21/10/2021   Piers Harding-Rolls
Nvidia’s full throttle GTX 3080 GeForce Now gaming

This is not only a show of technological strength, but also a subtle shift in positioning for the cloud gaming service 

Nvidia is rolling out a new generation of super computers to power its GeForce Now cloud gaming service and deliver higher performing streams and reduced latency to its subscribers. Starting in North America (US, Canada and Mexico) this November, limited numbers of GeForce Now SuperPODs consisting of over 1,000 GPUs and delivering more than 39 petaflops of graphics power will be available across data centres in the region. Each SuperPOD gaming instance is assigned a single GPU with GTX 3080-specific rigs offering 35 teraflops of performance, far more than the latest games consoles. Western Europe will start to be supported from December.   

Alongside this infrastructure technology upgrade, Nvidia is introducing a higher tier to its GeForce Now subscription service. The RTX 3080 membership is priced at $99.99 for a 6-month subscription, double the price of its current highest tier, and offers up to Quad HD/2K/1440p gaming streamed from the cloud at up to 120 frames per second. The specific choice of 1440p resolution and 120FPS is driven by the popularity of 1440p resolution displays, the increase of support for 120Hz screens on smartphones and high-end gamer preference for better frame rates.    

Aside from the graphics power on offer, Nvidia is also improving service latency and now believes it can deliver its highest resolution streams under optimal network conditions (minimum 35Mbps internet and relatively close to a data centre) at a latency similar to the experience a gamer would have playing a games console locally. Part of this work to improve latency is taking place at the server hardware level, with efficiencies realised in hardware design while the rest is being delivered through new software technologies such as Nvidia’s client-server Adaptive Sync, a new solution originally developed to solve jitter issues for its streams over 5G networks.

GTX 3080 offering aims to engage a new set of gamers

According to Nvidia, the biggest share of GeForce Now users are consumers using older PCs with integrated graphics. The service acts as a platform to enable these lapsed gamers, which can then be upsold GeForce GPUs to in the future.

The introduction of GTX 3080 gaming at 120 FPS shifts the appeal of the offer to more invested gamers, who may already have the latest games console or a capable PC gaming rig, but that could be tempted by the latest graphics hardware. For many potential users, the pricing and availability of GTX 3080 GPUs means that they remain out of reach, so this is a product that gives a broader set of gamers access to the latest technology at a low price point. The limited availability of the GTX 3080 tier means that slots on the service are likely to sell-out quickly.

More generally, Nvidia is positioning this upgrade as a next-generation cloud gaming experience and one that competes more closely with client-side gaming hardware. While the technology has the potential to deliver that level of experience, much will depend on the network environment of the end user, which is out of Nvidia’s control, the core service delivery challenge for cloud gaming services.

GeForce Now registered user growth has slowed over the middle of 2021, probably as consumers have come out of pandemic lockdowns in many markets. This new technology development may help regain some further momentum, although the number of GTX 3080 memberships in this initial roll-out will be comparatively small. Ampere expects the expansion of the service footprint to have a bigger impact on short-term adoption.         

A show of strength for the competition

Only recently Microsoft confirmed that it had completed the upgrade of its cloud gaming servers to Xbox Series X technology from the original Xbox One. Nvidia’s upgrade widens the performance gap between GeForce Now and all other services available in the market including Microsoft’s newest Series X deployments. While this illustrates Nvidia’s technological strength, the services remain differently positioned, with Microsoft’s streaming proposition interwoven into its Xbox Game Pass Ultimate content subscription service as a value-add rather than a key adoption driver. Nvidia lacks the ability to drive adoption through its own games exclusives as it operates a bring-your-own-game service and doesn’t have the distribution flexibility of Microsoft’s service, but a sole focus on cloud gaming does have its advantages. By supporting a large list of games through third-party PC game launchers, Nvidia’s service leads the way in terms of availability of AAA games in the cloud. Nvidia’s technological focus also enables it to differentiate on service quality and performance, key attributes to attract high-spending enthusiast gamers.  

Service footprint expands through partners into key markets 

GeForce Now is launching into new markets, with Brazil (via Abya), Southeast Asia (via StarHub in Singapore) and Australia (via Pentanet) bringing the total to 80 countries of coverage. Microsoft also recently announced support for streaming in Brazil through Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. The roll-out of cloud gaming services into mobile-first markets is a test for the potential of these new offerings and the promise of expanding the audience for high-end gaming.

Ampere’s latest wave of Games Consumer research indicates that 76% of gamers in Brazil and Mexico play on mobile devices, compared to 60% in the US, and so the ability to stream to mobiles is likely to be popular. This is especially important with the high price of electronics in Brazil, where import taxes have pushed the price of new consoles and other hardware to significantly above that in other markets. In combination with lower average wages in Brazil, an Xbox Series X|S or PlayStation 5 can cost multiple months’ worth of wages. 

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