Forget blowing into dusty cartridges or tapping out the Konami code on sticky buttons: The future of gaming lies in the cloud. Cloud gaming — which relies on remote servers that you can access via the internet — is the newest progression in the video game market, allowing anyone to game from anywhere.
Gamers no longer have to buy or download games. Instead, it's simple to stream video games directly to your computer, tablet or smartphone. The cloud gaming industry is still in its infancy, but several key players in the space have emerged.
Our Top Picks for Best Cloud Gaming Services
- Xbox Game Pass Ultimate: Best overall
- GeForce NOW: Best for variety of games
- Amazon Luna: Best for casual gamers
- Blacknut: Best for families
- Shadow: Best for low latency
Best Cloud Gaming Services reviews
Why we chose it: Xbox Game Pass Ultimate brings its best games to a variety of devices via dedicated apps, browsers or the Xbox console. Although Microsoft’s cloud gaming option is technically still in beta testing (meaning it’s in the final round of testing before a wider release), Microsoft’s frequent updates and day-one availability for new releases make it our pick for the best overall service.
- Day-one availability for new releases
- EA Play games included in library
- Many supported devices
- Game library not as extensive as competitors'
- High monthly fee
- Must download certain games
|up to 1080p
|150 ms or less
Microsoft’s Xbox has been a top video game platform since its release in 2001, and it delivers cloud gaming through the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription. Members can now experience all their favorite Xbox games on a variety of devices, such as:
- Xbox consoles
- Android phones and tablets
- Apple devices (MacBooks, phones and tablets)
- Windows devices
- Samsung smart TVs
- Select handheld gaming devices (Logitech G Cloud and Razer Edge)
Xbox cloud gaming gives you access to games in seconds without the need to download or install them. Now, you can free up storage on your device, try out more games and save your progress to the cloud.
One of the top features of Xbox Game Pass is the ability to play new release AAA games (a designation that generally includes trendy, blockbuster games) the same day they come out. The Xbox Game Pass library includes games from Xbox Game Studios, EA Play, Riot Games and more. That said, while its game library consists of over 400 games, not every title is available to stream. You must still download some games.
Xbox requires a network latency of less than 150 milliseconds (ms), but 60 ms or less is the recommendation for optimal gameplay. Latency is the time it takes for your network to send and receive information, and if the latency is too high, it can cause your game to lag. You will also need at least 4.75 megabits per second (Mbps) in upstream bandwidth, but 9 Mbps or faster will create the best gaming experience.
To play on the cloud, you’ll need to subscribe to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for $14.99 a month. Ultimate members receive exclusive member discounts and deals, as well as free perks from partners and in-game content.
Why we chose it: NVIDIA’s GeForce NOW cloud gaming platform provides an extensive gaming catalog with over 1,500 compatible titles available for streaming and new ones added every Thursday.
- Free plan available
- Supports games from several platforms
- Access to over 1,500 games
- Need to purchase games
- Limited session lengths
- Free-plan users must wait in queues
|free to $19.99 per month
|up to 4K
|80 ms or less
GeForce NOW is one of the top choices for many gamers. It allows users to participate in a high-end gaming experience, regardless of whether they're using a smart TV or mobile device. However, GeForce NOW doesn't provide any free games to subscribers.
GeForce NOW provides access to digital PC game stores with roughly 1,500 available titles. No downloads are necessary with your subscription, but you must purchase the games. (If you cancel your subscription, GeForce NOW will move your games to a virtual gaming library such as Steam or the Epic Games Store.) Additionally, if you have previously purchased games from other digital stores, you can stream them through GeForce NOW.
A free version of GeForce NOW is available, but it has some disadvantages. For example, you may have to wait in queues to access the servers. When you do finally get to play, you're limited to one-hour game sessions. (On the other hand, there is no limit to the number of sessions you can play daily.)
