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Mt. Tiburon Testing Labs: GeForce Now — a game changer

Streaming game services like GeForce Now change the equation for the computer industry and enable AAA gaming on everything from

Posted: Jon Peddie 09.25.18

In our recent article, Remote graphics changing the landscape we mentioned Nvidia’s GeForce Now system and told you that through GeForce Now, you can access games you own on say Steam for example. The game is transferred from Steam to the Nvidia server. From Steam’s point of view, you are running on just another PC and it requires your normal log in procedure which you supply via Nvidia’s server to Steam. Once the game is installed, it is then streamed to you, to whatever client device you happen to have. This is the consumer version of the original remote graphics concept of play any app on any machine anywhere at any time.

Any time anywhere; testing the Nvidia Now system reveals

Nvidia had name confusion with the Enterprise “Grid” virtualization solution and the “Grid” gaming service. Both were based on similar technology. The Enterprise team kept the name Grid and the gaming service has been renamed to GeForce Now (GFN). GeForce Now was originally on Shield devices then also brought to Mac and PC in the last year.

We have been one of the beta sites testing GFN and can report that it works, with a couple of minor and temporary issues on specific games.

We tried it on a Nvidia Shield Android tablet, a four-year-old MacBook, the new Dell XPS, convertible, and a two-year-old mobile workstation (Dell M3800). We also ran it on two different desktop Intel computers and a Threadripper. Of the lot, other than the tablet, the MacBook was probably the least powerful system we used.

The results were pretty much the same on any machine we used. The only thing that varied was the screen resolution. Nvidia has some ideas about what the resolution should be to give the best results. However, you can change it if you want to.

We tried four games; Fallout 4 (FO4), Return of the Tomb Raider (RTTR), Shadow the Tomb Raider (STTR), and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (WS2). The games were already owned by us on Steam.

We had been playing FO4 and STTR on an Area 51 with a 10-core Intel i9 and GTX 1080Ti on a curved HP 34-in 3480 x 1600 screen, which in our opinion is about as good a setup as anyone could ask for. So, we had a sense of what the gold standard was.

How it works

To run a game (in this case from Steam) you go to the Nvidia GFN web site. That connects you to one of Nvidia’s servers located in the U.S. and Western Europe. Nvidia has about dozen in all the major metropolitan areas. In our case, the nearest one was in San Jose, about 60 miles and a few milliseconds away. From Nvidia, it goes to Steam’s servers, and you are connected. You log into Steam as you normally would (it would be the same for Origin, or any other game server). Since you look like you have a new computer for Steam, you have to download and install the game, except its being installed on Nvidia’s system and will use the GTX1080s in Nvidia’s servers.

A small stub of software is also installed on your machine, so you can quickly access your library on Nvidia’s portal.

When the game is installed, Nvidia, using its GeForce Experience program on its servers, sets the options for the game. This is something the company is still experimenting with using analytics and heuristics from the beta sites and its own internal testers. The nominal resolution is 1920 × 1080, with TAA; however, in our testing, we found in some cases it got set to 1400 × 900. Also, we found that your system should be rebooted so there is a clean internet driver running. We didn’t do that during one of the trials and Nvidia’s local software reported low-level bandwidth and adjusted our resolution to 1366 × 768. Rebooting cleared that up. (Our service is 268mpps down and 12 up, with an average latency of 61 ms.).

Gameplay

Although we are used to a local, powerful, and high-resolution experience, at 1080p, with a 16 ms latency, we could not sense any difference in gameplay. Also, the games scale well enough that even though we were seeing 66 % fewer pixels, everything looked fine. The action-reaction time was fine, and we have dozens, in some cases hundreds of hours on the games so we knew what to expect and how it should work. It just worked.

Issues

Some games like The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, and Fallout, support mod’ing. Adding mods to get new tools, clothes, weapons, lighting effects, sounds, new quests, and characters, which enhances the game and extends its playability. In the case of FO4 and Steam, it can be problematic. The mods are stored locally and indexed on Steam. If you log into Steam with a different computer and try to run FO4, FO4 reports any missing mods. If you had been playing a quest that was part of mod, you’re off in a strange place, not where you left the game. You may also be naked and without any weapons or friends. It’s a traumatic experience.

So, one would think once you got your FO4 mod’ing library all set up on your Nvidia server account you’d be good to go on any machine you logged in with. No, you’re not. It’s a problem. Nvidia is painfully aware of it says they are diligently working on solutions. And we have no doubt they will find a solution. And, remember, this is a beta test.

The number of variables in a gaming rig are multifold; controller or KBM, or joystick or wheel, size and resolution of the monitor, and the many variables adjustable in each game creates the opportunity for a lot of corner-case gotchas. They’re going to be there, and when GFN goes public, a lot of them will be exposed, and there will be hell to pay from some gamers. It won’t be the first time.

Who else is in the game?

Nvidia isn’t the only company to offer a GFN-like service. In March 2017, LiquidSky with support from Bethesda launched their streaming gaming service and has been offering it ever since. AMD joined the group and made their Vega AIBs available and compatible with it. Other gaming services like EA, Activision, Bethesda, and Badu have been rumored to be looking into it. For the gaming companies, the pay-to-play model hasn’t worked too well so far. LiquidSky has a simple plan, and Nvidia is working on theirs.

What do we think?

In our recent write up on remote graphics, we said, the most obvious question that comes to mind is what will this (GeForce Now) do to Nvidia’s gaming AIB sales? If one can run a game on a server, and only pay a (small?) subscription or a usage price, won’t that kill, or at least severally dent AIB sales for the company?

Maybe.

However, as Nvidia acknowledges, it’s far better for them to offer such a service than have a (new) competitor do it.

Also, we believe there will be die-hards like us who will always demand the biggest, badest, gaming PC and only use GeForce Now when away from home and our beloved monster.

We also think this could actually expand the market by inviting newbies to try it before you buy.

And, lastly, if demand goes up enough, Nvidia will sell more AIBs to its cloud customers (as well as to itself) which will offset some AIB sales loss.

Finally, there is a group of users who for economic or other reasons would never buy a gaming AIB. This now gives them a chance to have the experience at a price they can afford.

In addition, we think this is a gateway to a totally new market segment which we are calling Streaming-Gaming. We envision low-cost devices like Android-based and Apple TV to be clients, using a TV screen and a game controller and provide real-time, AAA gameplay. We further believe the TV manufacturers will incorporate it just as they have incorporated internet access and 5.1 sound. We have made a forecast of this new market which is in our TV Gaming report.

Bottom line is, we think this is a winner.