[Review] Vortex.gg: An affordable game streaming service

Vortex Logo: source

A lot of gamers are getting goose bumps when they hear the term game streaming. One of them may say that the latency is unacceptable, others say that an needed internet connection to play games is a show stopper.
I for myself are interested into these gaming streaming services since the first one launched back in 2004 and was called OnLive. I like the idea that a service provider guarantees me that the games they are offering for streaming are working for 100% without the need to upgrade my GPU, CPU or any other piece of hardware in my computer. Besides this, a game streaming service would be the ultimate answer to platform independent gaming.

This article is about the game streaming service Vortex.gg. Vortex makes a lot of things better than OnLive. It’s cheaper, comes with Steam integration and is truly platform independent.

About Vortex

Vortex has popped up in 2016 or 2017. I wasn’t able to find a specific date here. However, Vortex is a creation of the makers from the RemoteMyApp software. Vortex original name was RemotrCloud. So I guess Vortex or RemotrCloud is much older than the 2016 / 2017 Vortex launch.

Vortex itself is backed on the software Remotr which is maintained and developed by RemoteMyApp in Poland. Remotr has seen it’s first development back in 2013 and is now the basement which Vortex is built on. You can install Remotr on any Windows device (Linux and OS X is actually in work) and stream the software or game you want to your end device (like a low-end Notebook, Tablet or even a Smartphone). At the front page of the Remotr homepage you can already see an advertisement which points you to Vortex.

Easy account creation / Some requirements

The account creation is really simple. Just visit the Vortex homepage, choose your way to pay and you’re ready to go. You pay 9,99 $ per month for the full experience. This means that there are no different plans like SD / HD-ready / HD / 4k Streaming. Everyone pays the exact same. The price of 9,99 $ is really cheap and should be affordable for almost everyone who wants to play games. Basically you can play as long as you want. However, there is something I would call a “fair-to-use-mechanic”. In your account settings you see how many hours you have left within the actual accounting period. At the moment you get 100 hours per month. I can’t say if unused hours are forfeiting when a new month begins.

Time left on my account (3 months = 3*100 hours)

At this point I also have to mention that the fee of 9,99 $ only allows to use the Vortex servers to stream / render your game. This fee does not include any license for any game. However, there are some games integrated, mostly Free2Play games like League of Legends, Battlerite, World of Tanks or Team Fortress 2 (you still need free accounts for the specific game). In order to have the full supported library of games available you have to link your Steam account under your profile settings. This procedure is rather easy. You just have to click on Link Steam in your profile settings and enter your Steam credentials on the following page. After this you can start the games you wish, as long as you own the selected game on Steam. If you buy a new game on Steam which is supported in Vortex, you can start the game in Vortex later on.

In order to use Vortex you have to visit vortex.gg  with the Google Chrome browser. Yes, Google Chrome is needed. Vortex does not work with Firefox, Chromium, Opera or Edge.

As already mentioned there are a lot of games available right now for this young service. However, in direct comparison to other gaming streaming services, you’re forced to play the games that are actually available. You can’t install any game you want from your Steam library. The supported games list is already pretty decent and still growing. On the list of supported games are games like Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, GTA V, Guild Wars 2 or Project Cars 2.

Fast starting virtual instances

When you start a game, a virtual machine instance is started for you in the background (don’t worry, there is no technical knowledge needed). After a few seconds of start-up time you will be either greeted with a Steam login or the login window provided by the specific game. Enter your credentials and you will be ready to go (please keep in mind that your clipboard is not available in this virtual instance. This means you have to enter username and password on your own).

Starting League of Legends in Vortex

One downside I’ve encountered was that there is a queue if there are a lot of people are starting a virtual instance / playing at the same time. This barely happens and usually takes an additional 10-30 seconds besides the already super fast start up. This queue reminded me of the ones that we see in online multiplayer games as well:

Vortex queue

The instances (or the games they starting) basically doesn’t need to be updated. Your game of choice is and always will be ready to be played after it’s started. When you start an instance, don’t forget to press F11 to set your Google Chrome browser in full screen.

Latency, technical issues and used bandwidth

One thing everyone will think about is: What about latency? Well, to sum things a little bit up, yes you will definitely notice the delay which occurs when you pressing a key or using the mouse, especially if you’re already played similar games on your local machine. But is this a game changer / killer? For a hardcore gamer it definitely is. Somebody who is used to use low latency input devices for quick movement, high-end hardware for the highest amount of FPS and high hertz monitors in order to get the best overall experience will definitely notice the latency which is produced by using Vortex. With that being said, how high is the actual latency really? For me (with a 50 Mbps wired internet connection) this latency was around 9 to 12.5ms. The worst case scenario here was a jumping latency from 20ms for three seconds. However, this barely happened. So are the games unplayable because of the latency? The answer for this is: It depends. For a casual gamer I really think that this latency isn’t a game killer to be honest. For first person online shooters however it could be a game killer even for casual gamers, but for slower games like League of Legends or even Single Player games, the latency might be something a casual gamer is able to ignore. But at the end you can only do one thing: Try it on your own.

