Since GeForce Now (GFN) – Nvidia’s cloud streaming service – exited its beta on February 5th, we’ve seen a cavalcade of publishers and developers asking Nvidia to remove their games from the service. Big publishers like Activision and Bethesda were among the first to lead the exodus, and today (March 1st, 2020) saw the developers of The Long Dark – Hinterland Studios – asking for the game to be pulled from the service. As a developer, this makes no sense to me.
If GFN’s business model were like that of Stadia or Playstation Now, these moves would be absolutely reasonable and warranted. For clarification, that model is when a user pays for a subscription to the service, and is in return provided streaming access to a library of hosted games. Put another way, think Netflix – you can only watch the content they have licensed with their providers, you can’t watch a copy of a movie you own on BluRay via Netflix since it isn’t licensed by their service.
That model is not what GeForce Now is – GFN is more directly comparable to Plex. If you have never used Plex, it is essentially a service with which you pay a subscription and are able to stream your own curated library of content. If you were to rip a BluRay you legally own, you could host it on Plex and stream it from anywhere, and onto any device using the Plex app (like the Netflix app). It is, essentially, a streaming computer which lives on the cloud, and a client with which to watch this content. That’s not terribly different from what GeForce Now is.
By using Nvidia’s service, you are provided with access to a high-powered Virtual Machine (giving you access to the equivalent of a Ryzen 3900X and an RTX 2080 Ti) with which to play games you already own on Steam. This is, effectively, no different than installing the game to a PC in your office, and streaming it via local network to the laptop connected to the TV in your living room (by the way, in-home streaming/remote play is a service already built into Steam). It is also no different than if I were to go to AWS (Amazon’s cloud provider), pay for an EC2 instance (Virtual Machine host), install a Windows VM onto it, install Steam onto that, and stream the game to my living room.
There is very little legal precedent for any of this, and it feels like a decidedly anti-consumer rhetoric being set. You, as the user, already own a license for the content you’re playing – you’re simply paying Nvidia for access to a machine which doesn’t physically live in your home. Playing games off of this service is just like if you’d rented a console, but Activision said you couldn’t use any of their games on that console. It makes no sense.
To play devil’s advocate, one could argue that in order for these licenses to be installed to these Virtual Machines, Nvidia would need some special “one-to-many” agreement in place with Steam. For example, you as an individual Steam user have purchased a “one-to-one” license – you paid for one license for use by one account. “One-to-many” would imply that Nvidia has access to one license which can be provided to many accounts. If that is the argument to be used, sure, I can see a case for it; but it is a weak one. The Steam user is still using their license to access the content, and cannot access games they haven’t already purchased a license for.
The only other argument I could see on behalf of the publishers and developers in question is if their materials are being used in GeForce Now marketing, but Nvidia didn’t create a partnership to do so. If that’s the case, I don’t see why that would be a mutually exclusive conversation to be had outside of the games appearing on the service.
In short, none of this makes sense, and it is super disappointing to see a smaller developer such as Hinterland making this move. I think GFN is an excellent service, and one which is providing great value to Steam users who may not be able to afford a brand new, expensive gaming PC. Or for those who are frequently traveling due to work and don’t want to/can’t lug around a gaming laptop with them all the time. To block your users – who already bought their copy of the game – from using GeForce Now is unreasonable. It feels as though these publishers and devs are muzzling a great service, and only doing so for reasons which lack both foresight and community focus.
You can hear us talk more about this in Episode 109 of the podcast, which was recorded a few weeks before the writing of this article.