Extra benefits for paid members include:
- Higher resolutions
- Higher frame rates
- Real-time Ray Tracing with Ray Tracing Textel eXtreme (RTX)
- Longer game sessions
- Ability to move the front of the queue
GeForce NOW's Priority membership costs $9.99 per month. It provides perks such as six-hour game sessions, up to 1080p resolution, up to 60 frames per second (FPS), priority access to premium servers and better graphics.
The Ultimate membership costs $19.99 monthly and provides exclusive access to the company’s fastest servers, eight-hour game sessions, up to 4K resolution and up to 120 FPS.
Why we chose it: Amazon Luna is an excellent choice for casual gamers who are new to cloud gaming and want to try it out. It offers a seven-day free trial and has a game library that allows you to try out several different games.
- Can play some games with friends who aren't subscribed to Luna
- Access to very specific games
- Parental controls available
- Seven-day free trial for Luna+
- Library divided by subscription plans
- Does not link with purchased Steam games
|$4.99 to $17.99/month
|dependent on plan
|up to 1080p
Amazon Luna allows casual gamers to test different games to see whether they enjoy the cloud gaming experience. If you already have an Amazon Prime account, you can play Fortnite as well as a rotating selection of games, and you can expand your library by adding game subscriptions likeLuna+ (more on that below). Amazon Luna also boasts a smooth user experience and the ability to broadcast your gameplay directly to Twitch.
Amazon Luna has its own controller, the Luna Controller, which is advertised to reduce latency by 17 to 30 milliseconds when using a Bluetooth connection. While the Luna Controller is specifically designed to enhance the experience of Amazon Luna, you can also use it with other gaming platforms. If you are a new subscriber, you can purchase the Luna Controller with a one-month subscription to Luna+, or you can buy it as part of several different Fire TV gaming bundles.
However, the Luna Controller is not required. Amazon Luna supports several other controllers, such as the Xbox One, Sony DualSense and Razer Kishi Mobile Game controllers, or you can use a mouse and a keyboard.
Amazon Luna's network connection supports 2.4 gigahertz (GHz) and 5 GHz Wi-Fi. No matter which device you choose, Amazon recommends using an Ethernet cable or 5 GHz Wi-Fi for the best gaming experience. You can choose to play Amazon Luna on many platforms and devices, including:
- Chrome browser
- Microsoft Edge
- Samsung TV
The games you can play depend on your subscription. As stated above, you can play Fortnite and a rotating selection of other games with an Amazon Prime membership, which is $14.99 per month or $139 a year.
Amazon offers a seven-day free trial for Luna+, a subscription that includes unlimited gameplay and access to a growing collection of games from multiple genres for $9.99 per month. Additional game subscriptions include Jackbox Games for $4.99 per month and UBISOFT+ for $17.99 per month. You can also link your UBISOFT account to Amazon Luna and stream games you already own.
Why we chose it: Blacknut is a great cloud gaming service for the entire family. With one subscription, you can create up to five separate accounts and activate PIN-protected child-only accounts, preventing access to games with inappropriate content.
- Simultaneous streaming on up to four screens
- Family-based subscription plan with parental controls
- Up to five separate accounts per subscription
- Lacks many popular games
- More expensive than competitors
|less than 30 ms
Families with children are the target audience for Blacknut's cloud gaming service. Parents can create separate accounts for their children with parental controls and a four-digit PIN that restricts the game library to age-appropriate games. (Blacknut says screen time limits are in the works.)
Blacknut works similarly to other cloud gaming services. Games are instantly available for streaming. You can play games through your Chrome or Safari browser or apps installed on your mobile devices, computers, smart TVs and tablets.
The Blacknut game library features over 500 games. However, you will only find a few of the most popular AAA games. Since the game selection is small, competitive gamers will probably want to look at other services.
Blacknut stores your saved games for the life of your subscription. If you decide to cancel, Blacknut will store your saves in the cloud for six months. If you do not renew your subscription during that time, the company will delete your files.
Blacknut is available for $15.99 a month. This monthly fee allows you to create up to five separate player accounts, allowing every member access to their own games. Blacknut requires download speeds of at least 6 Mbps and a latency of less than 30 ms.
