7 Reasons Cloud Gaming Still Sucks

Everyone seems to be offering some form of cloud gaming solution these days, despite the high-profile failure of Google Stadia. There are even dedicated cloud streaming handheld devices that aren’t cheap! But cloud gaming kind of sucks, and here’s why.

1 Peak Demand Will Always Be a Problem

Cloud streaming on a central server is a convenient service that allows everyone access, but there’s only so much infrastructure to go around. Expect to spend a significant mount of time waiting for your turn to access cloud gaming hardware in the server room at peak times of day.

This is especially true when a hot new game drops. Ironically, the more successful cloud gaming becomes, the more likely service degradation will be.

2 Networks Will Never Be 100% Consistent

No matter how smart the engineers behind cloud gaming platforms are, they simply have no control over what happens to those data packets between your device and theirs. The physical networks that make up the internet are unimaginably complex, and when you’re using a service that requires precision and responsiveness measured in milliseconds, you’re bound to run into issues. When a sailor on the other side of the world accidentally drags an anchor through an undersea cable, your game is going down with the ship.

3 It’s the Ultimate DRM

Game publishers and developers are always worried about piracy, and that’s a fair concern. However, DRM (Digital Rights Management) technology often makes things worse for legitimate paying customers, so it’s rarely popular. It’s especially limiting when physical or digital download games require an online DRM check to work. Cloud gaming takes that even further. It’s the ultimate DRM, since the game never actually leaves the remote hardware on which you’re playing. This means you have no say as to when you lose access to the game, or when you get to play it. No preservation, and (probably) no modding.

4 You Don’t Get To Pick Your Hardware

There’s no guarantee that you’ll get the best hardware running your game when you use cloud gaming. Different services use different hardware, and in the case of providers like GeForce Now your performance will be impacted depending on your subscription tier. When you game in the cloud, the hardware is out of your reach right along with the consistency that private hardware ownership brings.

5 It’s Always a Quality and Performance Compromise

The connection between your console or PC and their respective display devices has massive bandwidth, rich, deep color and contrast information, and crisp pixel data. Crunching that into a video stream thin enough to transmit over the internet will inevitably result in a degraded picture, and even issues with the order and pacing of how frames are delivered.

Unless you’re playing on a small phone or tablet screen, you’re also likely to see motion smearing and other compression artifacts such as macro blocking, where big chunky pixelated patches show up in the image. Just like streaming video doesn’t hold a candle to a BluRay, streaming games will always have significant quality compromises compared to the raw image coming from the GPU. What’s the point in investing in a great display, and then feeding it low quality content?

6 The Laws of Physics and Latency

Theoretically, digital signals can move at the speed of light, and you’d experience no latency at all even if the cloud server was on the other side of the planet. In reality those signals don’t move through the vacuum of space, and it takes time to compress, encode, decode, route, and otherwise get packets to you and back again. A few milliseconds don’t matter much to a Netflix stream or a file download, but for a real-time application like a video game, it can ruin the experience.

No amount of engineering can completely remove the added inherent latency compared to transmitting signals over just a few feet. If you’re a multiplayer gamer, this problem is compounded as you have to contend with two sets of latency (your connection to the hardware and your connection to the game server).

7 It’s Yet Another Subscription

You’re probably already paying for too many subscriptions. Most of us have video, music, and gaming subscriptions that require a monthly payment to keep enjoying the media. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, buying a game and playing it locally is not an ongoing cost. Especially if you invest in physical games or digital downloads that don’t have an online check-in requirements. You can go back to them at any time after paying once.

Cloud gaming certainly has its place, and we can expect it to fill numerous niches for many people. For me, it will forever be a compromised experience that removes too much of my control over when, where, and how I can play my games.


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