Disney+. Hulu. Netflix. Amazon Prime Video. Several video services are out there, trying to compete with each other.
Spotify. Pandora. YouTube Music (Google Play Music has now been deprecated). Amazon Prime Music. The music industry is trying to shove these services to your face as well.
It’s not surprising that video game streaming would become a thing too. NVIDIA GeForce Now. PlayStation Now. Cloud gaming with the Xbox Game Pass. Google Stadia. Amazon Luna. Facebook Gaming. Frigging, Facebook Gaming. And Shadow.
Here’s a quick test run of some of these game streaming services, and I’ll explain what they do. In particular, we’ll see how well each service fares on the desktop Linux side. Maybe you’ll get an idea of what’s the best service to choose if you decide to get into the cloud gaming business later down the line. Note that Microsoft’s streaming service is currently only available on Android, and as such, has been omitted from testing (interesting that it’s not on Xbox or Windows right now). My “pre-order” for Shadow won’t be available until January. Facebook Gaming requires a Facebook account, and it seems most of the games currently available are Android-based.
Additionally, Facebook Gaming is currently limited in service to the following states in the US:
- New York
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island
- Washington, D.C.
- Virginia/West Virginia
The service is free right now, but since I neither have a Facebook account nor am I interested in playing mobile games, I’m limiting my research to the following services (links to the appropriate subheadings have been added for your convenience):
All services were tested on Pop!_OS 20.10 with the Brave web browser, using Ethernet via a power adapter. Speed test results were as follows:
Ah. The service that seems to be advertising cloud gaming the most, especially in regards to the fact that they seem to have a few exclusive titles you can’t get anywhere else, including PAC-MAN Mega Tunnel Battle, SUPER BOMBERMAN R ONLINE, and Immortals Fenyx Rising by Ubisoft.
The first caveat here is – and unsurprisingly, since this is Google’s service – you need Chrome, Chromium, or some spinoff of Chromium. Firefox and Safari users will be met with this:
Granted, Chrome controls a whopping 66% of the web browser market. Still, there’s a little over 20% of users who are using either Safari or Firefox. Some folks prefer the latter browsers for whatever reasons they have. Seeing as Stadia is coming from Google though, I suspect they’ll keep it locked-down that way. Perhaps a user can spoof their browser name in a non-Google-based browser, but this isn’t something I’ve tested yet.
The second thing is, you’ll need a Google account. These days, with the amount of technology that we rely on from Google, most everyone is going to have an account already. But if you’ve managed to hide from Google all these years, there’s no way to bypass creating an account if you want to use this service.
The subscription model Stadia uses is strange. There’s the standard membership, which doesn’t have a monthly cost, and then there’s the Pro edition, giving you a few extra perks at the expense of a $10 monthly membership. You can see their current catalog of games here (you may need to be signed into your Google account in order to view them). Some notable titles include:
- DRAGON BALL XENOVERSE 2
- F1 2020
- Final Fantasy XV
- GRID (2019)
- Hello Neighbor
- Just Dance 2020 and 2021
- Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris
- Marvel’s Avengers
- NBA 2K20 and 2021
- SUPERHOT and SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE
- The Crew 2
You can still play the games on their catalogue without their Pro subscription, but you need to “buy” them first. They cost the same as they would anywhere else; for instance, Cake Bash costs the same $20 as it does on the Steam store. Sometimes there will be a sale where the prices of some games get chopped up a bit – Pro members get access to more deals, or the deal will be even better on the game you’re looking at buying. But Pro members still have to “buy** a game if it’s not included for free with the Pro subscription.
A side note here is, when you buy a game, whether with a Pro subscription or not, you will only own it on Stadia. So, if Stadia decides to hit the road a few years from now, so won’t all the games you bought. Pretty concerning if you ask me, especially considering Google’s history of dropping a lot of their projects like flies. (True, this also applies to Steam, Epic, Origin, etc. but I don’t see them leaving support for their clients any time soon.)
Pro member perks include:
- A selection of games that are FREE to own and play, including Hello Neighbor, Human: Flat Flat Stadia Edition, Risk of Rain 2, SUPERHOT, the SteamWorld series, and a few more. More games get added every month
- Discounts on certain games, and a bigger discount on some of those than without a Pro membership
- Games can supposedly be streamed in up to 4k with 5.1 surround sound, in contrast to the 1080p resolution and stereo sound on the standard membership
When you first try Stadia, you can get a free trial month of the Pro subscription and can cancel anytime. You also get $10 off your first purchase. Set up your username and avatar, and you’re good to go.
