Nvidia’s GeForce Now feels like one of the very best ways to get a free taste of cloud gaming, but it’s got a gigantic catch — it lets you play PC games you already own only if the game publisher allows it. Today, Nvidia is revealing that Activision Blizzard is no longer playing ball, pulling down its catalog of games including Overwatch, WoW, and the Call of Duty series.
That means one of the service’s biggest publishers, as well as its Battle.net catalog of games, will no longer be available just a week after the service’s formal launch — a launch that was already missing many games from Capcom, EA, Konami, Remedy, Rockstar and Square Enix, all of which seemed to have pulled out after Nvidia’s beta period ended.
Nvidia wouldn’t tell us why this is happening now, but it’s strange, because Nvidia previously told us it was contacting every publisher ahead of launch to make sure they were OK staying on. Did Activision Blizzard reneg on a deal, or did Nvidia fail to get permission? We’re waiting to hear back on that from Nvidia; Activision Blizzard didn’t respond to a request for comment.
And it’s frustrating, because the whole premise of Nvidia’s GeForce Now service is theoretically win-win-win: you get to take your existing game library anywhere, game publishers get the same money and much the same relationship with the customer (who’s buying those games from the same Steam, Epic, UPlay and Battle.net stores), and Nvidia gets to rent out access to a computer that simply lives in the cloud instead of on your desk at home.
In a statement, Nvidia says it hopes to work with Activision Blizzard to bring the games back, but the company confirmed to us that things are pretty cut-and-dried for now — you shouldn’t expect them to magically reappear after a few days (or even a few weeks). Nvidia also declined to tell us whether it’d be open to sharing a slice of its subscription fees with publishers, citing the quiet period before its earnings.
It’s true that Blizzard, at least, has an EULA that specifically prevents users from playing a game on cloud gaming services, but that doesn’t seem to explain this move. Activision’s EULA doesn’t contain anything of the sort, and again, Activision Blizzard didn’t seem to have any problem with it during the GeForce Now beta.
Regardless of the reasons, it’s worrying for those of us who are excited by cloud gaming’s potential to see a service like this hobbled because one party, or the other, didn’t want to work out a deal. It makes me wonder if we should expect nasty carriage negotiations to play out regularly in gaming like they already do in the pay TV world, holding our favorite programs hostage until one party or the other provides a slightly bigger piece of the action. We recently saw that streaming set-top-boxes like the Roku aren’t immune to those annoyances — now that the precedent has been set, why should games be any different?