It’s still early innings, but the cloud gaming competition is starting to heat up with the official launch of yet another subscription gaming service. 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 it can run any 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 consoles. Google’s decision to leave it to developers to port and optimize their own games has hurt it in this regard.
Even so, 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 display.
When it comes to pure value for price, GeForce Now is the clear winner. Not only is it the only of the two to offer a free tier (although Stadia’s is coming in a few months), the premium tier is half of Stadia Pro’s monthly price.
Obviously there are some caveats with GeForce Now’s free service, 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|
|Free||(not yet available)|
No time limit
1-hour session limit
Standard queue access
4K 60fps (for supported titles)
No time limit
5.1 Surround Sound
1-2 'free' games per month
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. For now it’s available at an introductory price of $4.99 a month, but expect prices to increase dramatically in 2021, as it’s the services’ only revenue stream.
As of writing, the only way to play Stadia is via Stadia Pro, which costs $9.99 a month and unlocks 4K gaming and 5.1 surround sound for supported titles. It also adds one or two games to your library every month, although you can only play them while you have an active subscription.
Stadia's free tier won't be available until later this year.
The pendulum could swing in the other direction with the launch of the free tier called Stadia Base, which offers unlimited gaming at 1080p 60fps. There’s no firm release date, but it’s slated for release in the next few months.
For now though, the value proposition of GeForce Now is unbeatable. The barrier of entry to cloud gaming has never been lower.
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|
|4K 60fps||35Mbps||(not available)|
|Customization options||Best visual quality|
Limited data usage
|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.
That said, only GeForce Now currently supports streaming over mobile connections, which means you can play on the bus or at the park. 4G connections will lead to a spotty performance at best, 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 currently offers less than 30 titles, each of which needs to be purchased separately. Free-to-play titles are also notably missing from Google’s service. Even the free-to-play version of Destiny 2 is only available for paying Stadia Pro members.
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 probably can’t access them. Adding them to your library automatically launches Steam, with no way to open other store launchers to choose your titles.
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 one or two 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|
|Chromebooks||Yes||No (coming soon)|
|Android phones/tablets||Pixel phones only||Any device with 2GB of memory and Android 5.0 or later|
|iOS/iPad OS||No (coming soon)||No|
|TV||Yes (via Chromecast Ultra/Stadia Controller)||Yes (via Nvidia Shield TV/wired controller)|
As you can see, both have their advantages and disadvantages. GeForce Now supports a wider array of Android devices (for now), but doesn’t yet support Chromebooks. Both GFN and Stadia are expected to cover both of these bases later this year, so on that front there isn’t much cause for concern.
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 and a Stadia controller, which for now you can get packaged together with three months of Stadia Pro in the Premiere Edition bundle.
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 really left out for now are iPhones and iPads. Google Stadia has promised iOS support, but it’s likely still a ways off. Worse yet, GeForce Now doesn’t seem to have any plans whatsoever to make the jump to iOS.
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 are added it will grow into a solid platform as times goes on.
Of course, we’d be remiss not to mention a few alternatives that are also worth looking into. Shadow is another virtual PC solution which 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 games or applications without limitations.
The other elephant in the room is Microsoft’s Project xCloud, which could blow the competition out of the water with a true Netflix for games model under Xbox Game Pass. For now it’s still in beta and only supports mobile devices at 720p, but keep an eye out for more news later this year.
That’s it for our comparison of Google Stadia vs GeForce Now. How has your experience been with the two leading cloud gaming platforms? Let us know in the comments below!