There’s also the Stadia Premiere Edition, which costs $99. It includes:
- Google’s own controller called the Stadia Controller, with a power adapter
- Google Chromecast Ultra with power adapter and Ethernet port – allows Stadia to run on your living room TV
There was a point in time just a few weeks ago where Google was actually giving these away to YouTube Premium members for free, but unsurprisingly, they stopped doing that pretty quickly.
You can buy the controller separately for $70, in one of the following colors:
As I’m not personally going to invest $70 for yet another gamepad that I have in my massive collection, I have no comment in regards to how well the controller works, using Stadia or not. IGN rated the controller at a score of 6.8, noting that the only new feature it brings to the table over a PlayStation or Xbox controller is Wi-Fi connectivity for reduced latency compared to Bluetooth connectivity. Stadia is still compatible with Xbox One gamepads and the DualShock 4.
Okay, confusion of all the memberships aside, let’s dig into the streaming quality itself. With the free month of Stadia Pro that I had when I signed up, I got Celeste and Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid for free. Honestly, there wasn’t a whole lot of interesting games that I saw, so these were the only two games I ended up testing.
Both games seemed to pick up my DualShock 4 just fine, including vibration. However, during my testing, neither the Series X controller nor the DualSense worked. I’ll have to dig into the latency a bit more, but based on the short amount of time I tested it seemed to be okay. Streaming quality obviously isn’t going to be as good playing on your own hardware, but I have had zero lag playing these games.
There’s this menu that shows up during gameplay if you press the Guide button on your controller. In the menu you can change your online status, connect with friends, view your connection quality, and adjust game/microphone quality if you’re voice chatting. If you hold the Guide button for a second or two, a different menu will show up and allow you to exit the game you’re playing.
By pressing F12, you can take a screenshot of the game you’re playing. Hold the F12 button, and a clip will be saved of the last 30 seconds of gameplay (you can alternatively press the appropriate button on the Stadia controller if you have that). These captures can then be viewed on the Stadia home page and be shared or downloaded. I gotta say, this is pretty convenient if you’re frequently taking screenshots or clips; it won’t take up any space on your hard drive!
An Ethernet connection is what I certainly recommend, but understandably, not everyone is going to have that. If you need to use Wi-Fi, a strong, close connection to your router is needed. Make sure you’re connected to the 5 GHz network if your router is capable of emitting this. Otherwise, forget it. Packet losses will be frequent, to the point where you will get a headache. And for a fighting game like Power Rangers, latency is going to be extremely important.
I didn’t find Stadia to be very compelling, because even in my house trying to run games I was getting Wi-Fi issues. I literally am 15 yards from my Wi-Fi port in my house, so I am fairly close to where my Wi-Fi comes in. And I was running into issues running a lot of games. When I was on the road, I wasn’t getting a lot of games. And this is Stadia running on my Chromebook — which has fairly significant hardware specs on my Acer.
If I am reading the forums correctly, a lot of people are kind of in that same kind of boat…It’s hard to get into games, especially multiplayer games. It’s hard to play games in terms of connectivity, and the streaming isn’t always great. There’s sometimes a lot of lag, even when you’re in the game, and when you’re able to actually play, you kind of experience lag. I know that the Stadia people are working on that and I am sure that priority number one for them is to continue to prove quality of service, but it’s a very difficult task.
For more info on Stadia, check out Ekianjo’s article on whether Stadia will boost Linux gaming.
Because Luna is currently in beta, it is limited by invitation. You can request access on the Luna landing page. If Amazon approves of your request, you will get notified by email.
It took close to a month before they got back to me, but I managed to snag an invitation.
You’ll have a week to try out the service before shelling out $6/month. I gotta say, $6 is a hard offer to pass: that’s cheaper than what Netflix used to charge $7/month for! (Don’t be surprised, though, if the price goes up after it’s out of early access.)
