Updated: March 26, 2021
As you well know, I'm quite disdainful of most things cloud. My approach to software is simple - its value is inversely proportional to the number of buzzwords used to describe it. Which makes today's experiment, or rather, the conclusions thereof, quite interesting. Cloud gaming. Boom! Headshot. Or?
Then, a friend (a real one) and I decided we wanted to play ArmA 3 together. The only problem was, he's a posh git, and he has a Macbook Pro laptop, no Windows. We considered different options and solutions, one of which is him buying a PC. For the time being, we settled on an experiment - he would try GeForce NOW, and see whether we could use this to make our gaming together a reality. Read on.
Me friend happens to come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs flow. In his Viking part of the world, GeForce NOW Founders membership (premium) costs EUR5.00/month, and this gives him priority access to gaming servers (no or little wait time), extended gaming session length - the free version only allows one hour at a time, and RTX on, which I presume means MOAR FPS. But more on that later.
Does it work?
Yes it does! We were able to play ArmA 3 together, and there was much rejoicing. Very nice, I like. And so does he. But then, the devil is in the details, so let me share a bit more on this. To wit:
He was able to connect his Steam account to GeForce NOW. This is great, because it means he does not need to re-buy all his titles. However, not all games are supported. For instance, ArmA 3 and BeamNG.drive are, but the industrious Workers & Resources is not. Still, the collection of supported titles is decent, and I expect it will only grow.
It took him a little while to figure out how to tweak the GeForce NOW settings so that he would have better resolution and enhanced graphics quality. At first, he wasn't able to see some of the enemy soldiers in the distance, which hampered his ability to partake equally in combat.
Now, he plays at 1080p 30FPS stream option, which eats some 9 GB of data every hour. You do need hefty bandwidth for this. In game, he gets a very solid 200+ FPS all the time. Not sure how the two FPS values work, I guess the stream part is the one limited to 30 FPS, which the actual gaming client has a much higher rate. Either way, this is very commendable.
Well, there were some, but nothing too major:
In the first few sessions we tried, his player had a generic name. Later on, the service would correctly pick his Steam username.
Sometimes, he would get a notification that he has a spotty connection. This is a bit odd, because he has a nice, symmetric 300/300Mbps setup at home. Normally though, there are no issues, and the playback is quite smooth.
The service doesn't always remember all the customized options, like controls for the game and such. This means the player needs to remap the keys before a game. Can be a hassle now and then. This also applies to game saves. The cloud sync option needs refinement.
Once or twice, during super-peak hours, even with a premium account, he would have to wait, although we're talking 1-2 minutes at most. Happened over the holiday season, and not since.
The big issue is that the actual gaming instance (VM or container, whatever) has a limited size - it would appear as something like 40 GB for ArmA 3. This is sufficient for the vanilla game, Apex and Contact DLC included, but not for some 25+ GB worth of addons that I and some other players in our little horde have installed on our computers. Thus, every time my friends starts the game, it re-downloads the mods - this is very quick, but still, technically a waste of bandwidth. Then, he can't really use all of the mods due to limited space, so he can't use all of the content we do - like say Takistan or Chernarus maps. I am not aware of any other limitations, and I don't know what other spec (CPU, RAM, etc) the cloud instances have.
All in all, this was much better than expected. He also tried playing EuroTruck Simulator 2, and this worked fine, too. He even tried playing on the phone, and this was all right. On mobile, there's also an option to use an external controller, but he hasn't been able to test that just yet.
Worth the money?
Well, I'd say quite so. Let's so some quick maffs. An ordinary, general purpose PC probably costs ~800 dollars or so. A gaming rig, twice as much. For the sake of the argument, say the delta is ~600 Euros. Then, if you pay EUR60/year to have GeForce NOW, this means that you can play for 10 years and justify the cost of the delta that you'd need to invest to own a gaming computer. And if you build a beast and refresh it every 7-8 years, then the finances pay out. Sweet.
My disdain for all things cloud has gone done some since this experience - or rather, my friend's experience. While cloud isn't a replacement for local stuff, GeForce NOW does give people without dedicated hardware for high-performance gaming an ability to enjoy some of that unavailable stuff right away. The cost isn't trivial, but it isn't astronomic either, you can use your existing titles, and if you don't want to spend on gaming hardware, the difference is really favorable.
There are bugs and glitches, mostly with the game settings and configuration, and it would be nice to be able to tier cloud instances, or at the very least increase their disk space to allow for the use of mods. An option to actually save your instance would also work well - but then, if you go for persistence, perhaps a local PC is the best choice. That said, this is a pretty nifty solution. I am quite pleasantly surprised. Over and out.