Play unsupported games and use the highest graphics settings with ray tracing on Steam Deck using NVIDIA GeForce NOW

Thanks to Nvidia’s kindness, I was given the opportunity to test the most advanced technology for cloud gaming, GeForce Now. Of course, the first thing I tested was its performance on Steam Deck.

Unfortunately, there is no official app yet, and the unofficial versions are not very good. They have problems with image scaling and do not support hardware video acceleration, so performance is very poor. Fortunately, we can take advantage of cloud gaming from a web browser very easily. While we don’t have as many configuration options as with the native application available for Windows, the user experience and the quality of gameplay are still at an extremely high level. If you’ve checked out Xbox Game Pass Cloud, then the installation process is completely similar.

GeForce Now on Steam Deck – Performance test and installation guide
Before I go any further, let me answer the question of why you should try GeForce Now.

First of all, it is the most advanced and optimized cloud gaming option, which allows you to play comfortably even in very dynamic productions at the highest graphics settings with Ray Tracing. Image quality is fantastic, and latency is not significantly different from native gameplay. What’s more, after extensive testing, I found that playing at 60 FPS on GeForce Now is clearly more enjoyable and responsive than at 30/40 frames on Steam Deck.

Another advantage of Nvidia’s solution is the ability to play a number of titles completely unavailable on SteamOS, including games such as Fortnite, Lost Ark, and The Crew 2. The games run very fast, do not take up disk space, and there is no need to wait for updates. In fact, the only requirements are stable and fast enough Internet access. For Steam Deck and 1280×800 resolution, the minimum speed is 15Mbps, but in my experience, 25 guarantees the best quality gameplay.

GeForce Now has several subscription plans, and if you’re not convinced that you’ll like this kind of gameplay or that your Internet connection will be able to provide enough fluidity, I recommend checking out the free version. It has numerous limitations, the most troublesome of which are the very long queues for the game. This plan additionally has an hourly session limit and doesn’t have access to a server with the most efficient components with RayTracing support. The free plan is a great option to test out the service, but the limitations can be tiresome, and I can’t imagine seriously playing this way. 

The next tier is Priority. In this case, queues are extremely rare, and waiting times are usually less than a few minutes. The server is definitely more powerful and has a GPU with RTX on board providing gameplay at 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second. The session limit is as much as 6 hours continuously, so it shouldn’t be a problem. The plan seems ideal for Steam Deck, as at the moment, there is no way to achieve stable performance at higher resolutions due to the limitations of the device.

I tried playing on an external screen at 120Hz, but while Steam Deck detected the refresh rate correctly, the browser version of GeForce Now was limited to 60 frames per second. Priority membership costs  £8.99 / $8.99 / €9.99 per month, and if one opts for a six-month subscription, then the fee will be £44.99 / $49.99 / €49.99

The highest membership is Ultimate, which features an RTX 4080 and is ideal for playing on a PC or laptop at the highest graphics settings in 4K resolution at 120 FPS. I haven’t encountered queues with this plan yet, and session lengths are as long as 8 hours. Ultimate membership costs £17.99 / $19.99 / €19.99 per month, and if you opt for a six-month subscription, then the fee will be £89.99 / $99.99 / €99.99.

After spending many hours playing with GeForce Now on Steam Deck, I want to share with you the service’s biggest advantages and disadvantages.

The most important thing to note is that we can play games that we’ve purchased on selected platforms. We have access to almost the entire Ubisoft library, many games from Steam, Epic Games Store, and individual titles from GoG. Additionally, we have access to many free-to-play titles, including League of Legends, Guild Wars 2, and Albion Online. Currently, there are over 1,500 titles available, and the list is constantly growing. Unfortunately, some publishers are not willing to work with Nvidia, and titles from Microsoft, Sony, and Rockstar Games are not available. Often, games are added with months of delay or not made available at all. For instance, EA Games’ FIFA, the new Dead Space, and NFS Unbound are missing. You can keep checking the list of available games on Nvidia’s website.

I found one notorious exception, which is Genshin Impact. The game appears in the service but has been excluded from Linux browsers. I tried several ways to get the production to work, including an attempt to fool the browser into thinking it was running on Windows. Unfortunately, I didn’t succeed. Genshin has been blocked by the publisher, and at this point, it’s unlikely anything can be done about it.