If I’m counting correctly, there’s over 50 games that you can stream from, including:
- Deponia Doomsday
- GRID (2019)
- Overcooked! 2
- Sonic Mania Plus
- SteamWorld series
- Two Point Hospital
- Victor Vran
- Yooka-Laylee, Yoku’s Island Express, and Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair
All of these games are included with the $6/month subscription. No weird “you need to buy this before you can stream it” crap. I like how Amazon simplified this over the convoluted price plan that Stadia is currently using.
If you’re an Ubisoft fan, you can get access to the Ubisoft+ Channel, though this will tack on another $9, making it $15/month. By subbing to this channel, in addition to what you can play with the Luna membership itself, you’ll get access to:
- Assassin’s Creed series
- Tom Clancy series
- Far Cry 5, Far Cry: Primal, Far Cry: New Dawn
- Trials Fusion
- Monopoly Plus
I should also note you’ll need to link your Ubisoft account in order to stream games from the Ubisoft+ channel.
Now, I don’t know what Amazon’s plans for Luna are in the future as regards to other channels that can be subscribed to. It could probably get a bit expensive in the end if you get the basic membership, Ubisoft+, and, say, Rockstar+ (if that ever becomes a thing). So you may need to be picky about the channels you subscribe to if you want to keep your bill down.
As far as streaming quality is concerned, games are streamed at 1080p resolution at 60 FPS. They say that 4K support is coming soon. Up to two devices on the same network can stream games, although for some reason, when subbing to the Ubisoft+ channel, only one device can stream at a time.
Like Stadia, Amazon is trying to sell their own controller. Guess what it’s called? The Luna Controller. It seems to take a lot of inspiration from the Xbox One pad. It’s got an Alexa button – watch out for that!
Some other features that the controller supposedly boasts:
- It “connects directly to Amazon’s custom game servers when playing on Luna, reducing roundtrip latency by 17 to 30 milliseconds vs. a local Bluetooth connection”
- It seems to “talk” directly to the cloud; therefore pairing is not needed
- “Low-friction thumbsticks, a comfortable textured grip, and wireless gameplay”
- USB-C and Bluetooth connectivity
- AA batteries for power
A good starting point here is at $50, it’s $20 cheaper than the Stadia controller. If any of you out there own a Luna controller, let me know your thoughts on it!
But you don’t need the Luna controller to play. You can use your existing DualShock 4 or Xbox One pad, according to the controller support page. I tested Sonic Mania with the DS4 and it worked fine. However, the game wouldn’t pick up on my Series X pad or DualSense. Of course, you can also use the keyboard and mouse if you prefer.
Streaming games from Luna can either be done by using a standalone installer – which, of course, there’s no Linux version for – or from a Chrome/Chromium-based browser. Interesting that Firefox isn’t supported here either.
Now, if you’re trying to stream any game from a Linux-based distro, this will happen:
There’s an easy hack to this: spoof your browser as coming from Mac OS or Windows. You can do this by installing a user agent spoofer extension from the Chrome store. The easiest one that I’ve tried is the “User-Agent Switcher and Manager” extension by rynu.smith.
Once you’ve got that installed, click the little puzzle icon on the top-right of the browser window to manage your extensions:
Click the extension you just installed. You should now be getting some options as to what browser you want to disguise to, as well as the operating system.
Keep the browser as Chrome. In the dropdown menu next to that, change the OS to either Mac OS or Windows. If you chose Windows, set it to Windows 10; it won’t work using Windows 7.
Apply the changes, then refresh the page. Click “Play Now” on any of the available games now, and you should be good to go!
Just a heads-up, every time you launch a game, there will be an ad on the bottom from Amazon, begging you to get a Luna controller:
At least it’s from Amazon and not from some third-party.
There’s this slightly noticeable lag while I was using the DS4 via Bluetooth, although, it’s kind of expected considering I was using Bluetooth. So, you might want to stray from the fast-paced games, unless you have a wired gamepad.
I’ve gotta say, I’m really impressed with the streaming quality here. Put the game in fullscreen, and it’s like you can’t even tell you’re streaming it! Then, when you’re done with streaming, Amazon will ask for your feedback:
I’ve sent some feedback to Amazon, asking if they would add Linux support, but for now, you’ll have to use a user agent spoofer to get Luna running.
