Nvidia GeForce Now Raises Issues Inherent in Cloud Gaming

Over last weekend, Raphael van Lierop, director and writer of Hinterland Studio’s “The Long Dark,” pulled the game from Nvidia GeForce Now, stating his displeasure with the fact that Nvidia’s service lets anyone who purchases a digital game on Valve’s Steam reinstall it on a virtual machine and play from its cloud platform. “Sorry to those who are disappointed you can no longer play #thelongdark on GeForce Now,” he tweeted. “Nvidia didn’t ask for our permission to put the game on the platform so we asked them to remove it.”

The Verge reports that it believes Activision Blizzard and Bethesda “have pulled their games from GeForce Now, presumably for similar reasons … [although] neither of those giant publishers has explicitly stated why they did so.”

The question, said The Verge, is “why would a game developer get to dictate the hardware its games are played on, and why would Nvidia need permission to make games a customer has already purchased on Steam available on a virtual machine?” For game developers and publishers, “a digital game is a license to use a virtual good in a way stipulated by licensing agreements, both from the maker of the game and from the marketplace that sells it, in this case Steam.”

“Nvidia isn’t just renting you a virtual machine,” it adds. “It’s renting you a virtual machine and then redistributing a video game sold by Steam under agreements that do not include Nvidia.” It compares this with other “companies that have hoped to similarly disrupt distribution, from failed over-the-air broadcast TV streamer Aereo to theater subscription plan MoviePass,” and noted that, “it rarely works.”

From the game developer point of view, as van Lierop put it, “controlling your own content is key to [a sustainable business].”

Nvidia “acknowledges the developers’ right to choose whether to participate.” But, from the consumer perspective, it seems like a no-brainer that if they’ve already purchased the game, they should be able to play it wherever they want. “In an ideal world, Nvidia wouldn’t need permission and developers wouldn’t take issue with it in the first place,” says The Verge, “But this ideal world is also a world that ignores how complicated and potentially fraught gaming distribution is about to get, when cloud gaming and subscription services combine.”

With cloud gaming, it adds, “if developers don’t keep tight control over their intellectual property and how it is distributed, they will lose the ability to control their destiny … [which is] scary for creators whose financial well-being is determined by how many copies they sell.”

“A world where a developer goes out of business because they can only sell a limited number of copies on Steam — due to cloud gaming making it available everywhere else for free — is not what anyone should want,” it concludes. “Cloud gaming promises to make any piece of gaming software available at all times on any screen … but it has a lot of economic complexity, and the only way that gets ironed out is through negotiation and by both consumers and platform providers understanding what’s at stake.”