Cyberpunk 2077 Was Quietly A Big Test For Cloud Gaming

Cyberpunk 2077‘s previews are out and the reception, so far, has been pretty damn good. But perhaps the biggest success was how press and influencers actually experienced Night City, with most streaming gameplay through the internet instead of playing on local code.

Under most circumstances, games are previewed one of two ways. If it’s an in-person event, generally the developer will hold an event at a physical location. The local publishers or distributors will download code from the developers onto a series of devkits or PCs, depending on how big the preview session is.

If it’s a smaller publisher, they might opt for a virtual preview instead. These have most recently taken the form of access to code via Steam’s beta branches, which lets developers and publishers grant time-limited access to a game for a certain window.

The latter has become more popular in the last few months, especially thanks to COVID-19. There’s an inherent risk in that you’re giving people direct access to code on their personal PCs and consoles, although it’s not principally any different from the risk publishers and studios take now with embargoes. You invite someone to a preview, and you trust that they’ll honour the agreement of not publishing their content — in whatever form it takes — until a certain time. That’s fair for everyone.

But some games are on a whole different scale. And naturally, just giving everyone a bunch of Steam keys to Cyberpunk 2077 and revoking access later wasn’t on the table.

So instead of holding in-person events, what CD Projekt Red did — not in Australia, but almost every territory where previews were held — was turn to Nvidia.

Cyberpunk 2077 is going to be a launch title for Nvidia’s GeForce Now cloud gaming service, although the two companies have been working for a while to push Cyberpunk as far as possible. It’s the headline game for ray-tracing at this point, and is widely expected to be Nvidia’s showcase title for the upcoming 3000 Ampere series of GPUs, likely to launch a month or two before Cyberpunk 2077‘s release.

So the two teamed up. Press in the United States and Europe streamed Cyberpunk 2077 through GeForce Now, downloading their client onto their own PCs through the Nvidia client. Here’s the quote from The Verge’s experience: 

I demoed the game on my home computer, using Nvidia’s GeForce Now service because the pandemic means demoing the game in-person and on top-shelf hardware was firmly off the table. (While GeForce Now had a few stutters here and there, the game still managed to look stunning, and I suspect it will match or exceed the graphical gold standard set by games like Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 and Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part II.)

Eurogamer’s experience outlined some compression and a bit of lag, but the lag was as “negligible”.

It’s frustrating that the first chance to play Cyberpunk 2077 is not in the flesh but remotely, streamed from somebody else’s PC. But there’s a pandemic so a press event can’t happen, and this is what we’ve got. And you know what? The tech’s not bad. The video image is compressed but it’s still a stunning game, and while there’s a bit of input lag, it’s negligible. It’s surprisingly playable, and so I play for four hours from the very beginning of the game.

Our US partners experienced the game the same way, streaming it onto an office PC through the GeForce Now service:

Even the way I played Cyberpunk 2077 felt strangely futuristic. While CD Projekt Red would have normally shown off the game at E3 around this time, the ongoing covid-19 pandemic forced the developers to figure out an alternative for the typical in-person demo. That’s how I wound up streaming Cyberpunk 2077 from my home office yesterday, playing one of the most anticipated video games of the year at my desk in my sweats and a ratty tee shirt. Along for the ride was quest director Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz, who patiently guided me and answered whatever random questions I had during my trip through Night City.

That wasn’t everyone’s experience, though. GeForce Now is possible via access to Nvidia data centres, giving players virtual access to the RTX-souped up PCs that you’ll be playing from.

But Australia doesn’t have Nvidia data centres. It’s why GeForce Now isn’t available here, and why Nvidia has been talking up “alliances with telcos around the world with regions [where] we don’t have a presence in”.

That’s still not ready yet, however.

So in a way, Australians had the purest Cyberpunk 2077 experience. Our sessions were played on local PCs, and very good ones at that: machines with a beefy i9-10900K and a decent NZXT closed-loop water cooling solution, plus a ASUS ROG Strix 2080 Ti. (I didn’t have access to get more specs than that, and you often never do at these things.)

It’s certainly the way I’d prefer to experience Cyberpunk 2077; I’ll be playing the game on a very similar rig when I can preview it from the comfort of my own home. Not streaming gameplay from a foreign server certainly helped the game’s combat and shooting, which reminded me a little of Fallout 76 — serviceable, but not as tight as a Call of Duty or a more established FPS series, and certainly not an experience I’d want to inject extra latency into.

But the success is that for the vast majority of people, the latency didn’t matter. It won’t change the overall perspective on GeForce Now or cloud gaming as a whole, especially in countries like Australia where the infrastructure just isn’t sufficient for a decent experience.

For Nvidia, and especially CD Projekt Red, it’s a win. The companies could have opted to not take the risk, postponing previews until a time when they could better guarantee the quality. But the gamble paid off: The streaming didn’t sour or ruin people’s experience of the Cyberpunk 2077 prologue, and that’s all you could hope for.

I certainly don’t hope publishers transition to more cloud streamed previews as isolation continues; local code will always be the best way to experience a game, especially first-person shooters. But the success of the cloud streaming at least offers another option for showcasing previews and early access games, which is far better than not being able to show anything at all.


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