Arguably, NVIDIA was the first to introduce game streaming before anyone else. I recall having the first NVIDIA Shield product they made – the Shield Portable, several years ago. At the time (somewhere around 2013), NVIDIA had their own app on Android called GRID. GRID was in beta, but I could stream several games from their catalogue for free. See the Wikipedia page on GeForce Now for more details.
GRID has evolved to what is now known as GeForce Now, and it works a little different this time around. Instead of offering new games to stream, the service will stream games you already own on Steam, Origin, Epic, Ubisoft Connect, etc.
This can be seen as advantagous in a number of ways. For one, let’s say you buy a game through Steam (or obtained a Steam key from a third-party retailer) on a PC, or even a Chromebook, and your hardware doesn’t meet the minimum requirements. GeForce Now will take care of everything for you; you can stream the game to your PC (Windows, Mac, and Linux), Chromebook, or Android device (iOS support is currently in beta phase) from NVIDIA’s servers without needing to spend $500 for a new graphics card. You don’t need to wait for download times (except if you’re using the Free Edition; more on that later) or keep track of game updates.
Second – and one that may particularly appeal to Linux gamers – is the fact that games we want to play but aren’t currently available on Linux, or the game is borked using Proton, GeForce Now provides a solution to this. For instance, the reports for Marvel’s Avengers on ProtonDB say the game is completely borked on Proton. Well, if you own the game anyway, you can use GeForce Now to stream this game to your Linux PC, no questions asked.
Third, based on the availability of GeForce Now on several different devices, you’re not limited to playing the games you own on just a PC. You can stream these games from your Android device, Chromebook, and even iOS.
The caveat, however, is not everything in your Steam library will sync up with GeForce Now. Only 30 titles in my library showed up out of the 150+ games I own. So, if you wanted to stream Dirt 5 (borked based on reports from ProtonDB), you’ll find that you won’t be able to do so, because searching for “Dirt 5” on GeForce Now’s game list will present an empty list. You can see the list of compatible games here. Digital Trends noted that several big publishers, including Activision and Capcom, have pulled quite a number of titles from GeForce Now due to miscommunication about agreements, so this probably explains why the number right now is paltry.
Of course, you will need Chrome/Chromium to use this service, and you will also need a NVIDIA account. You can use the installer through Lutris, but on my end I got this when trying to run it:
There’s a free membership, which basically lets you dip your toes into the water. You can stream whatever game is compatible with GeForce Now. The drawback is you have to wait a certain amount of time before you can play, and even after waiting, you’re only limited to an hour of playtime before NVIDIA kicks you out of the game.
With the Founder’s Edition ($5/month, or $25 for six months), the queue time is removed; you’re able to stream your games instantly. You’re also able to stream for as long as you like. Thirdly, ray-tracing will be enabled on games that support it.
NVIDIA recommends an Internet speed of 15Mbps for 720p streaming and 25Mbps for 1080p. Shield owners can stream up to 4K.
As for the experience itself, it’s pretty similar to Luna. It’s pretty good quality, maybe even better, and latency is about the same. The DualSense partially worked while I was playing Rocket League, but the analog sticks weren’t working. All the controls worked fine while using a DS4. No hacks are required as far as the web browser version is concerned.
PlayStation Now came around a time when Microsoft was introducing Xbox 360 backwards compatibility with certain games on Xbox One. Sony didn’t try to follow the same suit, but instead created their own streaming service. Now it was possible to stream PS2, PS3, and PS4 titles on the PS4, and they even carried this service over to Windows. No Mac, Android, or iOS compatibility, neither can the service be used through a web browser. Fortunately for us, there’s a script available on Lutris to get PS Now up and running on a Linux machine.
The minimum hardware requirements for PS Now on PC are as follows:
- Intel Core i3 or AMD A10
- 300 MB hard drive space for installation
- 2 GB RAM
Of course, you will need a PlayStation account to sign up. The service used to actually cost $20/month, but now it’s $10/month and cheaper per month if you get the 3-month or 12-month pass. Online gameplay is included, so you don’t need PlayStation Plus if you’re looking to play online. And you’re free to try out the service for a week before you decide to hand Sony your hard-earned cash.
