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

For both streaming game services, it's still about the small library of popular games and spotty performance.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
4 min read
See at Nvidia
Nvidia GeForce Now


  • Impressively stable gameplay.
  • Doesn't require that you buy new versions of games.
  • Expanding to new devices pretty quickly.

Don't like

  • Your ability to play a specific game may be at the mercy of IP licensing contracts.
  • Still limited to 1080p at 60fps

Nvidia GeForce Now and Google Stadia are among the leaders of the pack for cloud gaming -- technology that renders and streams supported games from data centers to your  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, which launches next month but has the advantage of the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate game library behind it. 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 you can rack up all the achievements.

The spike in residential internet bandwidth demand caused by everyone staying home due to COVID-19 has become an unexpected hurdle for cloud-gaming providers as well. Google, for instance, at one point stopped defaulting to 4K for Stadia Pro subscribers to reduce the load. 

Watch this: GeForce Now takes on Google Stadia in cloud gaming

But a bigger hurdle for city dwellers may be Wi-Fi congestion. In my New York apartment, for example, there are so many access points around that conflicts can cause unexpected spikes in signal strength and latency, which results in stutter and lag. Plus, with people spending more time on the same network because everyone is working and schooling from home, the chances of getting a consistent connection are lower.

The other issue that all of these situations are facing is the inability to run on iPhones and iPads , thanks to Apple's App Store policies. Apple doesn't let you play via GeForce Now, Stadia, Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass Ultimate game streaming (formerly xCloud) or Sony's PlayStation Now. And given how Apple's willing to go to the mattresses over its store policies, it's probably going to be a while, if ever.

Either can perform well enough at any given moment to hook you into staying, though.

Watch this: The console wars are over now that Xbox Game Pass includes xCloud

Now for something completely different

With the exception of their underlying purpose, as well as their inability to run on iOS , GeForce Now 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, Chromebook, the Chrome browser or Chromecast Ultra (to play on non-Android TV). 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.

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. At the moment, it really doesn't feel like it's worth the $10 a month. 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 that 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 make sure the games you want to play are supported, and assume they may not be before you finish playing. The service has middling discoverability -- some featured games and an ultrabasic search -- and the ability to sync with your Steam game library. That's a plus, but it syncs everything, including, for instance, games you're done with. 

Read our Nvidia GeForce Now review.

You can sign up for "free" service tiers for both services, but Stadia still requires you to buy games specifically for its platform; that includes a handful of free games 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. Google separated its Stadia Pro monthly subscription from the Premiere Edition, which is now a $100 bundle of the Stadia Controller and Chromecast Ultra. Now, you only need to spring for the hardware bundle if you want to play on a TV. Standalone Stadia Pro includes one month free.   

For GeForce Now, on the other hand, as long as a game is supported you can play what you own. That's a big caveat, though; there are a lot of popular games and franchises that Nvidia hasn't secured the rights for, including Resident Evil, Overwatch, Madden NFL, Grand Theft Auto and Final Fantasy.

Both services let you cancel on a monthly basis.  

Nvidia GeForce Now vs. Google Stadia

Google StadiaGoogle StadiaGeForce NowGeForce NowGeForce Now
Plan Stadia BaseStadia ProFreeFounders Six month Founders
Price Free; pay for games$9.99/month plus 1 month free trial; pay for gamesFree; buy games from Steam, Epic or Ubisoft$4.99/month for 12 months; buy games from Steam, Epic or Ubisoft$24.95 for six months; buy games from Steam, Epic or Ubisoft
Availability NowNow NowNow, limited time offerNow, limited time offer
Quality Up to 1080/60fps, stereo soundHardware permitting, up to 4K/60p HDR and 5.1 surround1080/60p1080/60p, RTX ray-tracing acceleration1080/60p, RTX ray-tracing acceleration
Gaming features Direct and multiplayer chat, contact blocking; game pause to pick up on another device; clip and screenshot captures; Google Assistant support on Chromecast; local multiplayerNoneClip and screenshot capture, in-game filters, Discord integration, support for 90 free-to-play gamesClip and screenshot capture, in-game filters, Discord integration, support for 90 free-to-play gamesClip and screenshot capture, in-game filters, Discord integration, support for 90 free-to-play games
Free games NoPeriodic offersNoNoNo
Game discounts NoLimited time discount offers on Stadia games, amount variesNoNoNo
Restrictions Requires Stadia-specific gamesRequires Stadia-specific gamesOne hour per session limitSix hours per session limitSix hours per session limit
Plan perks NoneNoneNonePriority accessPriority access, Hyper Scape Season One Battle Pass Token and in-game content pack
Platforms Chrome browser on PC or laptop, Chromebook, Android; there's an iOS app, but you can't play games with itChrome browser on PC or laptop, Chromebook, Android; there's an iOS app, but you can't play games with itNvidia Shield, Mac OS, Windows 10, Android; Chromebook Nvidia Shield, Mac OS, Windows 10, Android; ChromebookNvidia Shield, Mac OS, Windows 10, Android; Chromebook