Cloud Gaming and How It Works

Last updated: 12/31/2023
8 minutes read

Cloud gaming promises to give us even greater flexibility when playing games online, but how does it work, and is it free or does it cost money?

Let’s take a look at the subject to see what it covers and how to get started.

What Is Cloud Gaming? The Basics

The concept of cloud gaming is centered around playing a game using remote servers located in data centers, instead of having to buy the disk or download it.

Browser cloud gaming allows players to engage with exactly the same game as would be accessible with a physical copy, but it just runs elsewhere rather than on your own device.

You can play the games anywhere and using any screen, making it similar in some ways to streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, but also giving you the ability to interact and control the action. To play in this way, you need a fast, reliable internet connection.

If the connection is too slow, you will likely endure a frustrating and far-from-enjoyable gaming experience full of lags.

To access the games, you use your cloud gaming browser or a specific app, either on a PC or on a mobile device.

This method of gaming also avoids the need to spend a lot of money on the latest generation of consoles or on a cutting-edge PC, as you are just picking up the stream that comes from a remote server.

The quality of the game is based purely on the server and your internet speed.

As you can imagine, this means that you can play the same cloud based video games on your smartphone, on a console, or on a PC, rather than being restricted to a single device.

The arrival of cloud gaming has opened up a huge new market for gamers to enjoy the best games in whatever way suits them at any given time.

As well as being compatible across many different devices, you can also play cloud based games using a variety of controllers.

From console controllers to a touchscreen and the classic keyboard and mouse combination, this is a neat way of being able to try different ways of playing until you find your favorite.

Is cloud gaming free to use? Generally, speaking, cloud gaming isn’t free. You typically need to pay a monthly or annual fee to hook up to the games.

In some cases, you also need to pay a fee for each game that you play. Other services charge a fixed fee and let you play whatever games you want to.

Is cloud gaming worth the cost? It depends on how you like to play and whether the benefits of playing in this way are important to you.

For instance, someone who wants to switch between devices in different locations may be more interested than someone who always plays on the same device.

We will look at the biggest cloud gaming companies in a moment, to see more about what they offer. Some services let you download the games locally while others don’t let you do this. Therefore, you need to check the exact terms of any cloud video games service that you plan to try.

How Has It Developed?

The history of cloud gaming goes back over a decade, with the OnLive service that was launched in 2010 usually described as the first cloud gaming service.

Since the technology at that time wasn’t as advanced as it is now, some technical issues such as increased latency meant that it never fulfilled the potential it offered.

Another major development came along in 2012, when Sony bought the Gaikai brand, allowing them to bring out the PlayStation Now service a couple of years later.

This was the first major move into the cloud gaming market by one of the leading console companies and opened the door for others to come along afterward.

The arrival in recent times of big names like Microsoft, Amazon, and Sony has changed the scene by bringing this method of gaming to the attention of far more people.

How many people currently play games using a cloud service? A Newzoo market research report suggests that there will be close to 24 million paying to play video games on the cloud by the end of 2021.

They expect the 2021 revenue of $1.6 billion to grow to over $6.5 billion by 2024, by which time it should make up around 3% of the entire global gaming market.

The Pros and Cons of Cloud Gaming

There are some alluring reasons to give cloud gaming a try, with the following a few of the main ones you might like to consider:

  • You get an amazing gaming experience even on a modest device, because it's powered by the cloud gaming servers in data centers rather than your own device. This means that there's no need to spend a lot of money on upgrading your equipment regularly.
  • You can play a variety of games without the cost or inconvenience of buying, downloading, and storing them. For instance, you don’t need to find storage space to keep your games and all of the updates that are released for them.
  • It’s a hugely convenient way of playing, as you can hook up to the games you want to play at any time and wherever you happen to be.
  • You can play across your different devices without losing your progress. By using the same login, you can pick up exactly where you left off even if you aren’t on the same device.
  • Cloud gaming also gives you the chance to play with friends more easily. You each need to join the same service and then you can meet up on the game of your choice.
  • There is no need to update the game every time that a new release is made available.
  • You may be able to try many more games for no extra cost once you have paid the subscription cost, depending upon the terms and conditions.

No gaming service is perfect, and before you sign up for cloud gaming, you might want to think about whether any of the following drawbacks are particularly important to you:

  • You don’t own the games. If you love to buy games and then keep them at home, you may feel that this isn’t quite as enjoyable.
  • In the same way, some people enjoy having to download games and feel more comfortable playing in this way.
  • A fast internet connection is needed, so anyone who lives in an area with poor speeds could struggle to get the kind of performance needed.
  • Even with a good internet speed, the input latency in cloud gaming can be disappointing.

The Extreme Competition in the Field and the Big Players

No matter what games you like to play, there are cloud gaming options for you to explore. This is because it has become a massively competitive market where some of the biggest names in the gaming world offer their services to players.

The following are some of the top names that you are likely to come across when looking at cloud based gaming. This selection should keep growing as new hopefuls enter the market and try to win over as many gamers as they can.

  • Xbox Cloud Gaming
  • Amazon Luna
  • Google Stadia
  • PlayStation Now
  • GeForce Now
  • Boosteroid
  • GameStream
  • Playkey
  • Vortex
  • Shadow

As you would expect, many of the games can be accessed on the video game cloud. At the time of writing, the list of the top cloud video games that you can choose from includes Grand Theft Auto V, Destiny 2, Outriders, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Forza Horizon 4.

Recently, Microsoft confirmed that their cloud gaming service may include the likes of Microsoft Flight Simulator, Redfall, and Starfield in 2022. Each service of this kind has a lot of the video games that they offer, so you should check out the current selection before you go ahead and join.

What are some cloud gaming examples? The Google Stadia service includes several titles from Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series as well as Cyberpunk 2077 and Final Fantasy XV on their long list of titles.

If we look at PlayStation Now, we can see a variety of Final Fantasy titles, Metal Gear Rising, and Duke Nukem Forever among the many games.

What Can We Expect in the Future?

Is cloud gaming the future? It certainly looks that way, with the rapidly-evolving technology meaning that we can expect an increasingly improved experience on games in the cloud.

The growing popularity of playing games in this way should ensure that more new games are released on cloud streaming services.

Another important advance is likely to be the introduction of new game cloud gaming companies, leading to a more diversified market with specialized services for each type of gamer.

Keen gamers will be hoping to see slicker, lag-free cloud gaming and cheaper subscription fees in the future, as the increased level of competition should hopefully make this come true.

We may even see free services pop up and certain games get released exclusively on the cloud.

For the moment, cloud gaming remains something that many gamers have yet to try. However, we expect to see this change in the next few years as more people discover the benefits of playing in this way.