“The Netflix of video games” is a label thrown around like confetti at a victory parade. It’s held out as the prize that awaits the winner in the burgeoning game streaming arena. How close are current or near-future game streaming services to being the Netflix of games? Are the services even trying to emulate the Netflix model or are they aiming at something different?
For comparison purposes, think of Netflix as having these core characteristics.
- It’s a paid subscription service.
- It streams a mix of licensed and exclusive original content.
- It does not sell content.
One major game distribution service that’s operating today follows this model. One near-future service isn’t interested in being the Netflix of gaming. Another might be contemplating a game streaming service that’s more comprehensive than Netflix. Here’s how the streaming services from Xbox, PlayStation, Nvidia and Google compare to Netflix.
GeForce Now began as a subscription service that let players stream a library of games to PCs and Shield devices. A new beta version provides a remote desktop that hosts a selection of “over 400” games purchased through digital distribution services like Steam. GeForce Now is designed to stream from Nvidia’s data centers in the US and Europe to PC, Mac and Shield TV. Two service tiers are promised, and pricing has not been announced.
Like Netflix, the beta version of GeForce Now is a paid subscription service that does not sell content. Unlike Netflix, Nvidia does not provide original content and subscribers must buy content from other providers. GeForce Now is not following the Netflix model, it’s an example of a you-buy-we-stream approach.
The Motley Fool recently described Nvidia’s you-buy-we-stream model as taking “the road less traveled in cloud gaming” because Microsoft, PlayStation and Google are trying to be Netflix for games. The Fool’s characterization is mistaken with regard to Google (and Microsoft). Stadia is not modeled on Netflix.
Stadia is a streaming service that strives to deliver games to any platform that can run the Chrome browser or connect to a Chromecast. Its subscription based with a free entry-level tier. Stadia currently has 31 announced games although it’s almost certain more will be added before the service launches in November. Stadia games will stream from Google’s world-wide network of data centers.
A Stadia representative told me and Andrey Doronichev, Stadia’s Director of Product, told a reddit AMA that Stadia’s Pro service is not trying to be Netflix for games. Unlike Netflix, Stadia sells the content it streams. Pro subscribers will get free games periodically but Stadia follows the you-buy-we-stream model, not the Netflix model.
Sony’s PlayStation Now looks a lot like Netflix for games. The service streams PS2, PS3 and PS4 games to PC and the PS4 consoles. Some PS2 and PS4 games can be downloaded to a PS4. PS Now requires a paid subscription, it streams a mix of exclusive originals and licensed content and it does not sell the content it streams.
PlayStation Now checks all the boxes for being the Netflix for games, but it doesn’t look like a winner in its current form. Sony advertises there are more than 700 games available through PS Now. That’s a lot of games, but many of them are obscure and forgettable. The PS4’s renowned stable of first-party exclusives such as Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War, Marvel’s Spider Man and the Gran Turiso games that would set PS Now apart as a streaming service are not being streamed. PS Now games stream from Sony’s servers which can stream at 60 frames per second but are limited to 720p resolution which is woeful compared to GeForce Now, Stadia and xCloud’s 4K. Sony’s new partnership with Microsoft may provide the infrastructure for PS Now to be competitive with the other streaming services.
Microsoft’s xCloud is something of a dark horse at present. It’s assumed xCloud will require a paid subscription but no announcements have been made. Third-party developers will create most xCloud content but Xbox’s growing family of in-house developers will almost certainly provide exclusive originals. Unlike Netflix, xCloud will stream games the player has purchased. It’s another you-buy-we-stream service. Games will stream to PC and the Xbox consoles from Microsoft’s world-wide network of data centers.
So far, xCloud sounds a lot like Stadia only with more games and more exclusives, but an 800-pound gorilla looms in the form of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. Ultimate is Microsoft’s new subscription service that collapses Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass into a single subscription. Live Gold brings access to online multiplayer games, discounts on games and a monthly selection of free games. Game Pass gives access to a library of over 100 games that includes Xbox exclusives and some games from third-party developers that are available on the day they release.
Microsoft hasn’t said anything about combining xCloud and Game Pass Ultimate, but if they join the two, the result will be the King Kong of game streaming. You’ll have a library of games to stream that includes games available on the day they release combined with a streaming service for the Xbox and Windows games you own. It’s the Netflix and you-buy-we-stream models rolled into one. The question won’t be is xCloud the Netflix of games, it will be is Netflix the xCloud of video.
“Who will be the Netflix of gaming?” looks like the wrong question to ask. PlayStation Now is the only major streaming service that emulates the Netflix model but in its current form it doesn’t have the infrastructure and it doesn’t have the games. GeForce Now, Stadia and xCloud aren’t trying to emulate Netflix. They’re pursuing the you-buy-we-stream model.
At this point in time, the major players are Google and Microsoft because both have the network of data centers needed to pull off game streaming on a global scale. Stadia has no interest in the Netflix model. It wants to sell games that can be played on a wide variety of platforms. xCloud could become a streaming service for previously purchased games like Stadia or GeForce Now, or it could reconfigure the streaming landscape by combining the you-buy-we-stream model with Game Pass Ultimate’s library of just-released and older games. Stay tuned to see how it all develops.