we’re stuck with something that’s more like “gaming on demand.”

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