It’s still early innings, but the cloud gaming competition is starting to heat up. Big players are quickly entering the market, but the first two big fish were Google Stadia and GeForce Now. Google Stadia may have been the first to flip the switch, but can GeForce Now steal its thunder and become the cloud gaming service of choice?
Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but deciding which one is right for you depends on your specific gaming needs and wants. Keep reading for an in-depth comparison of Google Stadia vs GeForce Now!
Graphics and performance
Let’s kick things off with what is likely the main drawing point of the future of cloud gaming: performance. Without getting into meaningless teraflop comparisons, both GeForce Now and Google Stadia offer high-end specs that will cost a pretty penny to match on a personal computer. However, they differ in how they approach the task.
While Stadia uses proprietary Linux-based technology to enhance game streaming, GeForce Now simply gives you access to a powerful computer in the cloud. This means that generally GFN can run supported games (even cutting-edge AAA titles) at the highest graphical settings. If you’re willing to pay for a premium membership, you can also access the latest RTX graphics with ray tracing technology, although only a few games support this currently.
Read also: The best laptops with Nvidia RTX 2080 GPUs
Plus, by tinkering with the settings, GeForce Now allows you to switch to 720p 120fps, which is perfect for competitive titles like Overwatch.
The catch is that the stream caps out at 1080p. If you plan on playing on a 4K TV with a big screen in your living room, the graphics will look great but the lower resolution will be noticeable. Stadia’s premium membership, on the other hand, has the capability of streaming in 4K 60fps.
Only Stadia supports 4K, but GeForce Now gives the option to crank up the graphics to max.
That said, only a handful of games currently support true 4K on Stadia, and many of those are limited to 4K 30fps. The rest are simply upscaled to 4K, and 120fps is completely off the table.
In general, games on Stadia run on graphics settings closer to medium by PC standards, which puts them more in line with last-gen consoles. Google’s decision to leave it to developers to port and optimize their own games has hurt it in this regard. There are, of course, notable exceptions such as Cyberpunk 2077 which ran much better on Stadia than it did on most PCs at launch.
At the end of the day performance is more than up to par on both, and choosing the best for you depends on where you plan on gaming. GeForce Now is great for playing on a smaller PC screen, but Stadia pulls ahead when gaming on a much larger 4K TV in the living room.
When it comes to pure value for the price, it’s a bit of a toss-up. GeForce Now upped its premium subscription price in 2021, matching that of Stadia Pro. Both also have free tiers, although on Stadia you cannot bring your own games and will need to purchase all titles (or stick to free-to-play games).
Obviously there are some caveats with GeForce Now’s free service too, the first being queue times. When you click play on a game in your library, you have to wait in line to start your session. This wait could be a few seconds or a few minutes depending on the time of day.
|Google Stadia||GeForce Now|
Google Stadia:1080p, 60fps
No time limit
Some f2p games
GeForce Now:1080p, 60fps
1-hour session limit
Standard queue access
4K 60fps (for supported titles)
No time limit
5.1 Surround Sound
30+ 'free' games
6-hour session limit
Priority queue access
Plus, sessions are limited to one hour, meaning that you could be kicked in the middle of an intense match of Overwatch or League of Legends. Sure, you can quickly start another session, but depending on the queue length it might be too late.
GeForce Now’s premium subscription all but eliminates these issues. You’ll get priority access in the queue, and game session length is extended to six hours. It’s also the only way to access Nvidia’s latest and greatest RTX graphics in supported titles. Regardless of whether or not you pay for the service, you can play games you’ve already purchased on Steam or other marketplaces, so there are no other costs in that regard.
Google Stadia does things differently with Stadia Pro. This subscription service costs $9.99 a month, and unlocks 4K gaming, 5.1 surround sound, and a small library of games to play right away. A few new games are added each month, and once you claim them you can play them for as long as you maintain a subscription.
Stadia Pro is a decent value, but it stops short of a true Netflix for games. If that’s what you’re after, Microsoft’s Xbox Game Streaming (included with Game Pass Ultimate) has a much better catalog of games. That said, the streaming quality in Xbox’s service is significantly worse at 720p.
As mentioned above, there is a free version of Stadia called Stadia base. Streaming quality caps out at 1080p, but otherwise there are no limits on gameplay. You do, however, need to buy most games individually on the platform. There are just a few entirely free games, such as Destiny 2 and Super Bomberman R Online.
Game streaming is a major strain on your network, so it’s worth looking at how GeForce Now and Stadia deal with the strain. While both services sport nearly imperceptible input latency under the right conditions, there are a few differences between the two.
Both services require a consistent connection for good results, with wired connections or 5GHz Wi-Fi preferred. For the best results you’re going to want 100Mbps, but your mileage may vary. Here are their minimum requirements, with Nvidia’s listing requiring slightly more juice.
|Google Stadia||GeForce Now|
GeForce Now:(not available)
Google Stadia:Best visual quality
Limited data usage
GeForce Now:Bitrate fully customizable
Both services use a lot of data, making it a tough choice for those with data caps. Stadia chews through upwards of 25GB per hour at the highest 4K 60fps setting. GeForce Now uses even more data on default settings, but thankfully has many more options to adjust the quality/bandwidth settings. Set to the lowest bitrate, 1080p 60fps streams on 5mbps use just 2GB/hour on GeForce Now.
Another major consideration is server locations. GeForce Now has fewer locations than Google Stadia, and users in Canada may find the service nearly unusable since servers are all located in the US. Be sure to check Nvidia’s server locations before buying into the service too heavily.