The great thing about PS Now is, you have access to some first-party titles that aren’t available on other platforms. These include:
- Little Big Planet 3
- Twisted Metal
- God of War series
- Sly Cooper
- Ratchet & Clank series
Other notable games include:
- Street Fighter V
- F1 2020
- Injustice 2
- Final Fantasy XV
- Sonic Unleashed
- Dead Cells
- Dirt 4
Among many others.
There’s supposedly over 800 titles to stream from. Sony claims that some of them can be downloaded for offline playability, but based on my usage so far I haven’t been able to find a “Download” button on any of the games I looked at. Perhaps this is just for PS4 owners.
As for getting PS Now to work on Linux, you have to be pretty peculiar as to how you go about downloading it through Lutris. I found that when trying to install PS Now from the Lutris application directly, I couldn’t get the program to run at all. It was just a black screen, with a small window in the upper-left corner saying, “File not found”. I uninstalled the application and reinstalled by clicking the “Install” button on the PS Now page on Lutris’ website. It’s weird, I know, but I guess there’s two different scripts for PS Now and it seems using the install method from lutris.net is the one that works. (I’m using Lutris version
0.5.7.1. I know
0.5.8 was a pretty massive update, and for all I know a simple upgrade would probably fix this weirdness.)
When you want to exit the application, you’ll have to bring to focus the small window that’s on the upper-left corner of the screen and press any key on your keyboard.
As for gamepad support, this is also a bit strange. It seems PS3 titles worked with my DualShock 4 out of the box. However, PS4 titles required a different strategy. I had to shut the controller off, then turn it back on while the game was running. Only then would the DS4 work.
I tested a few games with the Series X pad, and it worked just fine, both wirelessly and through a wired connection. As for the DualSense, the buttons were mapped in the wrong place. You’re probably going to want to have the latest version of SDL2 on your system, or run Lutris through Steam if you want the right mappings.
There’s no search bar if you’re looking for a specific game to stream. Games will be divided by category, or by A to Z.
As for the service itself, I frankly don’t recommend it, unless you’re streaming from a 720p display or you can’t live without the exclusives. The video quality was pretty bad at 1080p; I can’t bare to imagine what it’d look like at 4K. It doesn’t seem there’s any options in PS Now to change the streaming quality either. Though latency for gamepads wasn’t bad, as well as no stuttering of the streaming connection itself, the video quality was enough of a turn down for me that I don’t plan on using this service much. I imagine this is because the PS4 is only capable of displaying 1080p max, and I guess Sony hasn’t bothered deploying PS4 Pro units on their server farm for higher resolution quality.
Shadow wasn’t actually something that I heard of until podiki brought it to my attention. The idea here is, you’re essentially “renting” a very powerful Windows 10 PC by streaming it to your local device. So, you can download and install any of the games you own through this computer, and you will be able to stream all of them, provided they won’t kill the 1080 you’re provided with.
The client is available on the following platforms:
Though the Downloads page says Ubuntu, the download for this is an AppImage. So just download it, mark the file as an executable, and you can run this across virtually any distro.
As for the hardware specs of the servers you’ll be streaming from, they are as follows:
- GTX 1080
- 3.4 GHz processor, 4 cores and 8 threads. Doesn’t seem to mention whether it’s an Intel processor or AMD
- 12 GB RAM
- 256 GB SSD storage, which can be upgraded to 2 TB HDD
Eventually, the team at Shadow plans to upgrade these servers. The Shadow Ultra plan will have:
- RTX 2080
- 4 GHz processor, 4 cores/8 threads
- 16 GB RAM
- 512 GB storage, split between 256 GB HDD and 256 SSD
For Shadow Infinite:
- Titan RTX
- 4 GHz processor, 6 cores/12 threads
- 32 GB RAM
- 1 TB storage; 256 GB SSD + 768 GB HDD
No word on when the latter plans will come, or how much they will cost.
The current plan (Shadow Boost) starts at $15/month, or $12/month if you get the yearly subscription. They recommend a connection quality of 15Mbps or higher. This will definitely save you a lot of money compared to building the machine yourself, and you’ll be able to use it for much more than just gaming.
When I signed up for the service, they told me it wouldn’t be available until January, so I can’t currently tell you how well it runs. Come January though, you bet I’ll have an article on it.
