May 25, 2020
GeForce Now vs. Google Stadia: Good and bad in all the same ways

GeForce Now vs. Google Stadia: Good and bad in all the same ways


Nvidia GeForce Now and Google Stadia are among the leaders of the pack for cloud gaming — technology which renders and streams supported games from data centers to phones, PCs and Macs so you can play on devices that might otherwise not be able to run them. Among high-profile newcomers there’s also Microsoft’s Project xCloud, still in testing but with the advantage of the Xbox game library behind it.

That’s a pretty big advantage, given that both GFN and Stadia are both are having problems delivering on their promises, from Nvidia losing support for a lot of popular games post launch, to Google’s small selection for the money and big letdown on Doom Eternal’s “4K.” It can’t be emphasized enough: Don’t buy a game that you’ll only be able to play on either service because you may be out of luck before the year ends.

The spike in residential internet bandwidth demand caused by shelter-in-place orders due to COVD-19 has become an unexpected hurdle for cloud-gaming providers as well. Google, for instance, has stopped defaulting to 4K for Stadia Pro subscribers to reduce the load.  

There is, however, one major new development to keep in mind. You can now sign up for the “free” service tier (which still requires you to buy games via Stadia, and you’ll get two months of Stadia Pro service included. That includes a handful of free games, including Destiny 2 and the ability to stream in 4K (sometimes). It’s a tempting offer if you’re looking to try before you buy, although there’s little real motivation to keep paying beyond the two months. 

With the exception of their underlying purpose, as well as their inability to run on iOS, GFN and Stadia couldn’t be more different. GFN works with games you already have (sort of); Stadia only works with games you buy from Google specifically adapted for it. GFN has apps for a variety of devices and platforms; Stadia requires a Google operating system such as Android or Chrome OS or the Chrome browser. Nvidia touts ray tracing as its quality perk for paying customers; Google pushes 4K, HDR and 5.1 sound. Nvidia rations capacity with playtime limits; Google doesn’t really need to ration.

Nvidia GeForce Now vs. Google Stadia

Service Google Stadia Google Stadia Google Stadia GeForce Now GeForce Now
Tier Stadia Base Stadia Pro Stadia Premiere Edition Free Founders
Cost Free $9.99 a month plus two-month free trial $129 (includes Chromecast Ultra and Stadia Controller); optional $9.99/month for Stadia Pro subscription Free $4.99 a month for 12 months; free 90-day trial
Availability Now Now Now Now Now, limited time offer
Quality Up to 1080/60fps, stereo sound Hardware permitting, up to 4K/60p HDR and 5.1 surround depends on subscription 1080/60p 1080/60p, RTX ray-tracing acceleration
Perks None None None None Priority access
Free games No Periodically offered depends on subscription No n/a
Game discounts No Limited time discount offers, amount varies depends on subscription No n/a
Restrictions Requires Stadia-specific games Requires Stadia-specific games Requires Stadia-specific games 1 hour per session limit 6 hours per session limit
Platforms Chrome browser on PC or laptop, Chromebook, Android; there’s an iOS app but you can’t play games Chrome browser on PC or laptop, Chromebook, Android; there’s an iOS app but you can’t play games TV; Chrome browser on PC or laptop, Chromebook, Android; there’s an iOS app but you can’t play games Nvidia Shield, Mac OS, Windows 10, Android; Chrome OS (early 2020) Nvidia Shield, Mac OS, Windows 10, Android; Chrome OS (early 2020)
Big name games Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Borderlands 3, Destiny 2, Doom Eternal, Metro Exodus, Mortal Kombat 11, NBA 2K20, Red Dead Redemption II, Shadow of the Tomb Raider Definitive Edition Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Borderlands 3, Destiny 2, Doom Eternal, Metro Exodus, Mortal Kombat 11, NBA 2K20, Red Dead Redemption II, Shadow of the Tomb Raider Definitive Edition Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Borderlands 3, Destiny 2, Doom Eternal, Metro Exodus, Mortal Kombat 11, NBA 2K20, Red Dead Redemption II, Shadow of the Tomb Raider Definitive Edition n/a n/a
Notable upcoming games Baldur’s Gate 3, Cyberpunk 2077, Gods and Monsters, Marvel’s Avengers Watch Dogs Legion Baldur’s Gate 3, Cyberpunk 2077, Gods and Monsters, Marvel’s Avengers Watch Dogs Legion Baldur’s Gate 3, Cyberpunk 2077, Gods and Monsters, Marvel’s Avengers Watch Dogs Legion n/a n/a

Both experience performance glitches thanks to the vagaries of in-home network connections, but either can perform well enough at any given moment to hook you into staying. Google recently launched its free tier and separated its Stadia Pro monthly subscription from the Premiere Edition. Now, you only need to spring for the hardware bundle if you want to play on a TV. Standalone Stadia Pro includes two months free.

Sarah Tew/CNET

At its best, GeForce Now can be a seamless experience, nearly indistinguishable from playing a game installed on the machine in front of you. But even then, fast-paced first-person shooters are the most sensitive to network and backend issues, and more often they feel just a few split-seconds off, enough to distract from the experience. If you’re a devotee of free-to-play games, those seem pretty safe and are probably worth the price of admission (and certainly worth the free tier if you don’t mind getting punted out once an hour). But until the supported game catalog becomes more stable — it seems to lose about as many games a week as it gains — you may want to think twice.

Read our Nvidia GeForce Now review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Because it requires customized versions of games, Stadia only has a handful of popular titles — the catalog seems padded with different editions of the same game. And although Doom has been on the Stadia site since launch, it was recently moved to “upcoming.” (Though Doom Eternal is available now.) And at the moment, it really doesn’t feel like it’s worth the $129 for the Premiere bundle plus $10 a month after the free trial. Then on top of that it’s another $60 for a game that you may already own or that you may not be able to play if Google pulls the plug on Stadia — a nontrivial probability given the company’s history. And one thing to always keep in mind: The “free” Stadia Pro games are only free as long as you subscribe. So, not very free.

Read our Google Stadia review.


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