LiquidSky has been quietly building up a base of players to test out its cloud gaming service, and now it's ready to roll out for real, with a few added surprises.
First, let's cover the basics: LiquidSky promises to let anyone play any PC game on Mac, Windows, Android or Linux devices via the magic of cloud streaming. It's a promise we've heard before from companies like OnLive, a service that racked up $40 million in debt by 2012 and finally folded in 2015. Cloud gaming services like PlayStation Now exist today, but they're still not exactly mainstream.
However, at the beginning of 2017, the world -- and its technology -- might finally be ready for cloud gaming. More than 1 million people signed up to participate in the LiquidSky beta, and the service is more open than its predecessors', allowing players to run absolutely any PC game, including League of Legends, Overwatch and every title on Steam, Battle.net, Origin or any other provider.
As LiquidSky goes live for the public, it's adding a feature that aims to make cloud streaming as popular as mobile gaming: free-to-play.
The company's business model mirrors music streaming services like Spotify. You can play games for free, provided you're willing to watch some ads beforehand. It'll change from country to country, but typically in the US you'll watch between one to six minutes of advertising to gain enough credits for an hour's gameplay, with a cap on three hours of credits per day. While that's not going to satiate the desires of the most ardent gamers, they would likely have a gaming PC already.
The system is based around the virtual currency of "SkyCredits." That one-to-six minutes of advertising will earn you 60 of them, which is good for a virtual machine with a 2GB GPU, three vCPU cores and 8GB of RAM, which LiquidSky says is good to run most games at 1080p/30.
For 120 SkyCredits per hour, you get the Pro level, which has double the specs and can run pretty much any game at 1080p/60. Or, for 240 SkyCredits per hour, the Elite level offers 8GB of GPU VRAM, 12 vCPU cores and 32GB of RAM. Since it's all based around NVIDIA's GRID technology, it's hard to compare to a regular PC, but the top tier is on par with a very high-end gaming setup.
Unlike PlayStation Now, LiquidSky gives you a virtual computer, complete with cloud storage for your games. If you own a game on pretty much any online store, you'll be able to download it to your virtual machine (at up to 1Gbps) and start playing. The amount of storage you get depends on whether you're paying or watching ads, ranging from 100GB to 1TB.
Paid tiers start at $9.99 per month, which will grant you 80 hours of the lowest-power gaming setup, 40 hours of the Pro, or 20 hours of Elite. That's very competitive with NVIDIA's GeForce Now, which costs $25 for 20 hours of GTX 1060-level performance or 10 hours of GTX 1080.
The list of compatible devices is pretty comprehensive, with support for Windows, Mac or Linux PCs, as well as Android phones and tablets. You'll also need a good internet connection. Three to five Mbps will be enough to send you a 1080p, 30 fps stream, while the top-end requires between 15 and 20 Mbps.
Responsiveness has always been a huge issue with streaming services, ruling out twitchy shooters or driving games. LiquidSky claims its service offers the lowest latency experience around, with 30 ms response times. That'll obviously depend on your internet connectivity at home, but on what the company's CMO Jason Kirby described as "garbage internet" here at CES, we were still seeing response times max out at 40 ms.
From what we've seen, LiquidSky seems like an interesting proposition for those that can't afford or don't want a gaming PC. It will launch worldwide to "tens of thousands of users" by early March, expanding from there.
Aaron Souppouris contributed to this report.
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