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Did Nvidia just fix the biggest issue with its GeForce Now cloud gaming service?

Commentary: Streaming games has never made any sense. Nvidia may have just fixed that.

Sarah Tew

You couldn't have paid me to use Nvidia's GeForce Now cloud gaming service (which, by the way, Nvidia did not just launch -- it's been kicking around since 2012). But not for the reasons you'd think.

  • I love the idea of playing powerful PC games anywhere without toting around a powerful gaming PC.
  • I have a pretty good internet connection, something that's required if you want to beam powerful PC games down from remote servers instead of a local beefy gaming rig.
  • I live in San Jose, basically in Nvidia's backyard. I'm close enough to their servers to avoid lag. (Not everyone can say that.)
  • I actually own an Nvidia Shield device -- it's not something I'd have to go out and buy. (The service has been exclusive to Nvidia's own Shield devices.)
  • I've tried it, and it works in my house. Games are playable over the internet.

No, my reason was pretty simple: Steam.

Steam regularly holds deep-discount sales on PC games.

Screenshot by Patrick Holland/CNET

Steam, the behemoth PC game store, has unbeatable sales, so that's where I buy and play most of my games. There's no way in hell I pay a second time for a copy of a game I already own, just so I can stream it -- especially without being able to pick up where I left off, because GeForce Now didn't sync save files.

(There's also no way I was going to pay $50 for a game that was already $20 or $30 on Steam -- an issue I ran into time and again.)

But today, at CES 2017, Nvidia announced that GeForce Now will sync games and save files with your local PC. From the press release:

"With a few clicks, they can connect to their own GeForce GTX virtual PC, install their favorite games from popular digital game stores -- like Steam, Battle.net, Origin, Uplay and GOG -- and start playing [...] GeForce NOW saves in the cloud game progress and achievements, and synchronizes them with locally installed games. This means gamers can use GeForce NOW on a secondary laptop and pick up right where they left off playing on their primary gaming PC. They can easily take all their games with them on the road, to their dorm room, a friend's house or simply another room in the home."

It sounds like exactly what I've been waiting for. (It's what I've been privately asking Nvidia for, for years.)

The fact that GeForce Now will now also stream those games to any PC or Mac that I might have lying around -- or at a friend's or family member's house -- just makes things sweeter. As of March, it'll no longer be exclusive to Shield devices, which was probably a big barrier for a lot of people.

Nvidia's Shield family.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Mind you, Nvidia isn't giving me my whole Steam library for free, or even a subscription fee. Nvidia is changing the whole pricing scheme away from "$8 for back-catalog, then buy the games you want" to something that could be far more expensive.

Now, you'll have to pay for the time you use, starting at $25 for 20 hours on a GeForce GTX 1060 virtual PC (think 1,920x1,080 pixels at high settings with today's games) or $25 for 10 hours for GeForce GTX 1080-class performance (more like maxed-out settings). You get 4 (or 8, depending) free hours to begin with.

That could add up fast, though Nvidia assures me that your hours don't expire if you don't use them, and says installing games doesn't count against your play time.

And, surely, there are other ways Nvidia can let me down. Perhaps critical partnerships will be missing and certain games won't be allowed to stream. (The fact that Nvidia specifically mentions Ubisoft's catalog is coming to GeForce Now suggests other game publishers may not.)

But this sounds like a service I could actually see myself using. Buy 20 hours, use a few here and there when I'm not near my PC. Pick up right where I left off, with the games I already own.

I've been covering cloud gaming since the days of OnLive (which collapsed) and Gaikai (which got bought by Sony and became PlayStation Now), and it's the first time the idea has made a lick of sense. Unless it still doesn't, for some other reason. Guess we'll find out in March.