Why we chose it: Though it doesn’t actually offer any games itself, Shadow allows you to turn your device into a powerful, efficient computer.
- Very low latency
- Can be used for purposes other than gaming
- 4K resolution
- No free trial
- Very expensive
- Need to buy and install your own games
|$32.99 per month
|up to 4K
|30 ms or less
Shadow turns your laptop, tablet, phone, Mac or smart TV into a powerful PC. By downloading the app and connecting to a Shadow server, you'll have access to a PC for gaming, video editing, web design, coding and more.
Because Shadow is essentially a cloud-based gaming PC for rent, it does not offer a selection of games. You can purchase or install games from other gaming platforms like Steam and Ubisoft Connect and play them on your Shadow PC.
If your current device doesn’t have a high-quality graphics card or enough storage to play the newest games, you can still play them via the cloud. Also, if you own a Mac and the game you want to play is only available on Windows, you can access it through Shadow.
Connecting your devices to a Shadow PC has several advantages besides playing top games at lightning-fast internet speeds. You can download files to your cloud computer at a bandwidth of 1 gigabyte, even if your connection is slow. With Shadow, you can also use Ray Tracing, a computer graphics technique that enhances shadows, reflections, refractions and lighting, as well as virtual reality (VR) for gaming and videos.
Shadow PC is available for $32.99 per month. A subscription with a Power Upgrade is also available for $48.98 per month; this includes an RTX graphics card and faster speeds.
Other companies we considered
There are many companies out there offering cloud-based gaming. Some of these services are worth mentioning, though they didn't make the cut above.
- Over 800 games included with subscription
- Seven-day free trial
- Cross-platform support
- No third-party games available
- Newest PlayStation releases not available for streaming
- High monthly cost
PlayStation Plus, formerly PlayStation Now, is a newer cloud streaming service. The service, which comes in at $17.99 per month, $49.99 for a three-month subscription or $199.99 for an annual subscription, can function at bandwidths as low as 5 Mbps, and you can stream games to PS4 and PS5 consoles as well as PCs.
PlayStation Plus has a game library with over 800 titles. If you’re playing on a PS5 or PS4, the cloud makes your console backward compatible, allowing you to play games from the original PlayStation, PS2 and PS3 as well as some PS4 games. But third-party games and many of the newest PlayStation games are unavailable on the cloud.
- Free version available
- Can be used for more than just gaming
- Screen sharing feature
- High subscription price
- Doesn't include games
Parsec is a unique cloud service that could be an excellent choice for those who enjoy multiplayer games. Its screen-sharing feature allows you to play with users from around the world. Parsec also markets its cloud service as a work tool because teams can pool computers and collaborate over long distances through Windows, macOS, Linux, Android and various web browsers.
Parsec provides a limited free version for personal use, but it doesn't include any visual enhancements or management features. Individual subscriptions cost $8.33 per user per month (paid annually), and team subscriptions cost $30 per user per month (paid annually).
- No session limits
- Stream gameplay on other platform
- No free trial
- Limited U.S.-based servers
Boosteroid is a cloud gaming service based in Romania with servers in nine other countries, including the United States. Boosteroid boasts unlimited AAA games, no session time limits and the ability to stream your gameplay on platforms like YouTube. A minimum connection of 15 Mbps is required to enjoy Boosteroid at 60 FPS.
Boosteroid offers monthly and annual plans but no free trial. Boosteroid Start costs €9.89 (currently equivalent to $10.74) per month, while Boosteroid Ultimate costs €89.89 ($97.63) annually, which equates to €7.49 ($8.14) per month.
Cloud Gaming Services Guide
Video games have been around for decades, evolving from arcade games to home consoles to online gaming. Cloud gaming is the next phase in the video game evolution.
Cloud gaming services allow cross-platform gameplay and access to hundreds of games without purchasing physical copies or downloading digital ones. While cloud gaming is still in its infancy, it continues to grow and show potential.
