Activision-Blizzard Pull Titles From GeForce NOW Cloud Gaming Service

👤by Tim Harmer Comments 📅13.02.2020 01:56:44



Game streaming continues to be a technology with both enormous promise and more than a few hiccups. Google Stadia was derided late last year due to a rocky launch and muddled business model that would see users purchase games explicitly and exclusively for the platform. By contrast, NVIDIA's revamped GeForce NOW offered the sure knowledge that the games played on the service were yours and yours alone. When you consider Google's reputation for shuttering dead-end projects on a whim... well, you can see why the green team's implementation would be an attractive alternative.

GeForce NOW exited beta in early February with a wide selection of compatible games. If you had bought the title to play on your home PC (on Steam or another supported platform) there was a fair chance you could access that copy through GeForce NOW's dedicated servers (effectively a raft stand-alone PCs housed in massive regional datacentres). An additional perk is the potential to play an RTX-supported title without owning any GeForce RTX hardware, letting you sample the aesthetic benefits of ray-tracing pretty cheaply.



Unfortunately the relative certainty offered by GeForce NOW has been thrown into turmoil just a week after launch. Activision Blizzard, publishers of gaming juggernauts such as the Call of Duty and Warcraft franchises, have pulled support from the service. A message on the NVIDIA forums read thus:

As we take GeForce NOW to the next step in its evolution, we’ve worked with publishers to onboard a robust catalog of your PC games.

This means continually adding new games, and on occasion, having to remove games – similar to other digital service providers.

Per their request, please be advised Activision Blizzard games will be removed from the service. While unfortunate, we hope to work together with Activision Blizzard to re-enable these games and more in the future.

In addition to the hundreds of games currently supported, we have over 1,500 games that developers have asked to be on-boarded to the service. Look for weekly updates as to new games we are adding.


NVIDIA are reportedly as shocked as their users. The GPU manufacturer has had a distinctly positive relationship with the publisher that included integrating NVIDIA technologies into the Call Of Duty game engine and partnering to bundle brand new games with hardware purchases. Battle.net was one of the distribution platforms supported by GeForce NOW throughout the beta, so pulling support post-launch must have come as a distinct surprise.



While PC-centric GeForce NOW subscribers will be inconvenienced, MacOS users are much more profoundly affected. Some supported titles are not compatible with Apple's environment or older Mac hardware, so GeForce NOW unlocked premium gaming without needing to jump ship across to Windows. Suddenly that's being withheld, and the impacted are left wondering why.

Activision Blizzard's EULA

When it comes to Cloud Computing, Activision Blizzard's general position is summed up by a paragraph in the software and platform EULA:

1.C. License Limitations. Blizzard may suspend or revoke your license to use the Platform, or parts, components and/or single features thereof, if you violate, or assist others in violating, the license limitations set forth below. You agree that you will not, in whole or in part or under any circumstances, do the following:

..

v. Cloud Computing: Use the Platform, including a Game, in connection with any unauthorized third-party “cloud computing” services, “cloud gaming” services, or any software or service designed to enable the unauthorized streaming or transmission of Game content from a third-party server to any device.


The key term is unauthorised. Clearly Activision Blizzard has chosen to revoke authorisation, and NVIDIA would be risking end-user accounts if they offered the service as an unauthorised cloud-gaming provider. The question is why they would take the action, and why the timing is relevant.

Account Sharing & Security - Blizzard's Bugbear

If there's one thing that Activision Blizzard really hate, it's account sharing. Except where a third-party organisation (such as an internet café) has agreed separately, a software license is for a single individual and is non-transferable. Logins from geographically disparate locations can cause accounts to be flagged for account sharing or a breach of log-in credentials, potentially resulting in a suspension for violation of the EULA. The days of game sharing on PC are long gone as far as they're concerned.

A second niggle is botting and the effectiveness of cheat detection tools. The cloud gaming service could theoretically insulate a locally run bot application (that analyses the incoming video feed) from the GeForce Now remote servers, making them much harder to detect through conventional means. It would have been less of a concern when the service was in a limited beta, but global availability (potentially for free) shifts the equation significantly.

Google



If you want to venture down the rabbit-hole of conspiracy theory, why not add malign influence from Google to the mix. GeForce NOW is currently Stadia's largest direct competitor, supporting a wider selection of games and the principle of game ownership rather than fickle rental agreements with platform dependence. A major publisher withdrawing support undermines NVIDIA's biggest trump card and reduces confidence in the platform at the worst possible time.

And what do you know, just last month Activision Blizzard and Google inked a multi-year partnership for provision of cloud services and esports broadcasting. Cloud Gaming isn't mentioned specifically, but it wouldn't take much for one set of suits to nudge the other into withholding support for what's currently a niche use case on a competitor's platform.

Of course, the potential legal ramifications should that ever be confirmed would be interesting, to say the least.

A Marathon, not a Sprint

It's too early to say that this is a fatal blow to consumer confidence in GeForce NOW. While it's not out of the question that more publishers will withdraw support, especially if they're not being offered a slice of the revenue stream (whether it's warranted or not), many will probably be happy with their work being more accessible. EULA wording similar to Activision-Blizzard's is not uncommon however, so the threat will always be there. Hopefully the remainder will reaffirm their commitment in the coming weeks, before consumers on low-end or Apple hardware invest in games that they wouldn't be able otherwise.

At this point it appears that NVIDIA's hands are tied. And as for Activision-Blizzard... this is another PR SNAFU to go on an increasingly long list of highly anti-consumer actions.

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