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Best video game streaming services in 2021

Best video game streaming services in 2021
Halo Infinite (Image credit: Microsoft)

Current-gen gaming consoles like Sony’s PS5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X deliver new titles with cutting-edge graphics and the ability to play boosted versions of last-gen games. Gaming laptops also offer top-tier graphics and robust libraries on digital storefronts like Steam and the Epic Game Store. These platforms dominate gaming conversations, but they aren’t the sole avenues for high-end experiences.

Game streaming suffered hurdles and setbacks with services like OnLive and PlayStation Now faltering in the early 2010s. Things have changed in recent years thanks to faster internet speeds and improved streaming technologies and methods. Now, game streaming is a perfectly viable means to play games, especially for those who travel frequently or have tight budgets. Game streaming should not be discounted when deciding which game platform meets one’s needs.

There are as many game streaming services on the market as there are consoles. But how do you decide which one is the best for you? We’ve created this list to help you make an informed choice (we wouldn’t want you subscribing to Google Stadia, after all). Here are some of our top picks for the best game streaming services.

Nvidia GeForce Now Review (Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Nvidia GeForce Now

Reasons to buy
+Access to PC gaming libraries+Affordable price+Imperceptible input lag
Reasons to avoid
-Lack of support from notable AAA publishers

Nvidia GeForce Now doesn’t have a dedicated library. Instead, it allows you to stream titles you’ve purchased on services like Steam, UPlay, EA Origin, and the Epic Game Store. Though it is only compatible with select titles and lacks support from some prominent publishers, there are hundreds of games you can stream on Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Shield TV, Chromebooks, and soon, on LG TVs via WebOS. You’ll need a 15Mbps connection to play games at 720p/60fps. A 25Mbps connection is required to play at 1080p/60fps. 

There are two subscription tiers to choose from: Free and Founders. With Free membership, you can play titles for an hour at a time and may have long waits in the queue if servers are full. Keep in mind, this tier doesn’t enable RTX ray tracing on compatible titles. The $4.99 per month Founders tier gives you “Priority Access,” meaning four hours of play at a time, and RTX ray tracing.

With a fast and reliable internet connection, playing on GeForce Now feels every bit as responsive as playing games installed on your PC. Titles look great and play smoothly at 1080p/60fps (4K/60fps on Shield TV). Because of the nearly nonexistent input lag and latency, access to one’s own PC games library on multiple devices, and attractive price-point, we can’t recommend Nvidia’s GeForce Now enough.

See our full Nvidia GeForce Now review.

Microsoft Project xCloud beta (Image credit: Microsoft)

Xbox Cloud Gaming

Reasons to buy
+Access to Xbox games on the go+Low latency+Cross-save functionality
Reasons to avoid
-Long load times

Xbox Cloud Gaming (formerly known as Project xCloud) is second only to Nvidia GeForce Now. Currently available on Android and iOS (with a browser version in beta), Xbox Cloud Gaming functions very much like Xbox Game Pass since it also offers a slew of Xbox and third-party titles. Those already subscribed to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate ($14.99) get Xbox Cloud Gaming for completely free.

What distinguishes Xbox Cloud Gaming from the competition is access to Xbox exclusive titles. There are many third-party games available, but the big draw is Xbox exclusives like Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Gears of War Ultimate, and Ori and the Will of the Wisps. At the time of this writing, you only have access to more than 100 games (not the 3,500+ titles on Xbox). Still, 100 games isn’t something to balk at, especially since playing them (with a solid connection) is virtually indistinguishable from playing locally on Xbox or Windows. Loading titles takes longer than on Xbox, but once a game gets going, any further delays vanish.

Cross-saving between mobile devices and Xbox is another huge draw. You’re free to play the same game across all of the aforementioned devices without losing progress. Want to continue your Gears of War session on your phone if you suddenly have to leave home? Xbox Cloud Gaming allows that. Although we have Xbox Cloud Gaming listed behind Nvidia GeForce Now, don’t be surprised if it claims the game streaming crown in the next couple of years.

See our full Xbox Game Stream (Project xCloud) beta review.

Amazon Luna (Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Amazon Luna

Reasons to buy
+Varied game selection+Imperceptible input lag+Solidly-built Luna controller+Flawless on web browsers
Reasons to avoid
-Occasional buffering

Amazon’s Luna isn’t grabbing headlines like Google Stadia or Xbox Cloud Gaming. Nevertheless, it delivers a competent streaming experience on a par with all of the services listed here. Like Google Stadia, Amazon offers a dedicated compatible controller that connects to your Wi-Fi network, reducing input latency. Available on PCs, Macs, Amazon Fire TV, and iOS devices, the service has more than 50 games from a variety of publishers for $5.99 on the Luna+ subscription. The $14.99 subscription gives you access to the Ubisoft channel.

Luna’s UI is sleek and easy to navigate. Every played game gets added to your library, making it easier to return to your titles. Because the Luna controller is connected to your Wi-Fi, Luna arguably has the least input lag of any service on this list. It also helps that the Luna controller feels great because of its solid design and responsiveness. The controller’s dedicated microphone button gives you access to Amazon Alexa.

Amazon Luna is a newcomer to the game streaming world. However, it has the potential to become the most successful platform due to its ease of use, slick UI, great controller, and an ever-growing library.

See our full Amazon Luna review.

Shadow by Blade (Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Shadow by Blade

Reasons to buy
+Access to a high-end Windows 10 PC+Little to no input lag+Affordable subscription price
Reasons to avoid
-Can only access games you own-No built-in gaming interface-Cumbersome mobile controls

Blade’s Shadow is by far the most interesting game streaming service out there because it isn’t dedicated solely to video games. The services listed above all have dedicated UIs reminiscent of those found on home consoles and PC gaming apps. What Shadow offers is full access to a high-end Windows 10 PC. While you can play games on one of the company’s remote PCs, you’re also free to use non-gaming apps which your current PC may not be able to run. In that sense, Shadow is the most versatile streaming service. It’s available on PC, Mac, iOS, Android, and some smart TVs. There are currently two subscription plans available for $11.99 and $14.99.

Since you’re connecting to a Windows 10 PC, using Shadow is no different from using your own rig. As far as gaming goes, titles streamed on Shadow run great with a stable 15Mbps internet connection. Gaming apps like Steam, the Epic Game Store, and GoG perform as intended. Artists and writers can install whichever programs they need for their creative ventures. Of course, you’ll have to install each app and log into your accounts to access the aforementioned services. The most noteworthy negative against Shadow is its less-than-stellar mobile app. Even with the virtual gamepad enabled, using the mobile app is an exercise in frustration.

Those who can’t afford a high-end PC, but want to experience games running and looking their best would do well to consider Shadow. Artists and creatives should also give Shadow a chance if they want to boost their productivity.

See our full Shadow by Blade review.