Streaming: Both Good and Bad
Streaming games bring a number of benefits:
- Games that aren’t available on Linux or don’t work with Proton could be streamed, if they’re available
- The amount of games you play will be a lot cheaper in the end with a monthly subscription service over having to pay for each game individually
- No need to worry if your hardware can’t run a hard-hitting game; streaming takes care of this
- No need to wait overnight for a 100-200 GB game to download; no need to manage updates
- Games can be played across a wider variety of platforms, including phones and tablets, than just being limited to one computer, and you can play them pretty much anywhere, provided you have a strong Internet connection
But then, there’s the other side of the coin:
- Mods can’t be installed or likewise use configuration tweaks, like Steam launch parameters
- Streaming requires an Internet connection at all times, and a decent one at that
- Streaming quality, while in some cases looks pretty nice, definitely won’t match up to playing locally
- Streaming brings an ever so slightly noticeable addition to latency
- Most streaming services aren’t going to offer the latest games except for Stadia, and chances are a lot of the titles available for streaming are games you already own
- Services could get discontinued at any point in time, and you may not have access to your save files to transfer to another service or computer. With Google’s history of discontinuing many of their services, I wouldn’t be surprised if Stadia will be discontinued a year or two from now
|Uses Games You Own
|Free, or $10/month, games need to be “bought”
|150+, 20-30 free with Pro
|$6/month basic membership, $15/month with Ubisoft+
|50+ with basic membership, 70+ with Ubisoft+
|Free, or $5/month for Founder’s Edition, $25/six months
|DS4/Xbone, DualSense quirky
|$10/month, $25/three months, $60/twelve months
|DS4/Series X, DualSense quirky
So, in the end it’s your choice. As far as Proton has advanced on Linux, there are still some games that just don’t work well with it, and streaming may be a solution for now. On the other hand, you may be someone who insists on zero-latency, the best picture quality, and reside somewhere in the neck of the woods where Internet can be finnicky. There’s both pros and cons here.
It’s good we’ve got competition in the game streaming area. It keeps prices down, and some services are better than others. Me, based on the services I’ve tested so far, I think I like Luna the most.
Were you to ask me for a ranking, I’d rank the services in the following order:
- GeForce Now
- PS Now
While I praise Stadia for its streaming quality and gamepad functionality, its selection of free games with their Pro subscription kind of sucks right now, and I don’t feel like paying for a different game on top of a $10 monthly subscription. GeForce Now makes streaming with a few of your games anywhere in the world possible, and could be of good use for games that don’t work on Linux. And based on my testing, it seems to have the best video quality out of the other three. But the games that are compatible are pretty sparse; it only picked up 20% of my Steam library. PS Now has a selection of decent titles, including a few first-party exclusives, but suffers from awful video quality.
Luna has a no-nonsense subscription model. Access to over 50 games at your fingertips for $6 a month, and it you want more games, subscribe to the Ubisoft channel. The library of games will only grow over time, and the streaming quality is already pretty dang good, considering the service is in early access. Latency is there, yes, but it’s honestly not horrible – it’s good enough to play most games comfortably, and I imagine this will get better over time too.
Only problem right now with Luna is you need to request access, and due to the volume of requests they’re currrently getting, it could take months before they get back to you. You also need to apply some quick and dirty hacking by spoofing your user agent on your web browser.
Now, we may have yet another competitor to the scene if Valve does anything about this. We already can stream games from our Steam library through the Steam Link app. But there are rumors that the company is working on a cloud gaming service as well. With Valve being big supporters of the Linux platform, I would imagine it would be easy to get this to work on said operating system, no hacks required. And considering it’s coming from Valve, I think it would bring some serious competition if it allows all titles available on Steam to be streamed. Bear in mind though, that this is just pure speculation. Valve always has their tricks up their sleeve. Shadow may very well be a good alternative here as well.
Understandably, a lot of you may be excited to get your hands on Cyberpunk 2077. Well, this may be where Stadia has the advantage for now. You can pre-order said game and expect it to be playable on December 10th. A nice bonus is, right now you’ll also get the Stadia Controller and a Chromecast Ultra with it, all for $60. If you haven’t used your $10 off coupon, you could probably apply it here and get all three products for $50. No other streaming service could compete with that! (The controller/Chromecast has free standard shipping, but won’t ship until the day Cyberpunk 2077 is released.)