.. and what does this tell us about the future of Cloud Gaming?
- Publishers are pulling their games from Nvidia’s cloud gaming platform Geforce Now.
- The reasons why are complicated, we break it down in this post.
- Gamers have expressed both their confusion and their (sometimes) heated views on this situation widely across the internet.
- We discuss how this could be a defining moment for cloud gaming and its future.
In 2017 Nvidia announced their Mac and PC based cloud gaming platform, Geforce Now.
This was the second iteration of their already established Nvidia Grid product, which is available the Shield (a piece of Nvidia hardware that can be plugged into your television) and utilises cloud gaming. Unlike Stadia, PS Now, xCloud or Blacknut, Nvidia initially offered the ability to (near enough) play any game you choose, providing you had already bought it or do buy it. You simply logged into your respective gaming accounts from a virtual PC, hosted by Nvidia RTXs servers. We define this as a ‘bring your own game’ cloud gaming system.
The beta went well, originally launched in October 2017 for Mac-only, it allowed gamers to play hundreds of games provided they had already purchased them specifically from the Steam platform.
Even with 1080p as the max setting, reviews were pretty positive with pcgamer giving it a higher score than Stadia (although we question the methodology used by the team; given they did not test across multiple geographical centres it may be that they were simply closer to a Geforce Now server than a Google one).
PC beta was then launched in January 2018, but it wasn’t until December 2019 that the first high profile publisher, Capcom, pulled their games from the platform. Upon full release in February 2020 publishers started to leave the platform en masse. The highest profile of these was Activision Blizzard, followed by Bethesda, 2k, Xbox Game Studios, Warner Bros. Interactive, and the list goes on.
Why are the publishers pulling their games?
There are a number of reasons as to why publishers started to tune out of Geforce Now. Firstly, some argue that Nvidia did not make it clear that they were offering the publisher’s games on its platform. Hinterland Studio, the developers of The Long Dark, claimed that Nvidia had not asked their permission to host the game.
There are rather complicated licensing agreements that surround video games, with clauses such as where a game can be downloaded and who can sell it. The view is that publishers spooked at the thought of not having control over where their game was being hosted and pulled the plug.
However, it’s not quite as simple as this, since Geforce Now exposes a grey area in cloud gaming. For a model, such as Stadia where games are hosted and sold directly on the platform, the storefront is immediately obvious. It’s similar to buying a console and purchasing games for that device. However for Geforce Now, which acts more like a ‘bring-you-own-game’ system, it is not immediate obvious that the games need to be separately licensed to play. After all, you are simply logging into your PC (albeit it is sat in a data server many miles away) and playing a game you have already bought from the Steam store or Battlenet.
This raises the question, if this type of problem was the main issue – why haven’t publishers pulled their games from Blade Shadow, which acts as a ‘rent-a-pc’, arguably further into the grey-zone than Geforce Now, and why didn’t they pull the games during beta? One reason may be that they overlooked the platform, it was simply sitting in a blind spot while the publishers and developers worked on bigger projects at the time. Another is perhaps they didn’t quite realise how popular it would be.
It is certainly curious that only once Geforce Now officially launched with a subscription model and pricing package that publishers began to pay attention and walk. This, combined with good reviews and increasing number of players (Nvidia now has a waitlist for their subscription model, as they have reached server capacity) may have caused publishers to rethink their business model with regards to cloud gaming hosts.
The optimist says the game developers are using this as a moment to pause and take breath, revisiting their policies on how they should approach cloud gaming, and making sure their games are appropriately distributed. However, the likely core reason for this is that they are looking to maximise their commercial success from cloud gaming. This is no bad thing. Should publishers feel confident that they will share the spoils of the rise in cloud gaming we could see better interaction, and more games tailored to this particular offering, which in turn will make the cloud an even more enticing place to play your games. However, it will certainly be a rocky process for the gamers while they smooth out the edges.
An example of rising tensions comes in the form of a video released by the Youtuber Upper Echelon Gamers, who produced a 12-minute video titled ‘Geforce Now exposes greedy developers’. The video has 230k views, and there is some pure gold in the comments section. Gamers have been leaving analogies of this ‘money-grabbing move’ by publishers in their droves, with some of my favourites below:
Troy: ‘Imagine buying a real book off of Amazon, then the author tries to tell you that you’re not allowed to read this book in the kitchen because, “The author should control where book is used”, and the book is taken from you forcefully every time you enter the kitchen.’
Ano Nony: ‘It’s like selling someone a painting and saying that they aren’t allowed to look at it through glasses, only naked eyes since the artist never agreed you can use glasses to view it.’
Even PCGamer jumped in on the bandwagon: ‘It’s like Stoke’s Finest Strawberry Jam Co. stipulating that you can buy its jam, but you’re not allowed to eat it on gluten-free bread.’
The general gist is that gamers are asking, ‘why does the publisher get to choose which piece of hardware I play my (owned) game on?’. It is worth adding; given the original Geforce Now beta led on the premise that you could only play games you had already purchased on the Steam store, the platform may have set expectations at the wrong level for gamers to begin with.
What does this mean for the future of cloud gaming?
Activision Blizzard have now written into their EULA that the use of their platforms or games by an unauthorised third-party ‘cloud computing’ or ‘cloud gaming’ service is prohibited, therefore highlighting the need for cloud gaming platforms to develop good relationships with video game publishers and developers to ensure they are securing the licensing agreements.
This question of the publisher/cloud gaming relationship is interestingly not just a specific Geforce Now problem. It has already been an issue with Stadia. We mentioned earlier that Stadia is different to Geforce Now, as it acts as a storefront where you have to repurchase games somewhat like a console. However even under this specific model Stadia has been struggling to attract AAA and even the ‘mid-cap’ indie games, which platforms such as Nintendo have done so well to secure.
Perhaps Google and Nvidia have stepped into a world of digital licensing and games publishing that they do not have the expertise to navigate. Maybe that is harsh. Of course, Nvidia has been cultivating developer relationships through Nvidia GameWorks for many years, so one could argue that it is more a case that they are rolling over to publisher demands for Geforce Now, as the wider picture of Nvidia GPU supported games is worth more than cloud gaming at this moment in time.
Ultimately what this whole scenario has uncovered is that the future of cloud gaming relies on strong publisher relationships or, even better, access to a backlog of exclusive games (xCloud, PS Now). For the future of cloud gaming to be bright there needs to be an industry standard and likely a revenue service for publishers and developer.
We look forward to seeing this unfold, but hope that when negotiations get underway the end result is net positive for the most important party involved – the gamers.