While most games today are still played on consoles or tricked-out PCs, several companies are betting on a different future — one where subscription services take center stage over hardware loyalty.
It’s still a relatively new concept, but game streaming services already come in a variety of shapes and sizes. However, none of them rely on the consumer owning the latest, most expensive hardware. Instead, games are streamed remotely from a powerful server to your screen of choice.
The benefits of such a system are clear; players no longer need to upgrade their computers or invest in a new gaming console every few years. So long as they have a screen and a stable internet connection, they can play the newest games without a hiccup. In fact, signing up for a game streaming service might be a better option than upgrading to a shiny new PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X. Not only are these next-gen consoles exorbitantly expensive, but they’re consistently out of stock at most retailers and they don’t yet feature a robust library of exclusive games.
Why You Should Try a Game Steaming Service
Here are a few reasons to check out game streaming services instead of taking the next-gen plunge:
Next-Gen Graphics Without New Hardware
Next-gen consoles are enticing for several reasons, but the main draw for many is radically improved graphics.
The original Xbox One released in 2013, meaning the Series X theoretically incorporates seven years of technological advances. However, most game streaming services provide access to a computer that’s on par with — or far surpasses — the technical specs of both Series X and PS5.
While each company utilizes its streaming technology differently, they all give you an easy way to stream high-definition games to the most budget-friendly PCs. For example, Shadow gives you access to a GeForce GTX 1080 GPU, while Stadia is powerful enough to stream games in 4K resolutions.
As long as you have a stable internet connection, you’ll be able to play incredible games with high-end graphics on the most affordable of screens.
Game Libraries are Similar
As it stands, neither Xbox Series X nor PS5 has a deep library of exclusive titles. Many of the must-play experiences on next-gen consoles are also available on other platforms and game streaming services. In fact, if you decide to subscribe to Shadow, you’ll be able to play any game that’s compatible with Windows 10. Opt for PlayStation Now, and you’ll gain access to dozens of PlayStation exclusives, including Bloodborne, Uncharted 3, and The Last of Us.
The story’s even better for Xbox fans, which will see nearly all of its upcoming games — including the hotly anticipated Halo Infinite — playable on various streaming services such as Shadow. Until Series X and PlayStation 5 start to build up a roster of exclusive titles, game streaming services will remain a viable alternative.
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While each service is a bit different, they all share one thing in common — an affordable price tag. Unlike the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 — which clock in around $500 each — most game streaming services cost less than $20 a month. In fact, Google Stadia has an entirely free option. All you need to do is buy your games and you’re ready to play.
Using Stadia as an example, you would only need to spend $60 to play Watch Dogs: Legion on your current PC or supported smartphone. To play Legion on a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X, you’ll first need to drop $500 on the console, then pick up the game for an additional $60. Based on value alone, Stadia is a clear winner.
Best of all, Stadia carries no monthly fees, so you don’t need to dish out a monthly subscription fee to access your games. You can, however, sign up for Stadia Pro for $10 a month and gain access to monthly free games along with other perks like 4K streaming.
The most practical reason to choose Shadow, Stadia, PlayStation Now or another streaming service over a next-gen console is its availability. While PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X continue to remain in short supply, game streaming platforms are ready to get you gaming immediately. No late nights refreshing online storefronts, no scrambling to pick up an overpriced second-hand console — just head over to your favorite game streaming website and set up an account.
A global semiconductor shortage that is expected to run until the middle of 2021 means next-gen consoles won’t be readily available until the end of this year. Until then, streaming games with Stadia, Shadow or PlayStation Now gives you an affordable way to play next-gen games with next-gen graphics.
Game Streaming Services You Should Consider
One of the best aspects of game streaming is simply the number of platforms at your disposal. Shadow, GeForce Now, PlayStation Now, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and Stadia all come with their own set of pros and cons — each one catering to a unique audience. Many of these services also give you the option to take your games on the go, giving you the chance to play hit games such as Gears 5 on supported smartphones. Don’t want a monthly fee? Check out Stadia. Prefer to have access to a fully-featured PC? Shadow is for you. Need something with a user-friendly UI? Check out GeForce Now.
Regardless of your preferences, the variety of game streaming services on the market means you’ll find something that fits your needs.
If you’re on the fence about joining one of the many game-streaming platforms, we have some great news for you. Most offer free trials to consumers who are interested in becoming subscribers. This is a great way to test your home internet connection before committing to a monthly or annual fee. Fire up your favorite type of game, and see if you can get through it without any lag; assuming you have a good time you can feel confident spending money on the service today.
