GeForce Now: cloud-based gaming challenges licensing and distribution models

Written on 30 Sep 2020

The rise of cloud-based gaming offers users new ways to play games, but for publishers and distributors, some of the models present significant commercial, legal and developmental challenges.

The launch of Nvidia's gaming service 'GeForce Now' earlier this year provided players with a cloud-based gaming service that allows them to stream their own library of PC games in real time to a PC, Mac, Nvidia Shield device, or Android device. It does this by enabling users to link their existing digital PC store accounts and purchases to the GeForce Now service, and then to stream those games from the GeForce Now cloud to a range of supported devices (as opposed to running them on a local PC).This differs to other cloud-based gaming platforms such as Google's Stadia, which are discrete stores where users are required to purchase games within the service, separately to any other PC or console versions that user may own.

The disruptive potential for a cloud-based service like GeForce Now is significant, as it enables users to stream their PC games from remote servers using a high performance virtual machine, but then to still play them on devices below the recommended specifications which otherwise wouldn’t be able to support them, such as older desktops, laptops and mobiles. It looks to allow ubiquitous gameplay across multiple devices, without losing quality. For users that don't want to spend money every year on the latest gaming equipment, the ability to 'rent' a high performance virtual machine is an exciting prospect and one that clearly has the potential to change the way in which games are played.

The licensing model

As exciting as the service sounds from a gaming perspective, several major publishers have already removed their titles from it. While the exact reasons for every removal may vary, some are as a result of Nvidia failing to ask for permission to put that publisher's game on the platform. In response, Nvidia recently announced an 'opt-in' process for developers and publishers that want to remain accessible via GeForce Now, with any companies that do not opt-in being removed from the platform.

From a user's perspective however, this hesitancy is frustrating, and many will no doubt wonder why a publisher can prevent them from accessing a game via GeForce Now that they have already purchased. The answer is that the current publisher games licensing model does not take account of services like GeForce Now. Typically games are expressly licensed for certain types of publishing and exploitation (for example, on PC, console, Android). Services like GeForce Now that allow PC titles to stream via non-PC devices cut across this traditional licensing model.

The future

Even though some publishers and distributors may not agree with this new technology or delivery models, as the uptake of and popularity of cloud-based gaming increases, there are several commercial and legal issues that publishers and distributors might want to consider:

For example, when negotiating distribution agreements for games, publishers and distributors should now consider whether the games could be accessed via a cloud-based gaming service and, if so, how this should be dealt with in the agreement:

  • Will the ability to access a PC version of a game on a mobile device have an impact on anticipated revenues under the agreement?
  • Should there be specific restrictions included in agreements with online distributors to prevent games from being accessed via a third party cloud-based service?

Users being able to access a game on a platform it was not developed for also presents development challenges. How is the developer of a PC game able to provide support for a game that's being streamed via a platform they've never previously worked with?

As the technology behind cloud-based gaming matures, the games industry will need to grapple with not only how this technology changes the ways in which users access games, but also how it will impact the way in which games are licensed and distribution agreements are negotiated.