Main things to know before choosing cloud gaming services
Before choosing a cloud gaming service, consider that this industry is just getting started. This means services are still working out the kinks, and the best cloud gaming platform may not even exist yet. Some cloud gaming services, such as Google Stadia, have already shut down. If your service of choice steadily decreases its number of updates and new releases, consider choosing a new one. In this sense, some long-standing brands like Xbox may be more reliable, and choosing a monthly plan instead of an annual one may be less risky (though more expensive).
When deciding which cloud streaming service to choose, consider what's most important to you. Do you prioritize the library of games available, cost, session limits or latency? If you don't have a strong internet connection but still want to subscribe to a service, choose a service with lower latency requirements. If you're not worried about your budget, opt for the service with the fastest speeds and best-quality streams.
What is the average monthly cost of cloud gaming services?
Cloud gaming costs will vary depending on which company you choose. The following are the costs for each service we reviewed:
- Xbox Game Pass Ultimate: $14.99 per month
- GeForce NOW: Free to $19.99 per month
- Amazon Luna: $4.99 to $17.99 per month
- Blacknut: $15.99 per month
- Shadow: $32.99 per month
- PlayStation Plus: $17.99 per month
- Parsec: Free to $30 per month
- Boosteroid: €7.49 ($8.14) per month with an annual plan
Remember that you may need to factor in additional costs. Depending on your cloud gaming service, specific hardware or accessories might be required to play games. You will also need a high-speed internet connection or a data plan.
How does cloud gaming work?
When playing traditional video games, you need specific hardware like a gaming console or PC. Then, you must purchase a physical copy or digital download of the game. This form of gaming can be expensive and limit the number of games available for players on a budget.
Cloud gaming is similar to the streaming services you use to watch movies and TV shows. It relies on remote servers in data centers to run the games and stream them directly to your device.
When you choose a game, a powerful server runs that game and streams the video and audio to your device. You then interact with the game as normal. With a high-speed internet connection, your input signals travel to the server, which processes them and sends them back in real time.
What do you need to play cloud games?
Cloud gaming services generally allow gamers more flexibility than traditional video game setups. For example, many cloud services are cross-platform, meaning users do not need to have all the same equipment to play together. For most cloud services, you can use the following types of hardware:
- Personal computer
- Gaming console
- Web browser
- Smart TV
Depending on the experience you want, you can select hardware with faster processing power, like one of the best gaming laptops or a 4K monitor. Additional accessories you may need for gaming include:
The most important thing you need to play cloud games is an internet connection. You typically need a bandwidth of at least 20 Mbps, though some platforms support slower internet speeds.
Connecting your hardware to the internet via an ethernet cable will be more dependable than — and often yield better results than — Wi-Fi. In fact, some cloud gaming services will issue specific recommendations for your Wi-Fi network speeds.
If your connection isn't quite up to the speed you want, look at the best internet providers to find a package that will better suit your gaming needs.
Is it secure to use cloud gaming services?
How much bandwidth does cloud gaming need?
The better your internet connection, the better your gameplay will be. Most services need a minimum of 10 Mbps for you to play comfortably without lagging, but they recommend a bandwidth of 20 Mbps or higher.
What kind of controllers can I use to play cloud games?
Can I use cloud gaming services on 4G?
In addition, cloud gaming services consume a lot of data. You may run out quickly if your provider limits the amount of data you can use per month. If you get charged for overages, you could receive an expensive bill unless you have an unlimited 4G LTE plan.
How we found the best cloud gaming services
To determine the best cloud gaming services, we considered several factors.
- Variety of platforms: We looked at which, and how many, devices you can use to access the cloud.
- Available games: We compared the number and types of games available in each service's gaming library as well as the cost associated with expanding your game access.
- Latency: We looked at the recommended speed for network response time.
- Subscription price: We compared the monthly subscription costs for each service, subscription tiers and what you receive with your subscription.
- Free trials: We looked at the availability and length of free cloud gaming trials.
- Session limits: We compared how long users can play games in one sitting.
- Hardware and network requirements: We looked at what you need for the optimal gaming experience, including requirements for machinery and accessories as well as network connection speed.