Nvidia GeForce Now looks to be far more popular than Google Stadia – but will that last?

GeForce Now
(Image credit: Nvidia)

Nvidia’s GeForce Now has seemingly attracted far more gamers than big rival Google Stadia, doubtless helped by the fact that there is a free offering – but if big publishers keep pulling games from Nvidia’s streaming service, that may not be the case going forward.

In a recent blog post, Phil Eisler, general manager of GeForce Now, announced that: “Over 1 million new gamers have taken to the cloud by signing up for a free plan or upgrading to the Founders membership, which includes a 90-day free trial.”

As Pocket Gamer (via PC GamesN) highlighted, back in January, the number of downloads the Stadia app had recorded over at the Play store was 409,000, with another 141,000 via Apple’s store. So combined that’s 550,000, not much more than half of Nvidia’s tally, the latter of which has been amassed in far less time, to boot (GeForce Now only launched at the start of February).

Google Stadia requires either the Android or iOS app to activate the account, so these download numbers work as a fair estimation of subscribers (albeit not necessarily fully accurate). And note that back in January, there was a sharp decrease observed in app download numbers since Stadia was launched in November 2019.

So particularly if that decline has continued, GeForce Now certainly looks to be in the driving seat in terms of early popularity. But as we’ve already said, that’s not too surprising given that it’s possible to try out Nvidia’s streaming service for free, and that’s not an option with Google Stadia (not yet – a free tier is expected to arrive at some point in 2020, though).

Maintaining momentum

While Nvidia may have the early momentum, then, it could struggle to maintain that potentially even before Google gets its free tier live, simply because several major blows have been dealt by big publishers leaving GeForce Now after launch.

Activision Blizzard was the first to head through the exit door, followed by Bethesda, and there are a lot of gamers who are seriously peeved about the loss of high-profile games like the Call of Duty series, or the likes of Doom and Elder Scrolls.

The main problem being that some folks have specifically bought games to play on GeForce Now because their home PC isn’t capable of coping with the demands of those titles. So having paid up, if they can’t play that game without GeForce Now because the title is removed, they’re seriously out of luck.

In case you don’t realize, the model with GeForce Now is that you are essentially paying Nvidia for a powerful remote gaming PC, and not for the games – you have to own those yourself (although Nvidia also needs to support running them on the service, of course).

Trials and tribulations

Why are these publishers leaving GeForce Now? That’s a very good question, and while Bethesda has yet to comment, we do have an answer in the case of Activision Blizzard – and that’s because of a ‘misunderstanding’ on Nvidia’s part.

Nvidia is apparently treating the free trial period of GeForce Now – the first three months post-launch – as technically still a ‘transitional period’ between beta and being fully operative, despite the service having been officially launched. So it’s possible that similar contractual stumbling blocks are to blame for the situation with Bethesda, too.

Nvidia observed: “As we approach a paid service, some publishers may choose to remove games before the trial period ends. Ultimately, they maintain control over their content and decide whether the game you purchase includes streaming on GeForce Now.”

It’s a somewhat bewildering state of affairs, though, that Nvidia hasn’t had in-depth discussions with these publishers to ensure this sort of thing wasn’t going to happen after beta was exited.

While the behind-the-scenes wrangling and politics still remain murky, one thing is clear enough: namely that if there are any more high-profile defections, Nvidia may seriously struggle to maintain its position as a serious contender for the crown of top game streaming service.

Don’t get the impression that everything is falling apart for Nvidia, though. GeForce Now is technically very impressive, and we’ve heard a lot of positive feedback in general, including our own hands-on review verdict that it’s “probably the best online game streaming service on the market right now” no less.

Nvidia also scored a recent victory with the announcement of Cyberpunk 2077 being available on launch day, a huge game – and one which will benefit from ray-traced graphics. But Nvidia really can’t afford any more wobbles like Activision Blizzard or Bethesda…

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).