Let me tell you about how saving progress in games works here. If a game has cloud save support, it is fully compatible with GeForce Now and is automatically synchronized before and after gameplay. Of course, this is also true for games that have cloud save support, and you can alternate between local and cloud devices without any problems. The situation is different for games that don’t have cloud support. Unfortunately, there is no way to manipulate such files. Nvidia assures that the files are kept for six months for the free plan and indefinitely for paid plans. I have heard of cases where saves can sometimes disappear, and progress can be lost, but I haven’t been able to reproduce such a situation.

Another issue I encountered when using GeForce NOW on Steam Deck is games that don’t have gamepad support. It’s impossible to add individual titles to the library as non-Steam games, so we use a single controller profile that we can change at any time. However, I found a more convenient solution. We can add a web browser to Steam Deck multiple times, rename it to the game we’re interested in, and then create a layout for it.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the video, playing with GeForce Now is a real pleasure. All the content playing in the background is a recording of gameplay directly from Steam Deck. There are no graphical artifacts known from Xbox Game Pass Cloud, the controls are more responsive, and the visuals are top-notch. For many titles, we can improve the quality of the displayed image by setting a higher resolution than the native one.

With this treatment, we can take advantage of supersampling technology, which significantly increases the sharpness of the visuals even on the small screen of the Steam Deck. I haven’t found a title that didn’t run smoothly at maximum detail and scaling to Full HD. In productions that allow this, we can go even crazier by additionally increasing rendering from the graphics options. Importantly, the quality of our settings has no effect on battery life, which typically lasts around 3 hours.

Of course, nothing prevents us from connecting the Steam Deck to a TV and playing on the big screen with a gamepad or keyboard and mouse. At the moment, the maximum resolution the device can handle is 1080p at 60Hz – hopefully, we’ll see an official app and be able to take full advantage of Nvidia’s cloud.

How to install Nvidia GeForce Now on Steam Deck

Go to Desktop mode. In Discover, search for and install Google Chrome. In Steam, click on “Add a non-Steam Game” and look for Google Chrome in the list. Add it and then rename it to “GeForce Now.”

Now, all we have to do is replace the launch options to:

run --branch=stable --arch=x86_64 --command=/app/bin/chrome --file-forwarding com.google.Chrome @@u @@ --window-size=1024,640 --force-device-scale-factor=1.25 --device-scale-factor=1.25 --kiosk "https://play.geforcenow.com"

and paste the command into the Konsole, which will make the controller properly recognized in games:

flatpak --user override --filesystem=/run/udev:ro com.google.Chrome

From the list of Steam games, launch GeForce Now. The browser should fire up in full screen. For convenience, I recommend preparing a synchronization of launchers on the PC earlier, so that you can just log in on the Deck.

If you have a good router and a solid Internet connection, I recommend increasing the bitrate to 25-30Mbit, which will give you even better picture quality than the default settings.

The last important point is to add individual games to your Steam library. This will allow you to use individual control profiles, and launching will be faster. Again, add Google Chrome as a non-Steam game and rename it to the game of your choice.

Now, the somewhat laborious part: launch the browser directly from the desktop. Go to play.geforcenow.com and search for the game you are interested in. Copy the link generated in the browser bar and paste it into a new tab – it should automatically shorten. The shortened link must be copied quickly because after a while it returns to its original form.

At this point, you need to edit the game launch parameter similarly to GeForce Now, but this time change the ending from “play.geforcenow.com” to the shortened link that was just copied.

run --branch=stable --arch=x86_64 --command=/app/bin/chrome --file-forwarding com.google.Chrome @@u @@ --window-size=1024,640 --force-device-scale-factor=1.25 --device-scale-factor=1.25 --kiosk "shortened link"

Unfortunately, I haven’t found a more convenient way to add games, but I’m glad it’s possible at all.

Ggo to Gaming Mode. Two new apps should appear in the library under the Non-Steam category. I recommend setting their covers with the SteamGrid plugin, making them look nicer in the games list.

As you can see, GeForce Now works very solidly, with the most significant limitations coming from the games themselves, not the service. It’s really worth at least trying out the free option and seeing if the gameplay will be as good on your Internet connection.

Let me know your impressions and opinions about cloud gaming. Mine so far have been rather negative, but GeForce Now has amazed me. I didn’t imagine that technology has advanced so much and cloud gaming works almost like the native app.

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