Here’s everything you need to know if you want to try all the major game streaming services for free:
- Monthly Cost: $9.99
- Compatible Hardware: PC, Mac, Chromecast, certain Android devices
- Free Trial Length: 1 month
Until recently, Stadia was only available to people who purchased the Premiere Edition with limited options for a free trial. However, Google opened the floodgates last year, bringing Stadia to the masses. While anyone can buy and play games on the service without paying a monthly fee, a Stadia Pro membership is available for $9.99/month. This includes access to a monthly rotation of premium games, along with Stadia-exclusive titles such as Outcasters. Google is currently offering a one-month free trial of Stadia Pro — just make sure to cancel before it expires, otherwise you’ll be charged for the next month of service.
Here is how to claim your free Stadia trial:
- Head over to Stadia.com
- Create a new account
- Follow Stadia’s instructions to prepare your specific devices for play
- Start playing!
- Monthly Cost: Sale Price: $4.99 a month | Regular Price: $9.99 a month
- Compatible Hardware: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
- Free Trial Length: 7 days
One of the coolest aspects of PlayStation Now is its availability on both PlayStation 4 and PC. That means you can play hit exclusives like Marvel’s Spider-Man and Bloodborne without having to buy a home console.
Taking advantage of PlayStation Now’s free trial is easy:
For PC users:
- Access the free trial through the PlayStation Store
- Sign in with your PlayStation account, then complete the signup process.
For PlayStation 4 users:
- Log in to the PlayStation Store
- Look for the “Try Now” option on the navigation bar
- Sign up for the service
As is the case with several of the services on this list, be sure you keep track of when the free trial ends, as you’ll be automatically charged at the start of the next billing period. If you’re not satisfied, make sure to cancel before that happens!
- Monthly Cost: $4.16 (Charged as $24.95/six months)
- Compatible Hardware: PC, Mac, Nvidia Shield, Android
- Free Trial Length: Unlimited Standard access
Although a free trial isn’t currently available for the Founders Edition of GeForce Now, you can still make unlimited use of the Standard Edition. This can be used indefinitely, but your play sessions are limited to one hour at a time. That means every 50 minutes you’ll get a warning that GeForce Now is going to kick you off the servers soon. Once that happens, you’ll have to re-queue if you’d like to keep playing.
One more thing to consider; rather than offer a collection of games users can stream, GeForce Now taps into your existing library. While this is undoubtedly exciting for longtime PC gamers, if you’re just starting your collection now you may have more fun with other services that include some games.
Related: GeForce Now Review
Signing up for GeForce Now is simple:
- Head over to the official GeForce Now website
- Create an account and sign up for the Free or Founders Edition
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate
- Monthly Cost: $14.99
- Compatible Hardware: Android, PC, Xbox consoles
- Free Trial Length: No free trial, but it’s on sale for $1 a month
Originally billed as Microsoft Cloud, the remote game streaming feature has been bundled into Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. This will let you stream games remotely to your Android, or download and play them on your PC or Xbox consoles. The service is still in beta, but you’ll be able to play a wide variety of titles on your supported Android smartphone – including Gears 5.
- Make sure you have a compatible mobile device and an Xbox Wireless Controller with Bluetooth
- Sign up for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate
- Download the Xbox Game Pass app to your Android smartphone
- Start gaming!
- Monthly Cost: $11.99
- Compatible Hardware: PC, Mac, Android, iOS
- Free Trial Length: 14-day limited refund
Although Shadow doesn’t offer a free trial, there is a limited 14-day warranty if the service doesn’t work as advertised. The refund is limited to customers who live in “Explorer States” — a full list of these locations can be found on the company’s official website. Shadow is unique among all the above services, as it gives you complete access to a remote PC. That means you’ll be able to surf the web, do some photo editing, stream videos, and play games. Your remote rig comes equipped with a GeForce GTX 1080, 12GB RAM and 256GB of storage — although upgrades will be available in the near future.
Here’s how its 14-day limited refund works:
- Check to make sure you’re located in one of the Explorer States
- Sign up for Shadow
- If the service does not work for technical reasons, the company will offer a full refund if requested within 14 days
Again, this will only work if you live in an Explorer State and you want to cancel due to “technical reasons” — not because you decided you don’t want the service anymore.
Shadow has run free trials in the past, so keep your eyes glued to its website (or better yet, set a Deal Alert) if you’re hoping to test the service out in a more traditional way. That said, Shadow is one of the most powerful streaming services around, and it’s unlikely you’ll want to cancel for any reason other than poor connection in your area.
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