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GeForce Now, Nvidia's 'Netflix for games,' expands with Sega and Warner Bros.

A developer program is coming, too

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Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Nvidia is expanding GeForce Now, its subscription service for streaming PC games, in multiple ways this week. The company announced today during the 2016 Game Developers Conference that Sega and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment have agreed to bring some of their games to GeForce Now. Nvidia continues to negotiate licensing deals with game publishers, but the company also unveiled today a way for smaller teams to get their games on the service.

For the uninitiated, GeForce Now is Nvidia's version of game streaming services like Sony's PlayStation Now and the now-defunct OnLive. Here's how it works: Nvidia runs games on its cloud-based supercomputer and streams a video feed to you over the internet, while sending your control inputs up to the game. When you click the play button, the game will start up in less than 30 seconds, according to Nvidia. The supercomputer is based on Nvidia's latest-generation GPUs, which the company says are 50 percent more powerful than the Xbox One.

The total process can take up to 150 ms, depending on the screen that you're playing on. And the requirements on the user's end are pretty specific, whether you're talking about the Nvidia devices or the network capabilities.

GeForce Now scales the quality of the stream to the speed of your broadband connection. The service can deliver up to 60 frames per second at 1080p, but Nvidia recommends a downstream speed of at least 50 Mbps for that. The recommended speed drops to 20 Mbps for a stream of 720p at 60 fps, and 10 Mbps is the minimum for GeForce Now. You'll also need to be able to connect to one of Nvidia's data centers — the company has seven around the globe, including three in the U.S. — with a ping under 60 ms.

On the hardware side, GeForce Now doesn't work with computers; it runs on Nvidia Shield products, the company's line of gaming devices. That includes the Shield Portable, which has a built-in gamepad; the Shield Tablet K1; and the Shield Android TV console. All three devices cost $199, and in order to play games on the K1 or Shield TV, you'll also need the $59.99 Shield Controller. And in addition to a fast internet connection, Nvidia recommends that you use one of the 5 GHz routers it has approved as "Shield-ready," of which there are fewer than 20.

But Nvidia says that as long as you meet those requirements, you'll have a great experience.

"It really does cross the barrier where you can't tell the difference in visual quality from local [play], unless you're, like, a trained video expert," said Andrew Fear, product manager for GeForce Now, in a presentation to Polygon last week.

All new Shield devices come with a free three-month trial of GeForce Now. After that, Nvidia charges a monthly subscription price of $7.99 in the U.S., £7.49 in the U.K. and €9.99 in Europe. The company bills GeForce Now as "Netflix for games," which is why it has priced the service at the same level as Netflix.

But GeForce Now more closely resembles Amazon's streaming video platform in one respect. Many of the games aren't included in the price of the subscription; instead, you have to buy them. And Nvidia won't let you buy those titles unless you're already a paying subscriber. Prices vary for the paid games, but when newer titles launch on GeForce Now, they cost the full retail price (as high as $60).

The one benefit to buying GeForce Now games is that each one also comes with a download code for a service like Steam or GOG, so you'll be able to play the game on any computer (and continue to do so if you stop subscribing to GeForce Now). Twenty-four of the 84 GeForce Now titles — more than one-fourth — listed on Nvidia's website are only available for purchase.

"you can't tell the difference in visual quality from local"

The first game from Sega will be Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, the kart racer that debuted in late 2012. It will be followed by Sonic CD, the two episodes of Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine and Alpha Protocol. Warner Bros. will bring titles such as Mad Max, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and Lego Jurassic World to GeForce Now. Nvidia's existing publishing partners include 2K Games, Capcom and Square Enix.

Nvidia is also introducing a developer program for GeForce Now at GDC 2016. Interested parties can sign up for the program and upload their game directly, at which point Nvidia will put the game through its automated test labs and provide a report to the developer. Once the game passes certification, the developer can self-publish it on GeForce Now.

The GeForce Now developer program is free to use. Game makers can choose whether they want to put their title into the service's instant streaming library (which comes with a licensing agreement) or sell it in the GeForce Now store (where Nvidia offers a standard revenue-sharing agreement).

The idea behind the developer program, said Nvidia's Fear, is that developers "don't need to worry about finding a way to reach customers; they can do it directly through GeForce Now."

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