The vast majority of gamers around the world play on their PCs. But as any keyboard jockey worth their salt will tell you, PC gaming can be expensive. Between systems that cost more than your standard home console and upgrades needed to ensure your PC is running at the highest possible graphics settings. PC gaming can quickly become an expensive hobby.
Which is where cloud-gaming platforms like Blade’s Shadow come in. Shadow is designed to give you remote access to a high-end Windows gaming PC on which you can play the latest games at their max settings for $34.95 a month. And it’s available for pre-order to select U.S. consumers today.
To be sure, Shadow isn’t the first cloud-gaming platform. Sony’s (SNE) $99 per year Playstation Now is already available for the PS4 and PC, while Nvidia’s (NVDA) $7.99 per month GeForce Now is available for its Android-powered Shield device. A version of the service for Apple’s (AAPL) Mac is currently in beta.
What makes Shadow so interesting is that you can use it to play any PC game or Windows 10 program you can think of on such disparate devices as an outdated PC, Mac, smartphone or tablet. Heck, you can even use one of Google’s (GOOG, GOOGL) Chromebooks if you want.
But you might want to wait to see how well it works before jumping on board.
Made in France
Blade originally launched Shadow in its home country of France in 2016. At that point, roughly 5,000 people signed up for the service. Today, the company says it has 10,000 customers within the country.
Think of Shadow as a scaled down version of Amazon’s (AMZN) cloud computing services. You sign up for Shadow and get a access to a web-based PC that you can use without any sign of lag or slowdown. Blade says its cloud offering is equal to running a PC with 12GB of RAM, a high-end Nvidia graphics chip and an Intel Xenon processor in your home. You also get 256GB of personal storage on which you can store anything you want.
You’ll be able to stream games with a resolution of 1080p at 144 frames per second. That’s seriously impressive firepower. 4K games will also run at a speedy 60 fps.
According to the company, pro gamers who’ve used the Shadow couldn’t tell the difference between using the streaming service and a standard gaming PC.
If you’re so inclined Blade is also offering its optional Shadow Box, a small computer that you can use as your Shadow base station if you don’t already have an existing PC or Mac. That’ll cost you an additional $10 per month or $140 outright.
But, to even use the service you’ll need to have both a high-speed internet connection of 15 megabits per second or greater and, and this is the important part, live near a Blade data center to get the best performance possible.
As of now, Blade says it will have its data centers online in California on Feb. 15. The company says the rest of the country will get access to the service by this summer.
Seeing is believing
I’m skeptical of cloud gaming as it is so dependent on the quality of your internet connection and almost never gives you access to all of the games you want. But when I tried streaming Shadow in Yahoo’s New York office from Blade’s California-based data center, I was quite surprised by not only the quality of the stream, which was impressive considering the distance, and how easy it was to use.
Firing up the Shadow app launches you into a traditional Windows 10 desktop that you can navigate with ease. That’s all well and good on a laptop or desktop, but not such a great experience on a smartphone or tablet. Blade, however, says it’s working to create an improved app for such devices.
What impressed me the most, though, was how sharp and detailed games like “Rise of the Tomb Raider” looked on everything from a MacBook to a smartphone. I can’t say how often I’d play games on a handset, but being able to sneak a round or two of “BattleGrounds” in at the office would be great.
If you’re playing a game and your connection quality drops, Blade says that Shadow will automatically reduce visual fidelity to prevent any gameplay interruptions.
Blade’s gamble isn’t just about gaming, though. The company says it started with the category because gamers are among the hardest consumers to please. That’s certainly true for people like me who want only the best graphics performance out of their machines.
Once Shadow is up and running, the company says it will focus on the average consumer in the hopes that they’ll give up on buying PCs and Macs in favor of simply holding on to their older machines and streaming whatever they need to get through their days.
A healthy dose of skepticism
Still, I’ve got reservations about the service. If you’ve got a spotty internet connection, for example, Shadow won’t work for you. What’s more, Blade isn’t unique in its proposition to provide you with a cloud-based gaming PC. Companies like Snoost, LiquidSky and Simplay offer similar services, but haven’t taken off to the point of hitting the mainstream.
“The main problems are service quality (too much lag/latency and freezes), modest catalog selections and lack of multiplayer and social features,” IDC’s Lewis Ward explained.
What’s more, scaling such services can prove challenging for companies, especially when you’re trying to provide what could be hundreds of thousands or more users with their own PCs. Then there is the overall cost of the service. At $34.95 a month, you’ll end up paying roughly $419 a year, which, as Brian Blau at Gartner points out, is enough to purchase a new graphics card every year.
Over three years that rounds out to $1,258, which is more than enough for a full-on gaming rig.
True you’d eventually have to pay to upgrade your own PC, but then you also wouldn’t have to worry about your own connectivity.
Will Blade be the company that finally takes cloud gaming to the next level? We’ll find out later this year.
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