Both services also support streaming over mobile connections on your phone, which means you can play on the bus or at the park. 4G connections may lead to spotty performance, but if you’re one of the lucky few with 5G access you could have access to a high-end gaming PC in your pocket at all times.
One other curious difference is the way the two handle unstable connections. When things go wrong, Stadia often drops frames or loses the connection temporarily. GeForce Now instead drastically lowers visual fidelity, but maintains the connection. Neither are particularly pleasant, but Nvidia’s approach is certainly much less jarring.
Game library and availability
Nvidia hasn’t been shy when it comes to throwing shade at Stadia’s limited game library in its official blog. Indeed, Stadia had an extremely limited launch library, but that’s largely changed in 2021. Currently there are more than 230 games on Stadia with more coming every month.
GeForce Now, on the other hand, allows you to access thousands of games you’ve already purchased on Steam and other popular PC marketplaces. That list includes some of the most popular free-to-play games out there like Fortnite, League of Legends, and Apex Legends.
For games without cross-play, you’ll also be matched with other PC gamers. This alleviates the issues surrounding Destiny 2’s numbers problem on Stadia, although it may put you at a competitive disadvantage due to the inherent latency with cloud gaming.
GeForce Now has a huge lead on Stadia when it comes to game availability.
This might all sound too good to be true for those with extensive game libraries, and in a way it is. Nvidia still needs publishers to sign off on titles to make them available for streaming, meaning that many Steam games are not available on the platform. Others, like the Tomb Raider series, were actually removed from the service after being available for a short while. Don’t be surprised when more games are removed from the platform in the future.
Another issue is that Geforce Now is heavily focused on Steam, so if you purchased the same games from the Epic Game Store (or got them for free), you may not be able to access them.
For older games on Steam, you’ll also want to make sure they support cloud saving. If not, you will lose your progress with each new game session.
If you don’t already have a huge backlog of games on Steam, both Google Stadia and GeForce Now have their pros and cons. Stadia Pro unlocks three or more titles per month, but you can only play them while you’re a subscriber. Buying games on Steam is often significantly cheaper, but they may not be supported by GFN in the future. Still, having more games and free-to-play titles gives GFN a distinct edge.
One of the biggest draws of cloud gaming is portability, and both Google Stadia and GeForce Now allow you to play games on variety of hardware platforms. Here’s a brief breakdown of which devices are supported for each.
|Google Stadia||GeForce Now|
GeForce Now:(via Chrome)
Google Stadia:(Browser only)
GeForce Now:(Browser only)
Google Stadia:Yes (via Chromecast Ultra/Stadia Controller)
GeForce Now:Yes (via Nvidia Shield TV/wired controller)
As you can see, both are playable on just about any screen in your house. Stadia has slightly better compatibility, but honestly you won’t have any trouble with either service in 2021.
Playing on your PC or Mac isn’t an issue, but to play in your living room both services require extra hardware. For Google Stadia, you need a Chromecast Ultra (or Chromecast with Google TV) and a Stadia controller, which you can get packaged together with one month of Stadia Pro in the Premiere Edition bundle. This will run you $99.99, but you can also get just the controller for $69.
For GeForce Now, you’ll need an Nvidia Shield TV, as well as a compatible wired controller. However, the Shield TV doesn’t currently support an in-game mic, while the Stadia controller does.
The only devices left in limbo for now are iPhones and iPads. Both are supported via the Safari browser, but a dedicated app seems off the table for now. Apple has stated that game streaming services must have every game vetted and approved individually, which is too high a bar to pass for any current cloud gaming services. Even Microsoft can’t get around it.
When it comes to the user experience while opening up the service and starting a game, Google Stadia is miles ahead of GeForce Now. Using the Stadia mobile app or Chrome browser, you can open the platform and start playing in literally seconds.
GeForce Now, on the other hand, is still clunky and awkward, even after many years in beta. You have to open the app on your phone or computer, find the game you want to play, wait in the queue, log into Steam, wait for it to load (or sometimes, install), then you can actually play the game.
Since each session is essentially a new PC, you’ll probably have to sit through an unskippable cutscene at the start of each game. If you want to use a gamepad, you have to set it up from scratch each time you play.
GeForce Now is essentially a virtual PC, which hurts usability and instant access.
All of these extra steps make GFN feel more like a stopgap measure rather than a truly revolutionary platform. It’s likely the best virtual PC-based cloud gaming solution currently available, but it will always be limited by the format. For better or worse, it’s simply an extension of PC gaming.
Stadia, for all its other faults, makes good on the promise of instant access. When/if Google fulfills the rest of its Stadia promises, it should be a formidable alternative to PC or console gaming.
Google Stadia vs GeForce Now: The verdict
As outlined above, which platform is right for you depends on your specific use case. Want to play your already-purchased Steam games on your Android phone or tablet? Go for GeForce Now. Likewise if you want to play a few free-to-play games that your aging machine can’t handle.
If you are primarily a console gamer or don’t have much of a PC game catalog to speak of, you’re probably better off with Stadia. It had a pretty abysmal launch, but as more features and games were added it grew into a pretty solid platform over time.
Of course, we’d be remiss not to mention a few alternatives that are also worth looking into. Shadow is another virtual PC solution that offers even better performance up to 4K 60fps, but it’s considerably pricier at $25 a month (when billed annually). However, you can run any game or application without limitations.
The other elephant in the room is Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud Gaming (formerly called Project xCloud), which could blow the competition out of the water with a true Netflix for games model under Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. For now it’s still in beta and only supports mobile devices at 720p, but since it’s tied into the incredible value of Game Pass Ultimate it may end up winning by default.