What Is Cloud Gaming? [And How Does It Work?]

Dejan Cvetnarevic
Dejan Cvetnarevic

Updated · Oct 17, 2022

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For a while now, some of the biggest names in the gaming industry have been hedging against a future where downloads, discs, and even consoles become obsolete. 

Instead, you’ll be able to stream games across the Internet just as easily as you now stream Netflix– all thanks to cloud gaming.

But, what is cloud gaming exactly and how does it work?

Here’s what we know.

What Is Cloud Gaming, Exactly?

Today, you download your game on your computer or slide the disk into your game console to play it. The game only looks as good as your RTX 30-series graphics card and runs as fast as the processor inside your machine. 

With cloud gaming, that “machine” is located in a data center far, far away. You would stream any game just like you know streaming a Netflix movie or a YouTube video– only now these videos would be reacting to your inputs as well.

Every time you press a button for your character to duck, jump, or run, the input gets sent to a server in the data center, tells the game what you’ve done, and sends a new video frame with the result. 

Multiply by 30 or 60 frames per second, and there’s your video (game.)

How Does Cloud Gaming Work?

Cloud gaming is like having a console in the cloud.

Instead of buying games and putting them on your hard drive, all you’ll need is to commit to a monthly fee for access and a stable internet connection, (at least 10 Mbit/s), which is well below the global median internet speed, to make it work.

Once you sign up for a cloud gaming service, you can use an app or web-based browser to stream the games, depending on the service you choose.

Does It Actually Work?

Although gaming consoles are far from being a thing of the past, cloud gaming is not some far-fetched fairytale of the future; There are some cloud gaming service providers available on the market.

With GeForce Now, one of the best cloud gaming service providers, you can play games from other stores like Steam or Battle.net on your computer if you have the proper hardware

The downside is that you must wait in a long line and then you can only play for a limited time. Upgrading to the subscription model means you get better access and more playtime.

Google Stadia, which is ceasing operations in January 2023, follows a different business model. 

You may buy games on Google's platform and stream them on any compatible device in full HD  without having to wait for your turn. The subscription raises the resolution to 4K and provides a library of games you can play for free as long as your membership is active, such as Xbox Game Pass.

Most cloud streaming services work with the latest controllers that connect wirelessly via Bluetooth, and traditional mouse and keyboard setups. You can also use on-screen controls if you have a touchscreen device, such as a phone or tablet.

Pros and Cons of Cloud Gaming

Cloud gaming may sound like a dream come true for most gamers who are looking to free some space in their cluttered rooms. But, as with anything in the tech world, it comes with advantages and disadvantages. 

Pros

  • Scalability

Cloud gaming services allow gamers to access the server from virtually any platform– without losing progress. 

  • Reduced cost

For a smooth gaming experience on a console or a computer, you’ll need a good graphic card– whether it’s the pricey Nvidia RTX 4000 series or any of the under- $200 graphic cards you can find online, except with cloud gaming. 

  • Quality

Cloud gaming uses hardware in remote servers, which means the performance and resolution of your games would be the same, regardless of the device you’re using. You will get the same experience playing on your phone and your computer.

Cons

  • Bandwidth issues

Although cloud gaming has many perks, it demands quite a lot of bandwidth.

  • Cloud gaming is in a transitional period

The traditional model of purchasing and playing games at home has not yet been fully replaced. The technological limitations of cloud gaming prevent it from being viable for many of the high-demand, high-speed AAA titles on the market.

  • Availability

Cloud gaming can limit the types of games you can play, depending on the service you select. You are also at the mercy of your ISP; No internet connection means no access to any games. 

What Were the First Cloud Gaming Platforms?

The first big, commercial cloud gaming service was OnLive.

It was launched in June 2010 and used a small console and controller similar to Google Stadia's current model. The service was accessible from a browser on Windows and Mac OS, Android tablets and smartphones, the Nvidia original Shield, and other platforms.

At the time, games could find original Borderlands and Darksiders among OnLive's most popular titles. These games had a graphic quality comparable to that of established systems, but also plenty of latency issues.

Another early bird in the cloud gaming space was Gaikai, which was introduced by David Perry, a game developer of Earthworm Jim and MDK, and operated under two different models.

The first service allowed players to stream demos on websites before making a purchase, which was an attempt to encourage buying from local retailers instead of digital sales platforms. The second model allowed gamers to stream full games that they had purchased through publishers, websites, smart TV, or WikiPad.

The company was eventually purchased by Sony in 2012, which integrated the system into the PlayStation Network. 

This allowed PlayStation console owners to stream their installed games to other devices, like the PlayStation Vita, on any network.

Not only did the acquisition introduce PlayStation Now, but it was also the first game-streaming service available from a console manufacturer. Gamers can stream PlayStation 2/PS3/PS4 games to their PS4 or PS5, Windows PC, Mac, and mobile devices.

One of the main reasons cloud gaming hasn't succeeded in the past is that the infrastructure for it wasn't widely available.  

Companies like OnLive and Gaikai didn't have enough computing power or bandwidth to keep up with consumer demand. 

But, technology has since come a long way. Simply put, cloud gaming is more popular now because it works. 

What’s more, cloud gaming now has financial support from some of the world's most powerful tech companies, allowing for lower latency, higher frame rates, and a more straightforward setup procedure. 

It’s much easier for Stadia and GeForce Now to focus on the more practical perks of cloud gaming because they have basic performance sorted.

Now, companies that are looking to make sure cloud gaming is here to stay are working on making it easier to access live-service games like Destiny 2, so people can play with their friends without buying a console or PC.

Bottom Line

So, what is cloud gaming? It’s tech that can change the way we game; It essentially allows gamers to play games on a remote server– without having to put them on their hard disks– and do that on any device, regardless of how low-power their hardware is.

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Dejan Cvetnarevic

Dejan Cvetnarevic

Dejan is a techie at heart who always dreamed of turning his fascination with gaming into a career. He finds working for TechJury a perfect opportunity to express his views of all kinds of different software. Being an avid reader, particularly of fantasy and sci-fi, Dejan pursued a degree in English Language and Literature. When not at his computer, he’s watching sports or playing tabletop games.

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