Besides the latency, there were only four issues after several hours of gaming with the Vortex service that really bothered me. Maybe some other user doesn’t even recognize them, but for me these four things are having an impact on the game although they not killing it:

  1. Compression: Whenever you start a game, it starts with a HD-ready resolution (1280×768) and a graphics quality preset of high. However, even if you turn it to Full HD resolution (1920×1080) and you turning up the quality to ultra it barely shows that kinda big of quality changes overall. This has to do with the compression which is used be the Remotr software. While the compression itself is useful to keep the streamed data more fluid and to lower the input latency, it obviously dulls the overall graphical quality. The following two screenshots are showing a running PUBG session with HD-ready (1280×800) and Full HD resolution (1920×1080) click on the pictures to enlarge them. This maybe gives you more of an example:
    PUBG in HD-ready resolution

    PUBG in Full-HD
  2. Wonky mouse input: Normally the input and how it’s handled is fine. However, sometimes you have something like a clunky, wonky, weird feeling when it comes down to using the mouse. It’s hard to describe and I’m unsure at this point if this does only happen to me or to other people as well.
  3. Fullscreen F11: In order to play games with Vortex in full screen, you have to set your Chrome in full screen mode with the F11 key. However, F11 is also used in PUBG to switch between the windowed and full screen mode. This causes a lot of trouble because you have to press F11 at least two more times in order to get PUBG back into full screen mode and have your Chrome in full screen as well. A workaround is to press Shift+Tab which opens the Steam overlay and then pressing F11. However, this issue is only related to PUBG for now and is a real minor issue.

Coming back to the compression, how much data is streamed in the end? After a round about 3 hours of PUBG gaming session (I didn’t stopped the exact time here) there were round about 19 GB of data streamed. A massive but reasonable amount:

Streamed data

You can also see that some of the packages (10627 in numbers) were lost. I wasn’t able to recognize this while gaming, which is a good thing of course. However, I didn’t tested mobile gaming with my Smartphone for e.g. but Vortex advertises that gaming on the go with your Smartphone is possible. I highly doubt that you will be able to reach an average “Ok quality” while using your mobile internet connection.

Another interesting thing is, that if there are a lot of users actually using / connecting to the Vortex instances, you aren’t able to change to Full HD anymore in the in-game settings. At least I suppose that this is the reason why sometimes the Full HD resolution is not selectable in the in-game settings.

No Full HD resolution in PUBG while Vortex is under heavy load (click to enlarge)

The tested games

The games I’ve tested were Guild Wars 2, League of Legends and Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds. In a game like League of Legends a lot of the issues which I’ve mentioned above aren’t relevant simply because the game is slower. Vortex also supports Civilization VI. I guess in a game like Civilization the latency is almost completely irrelevant, but as faster as the game gets, the more you may struggle with it. For e.g. I wouldn’t want to play a fast FPS like Paladins on Vortex.

I’ve already talked a lot about PUBG in this article. The following screenshots are just for more information about how the game runs and how it looks like. Click the picture to enlarge them, also keep an eye on the statistics (latency, traffic used, etc.) in the upper left:

Match start PUBG (click to enlarge)
Third person aiming (click to enlarge)
First person aiming (click to enlarge)

Another game I’ve made several screenshots was League of Legends. League of Legends isn’t the optimal test subject. It doesn’t need that many resources in order to run flawlessly. To be honest, even a integrated Intel GPU would be able to handle this game almost perfectly. However, it’s some totally different than a first person shooter. It’s slower and as already mentioned the latency isn’t a big issue here. It’s interesting how the launcher gets displayed. It’s almost huge because Vortex zooms into the application / game which is running. The following screenshots are showing League of Legends running on a Vortex cloud gaming instance:

League of Legends launcher (click to enlarge)
League of Legends test match (click to enlarge)

The 200 FPS in League of Legends are a amazing result. Kudos to Vortex.

Some information about the servers

Initially I thought that Vortex only hosting servers in the US right now. Why I came to this conclusion? Well, I’ve tested Vortex already in mid 2017 where I got a notice that I could use their service but they don’t official support my region (which is Europe) but anyhow, this message didn’t appeared this time. Besides this, they charging you in US Dollar.

This time I’ve decided to use the built-in web browser which is provided by Steam to do a simple speed test on speedtest.net. The following screenshot gives more information (click to enlarge):

Speed test results

Vortex now does have servers which are hosted by hetzner.com, a famous online hosting provider which is located in Nuremberg, Germany. The download and upload rates are pretty decent. The servers are only available via IPv4, as well as the Vortex service itself. As a GPU they are using either a nvidia GTX 1080 or GTX 1080 Ti. Sadly I don’t have a picture to prove this. I think I’ve seen this information somewhere while playing PUBG. This would also fit to the new EX51-SSD-GPU server which was introduced by Hetzner in 2017. However, it’s not sure that they using the EX51-SSD-GPU. Vortex could also just have a Colocation contract with Hetzner and is hosting their own servers.

Conclusion

Should you play any sort of tournament while using Vortex? No, at least this is what I would recommend to you. But what’s about casual gaming? Is it any good for this kind of gaming experience? Well, it depends. You really have to figure this out on your own because it’s different from game to game. I for myself learned to handle the wonky mouse issue and had some decent fun using Vortex to play PUBG in a quality and speed my PC could never provide. If you don’t own a notebook which is capable of handling League of Legends than Vortex would be more than just fine for this game type. But maybe Vortex should increase the monthly price a little bit like 5 $ or so in order to polish the service a little bit? In my opinion, even 15 $ for a streaming service like this is a cheap price.

For 9,99 $ you can’t do that much damage. Try it out if you are interested. If you’re unsure if your network speed is fast enough to handle the stream, try the Vortex Ping test. For casual gamers who don’t want to build or buy a gaming PC / notebook in order to play one of the games which are supported by Vortex, you should definitely give it a try. Besides this Vortex is way cheaper than any other gaming streaming service which is actually available and it’s super easy to use! As an alternative you could also go with an Playstation 4 or an XBox One if you have no problems to game on a console 😉

Stay tuned for more gaming streaming tests!

Further links

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