Will playing Steam games locally on Chrome OS ever truly be possible?

I’ve owned Chrome OS computers since they were originally launched in 2011. Being a huge gamer from a very early age. One thing I realised very quickly was that playing PC games was out of the question. That didn’t bother me too much because I had my Microsoft desktop computer for when I wanted to do some serious gaming.

Chrome OS has obviously advanced over the years and the first real experience of gaming was the introduction of Android Apps. The type of games you get on Android Apps may be enough for some, but no serious gamer is going to get any satisfaction from the games you get on this platform.

Although I still own a Microsoft Windows PC. My desire to play PC games on either my Chromebook or Chromebox increased over time. This was mainly due to fact that I was getting seriously frustrated with my Windows PC. Also, being very aware if I wanted to play the most advanced games. I’d need to think about upgrading my Windows PC, and the cost of doing that would be around £1,500/$1,600. May sound like a lot, but that’s the price you have to pay for a decent gaming PC.

The Specs needed on Windows PC for gaming

In the last few years, we’ve heard a lot more noise about PC gaming coming to the Chromebook. This was before we had even heard of the Steam Linux App, which is still being developed. There was a lot of people getting excited about this, but in my head, I was thinking “yeah, I’d love to see PC games on Chrome OS, but it will never happen”.

The reason for this was mainly due to what I knew you needed to play decent PC games on a Windows PC. It wasn’t the case of popping down to your local computer retailer and picking up an MS Windows computer for £600/$700 and expecting to play PC games. Sure, you could play basic games and they would work fine, but if you wanted to play the latest advanced games. You’d have to spend a whole lot more.

A PC gaming setup
Windows Gaming PCs are expensive due to the specs needed

To play decent games on a Microsoft Windows PC you’d need an impressive specification. Firstly, you’d need a fantastic processor (think Intel i5 or above) and 8GB of RAM as an absolute minimum. That isn’t the most important factor when it comes to gaming PCs. The most important hardware is a Dedicated Graphics Card.

A dedicated Graphics card

A dedicated graphics card is absolutely critical for playing advanced PC games on a Windows PC. You can have the fastest processor and a huge amount of RAM, but if you don’t have a dedicated graphics card, you’ll only be able to play semi-advanced games.

This is because advanced games are created to work with a dedicated graphics card (GPU). There is plenty of graphics card to choose from, but the most popular are made by Nvidia and AMD. Also, very similar to processors where you get budget types and advanced types. This is exactly the same with a GPU.

A basic GPU will allow you to play more advanced games. However, to play any decent games that need more processing power. You’d need to ensure you’re getting the very latest GPU and it would need at least 4GB of memory. If you don’t have a dedicated graphics card then you have to rely on an integrated graphics card. An integrated graphics card is what you get from the standard CPU processor, and they are nowhere near good enough for advanced gaming.

I had to eat my words

Because I knew everything needed to play PC games on a Windows PC. I was convinced we’d never be able to play decent games with advanced graphics on a Chromebook. Oh boy, how wrong was I, and I was pretty happy about being proven wrong, as it meant I could start playing my favourite PC Games on my Chromebook.

The one thing I did not consider when thinking about gaming on Chrome OS was the advances that have been made with cloud computing. Rather ironic really when you consider Chrome OS itself is all about cloud computing. I was aware gaming in the cloud was already happening on consoles such as the PlayStation. I just didn’t consider this would ever happen with Chrome OS.

A Chromebox allows gaming on a much larger display

Almost launching at the same time. We saw the launch of Stadia, which is Google’s game streaming service and Nvidia GeForce Now. I wasn’t and have never been interested in Stadia. For two main reasons. Firstly, it is more geared to console-style games, which I don’t really play. Apart from GTA, which I’d use my PS4 to play. Secondly, I was not overly convinced Google would stick at Stadia. This is a problem with Google, they have a bad habit of dropping things very quickly. So you can invest a lot of time and effort only to find out the service is removed a year later. I’ve started to get a sense when Google launches a pet project that they may drop if it doesn’t go according to plan.

I didn’t have the same concern with Nvidia. A company that is well known in the gaming world for creating some of the best dedicated graphics cards you can buy. I knew if Nvidia were getting in on the cloud gaming scene, they weren’t going to go about it half-heartedly.

Gaming on a Chromebook with Nvidia GeForce Now

As soon as I heard that Nvidia had a service where you could play PC games on a Chromebook I immediately signed up. Apart from what I’ve already mentioned above. The reason why I was attracted to the Nvidia GeForce Now service was the ability to play PC games. The types of games you typically get on a PC is very much my thing, so I knew I had to look into it further.

What was even better was that I did not have to buy PC games directly from Nvidia GeForce Now. This is because you can play games that you’ve previously bought on Steam and from other providers such as UbiSoft. The fact that I already owned my favourite games on both Steam and UbiSoft was a huge pull towards Nvidia for me.

GeForce Now on the Chromebook
Playing games on my Pixel slate using GeForce Now

One of my favourite series of games is Anno. Anno is a fantastic game if you like trading, warfare and generally doing all the things necessary to keep a population thriving. There are many Anno series of games and one of my favourites was Anno 1404. Sadly, I was unable to play Anno 1404 on GeForce Now via steam.

However, I was very happy to see the newer Anno 1800, which I’m starting to think is possibly my absolute favourite from the series, was playable on GeForce Now. I had my doubts because this is the latest game from the series and I struggled to get a decent experience from my Microsoft Windows PC when playing this game.

Nvidia GeForce Now is great on the Chromebook

I was truly surprised to discover that playing even advanced graphical games such as Anno 1800 on GeForce Now worked amazingly well. I could not believe I was playing my favourite PC game on my Chomebox rather than my Windows PC. I even tried playing it on my Toshiba Chromebook 2, which is a pretty old Chromebook, and it still worked without any issues.

The reason why I could now play PC games on my Chrome OS computer, and it didn’t matter whether I was using my Chromebox with decent specs or a budget Chromebook. Was because all of the processing is done in the cloud. I might be playing an advanced game on a budget Chromebook, but no real processing power is taking place locally.

Anno 1800 game on Chromebook
One of my favourite games – Anno 1800

All of the processing of the game is done in the cloud using Nvidia GeForce Now servers. This means I’m getting to play my favourite PC games using the latest Nvidia Dedicated Graphics cards. It is these graphics cards on Nvidia servers, which is doing all the hard work. All I need to ensure Nvidia works well is a decent internet connection.

The truth is. I get a much better gaming experience playing Anno 1800 on my Chromebox than I ever did on my Microsoft Windows PC. Therefore, we’re already there, you can now play PC games on your Chrome OS computer. The question is whether we’ll be able to get the same type of experience playing games that you’ve installed locally on your Chromebook or Chromebox?

The Steam Deck

This is something we’ve been wanting for a few years now. The never-ending news stories about the Steam Linux App is what has helped keep this conversation alive. We appear to be not too far from the launch of the Steam Linux App. This app promises you the ability to play PC games locally on your Chromebook or Chromebox.

I’m feeling pretty optimistic about the Steam Linux App. The fact that Steam has invested a lot of time and money into the Steam Deck is what makes me think it’s possible. Yes, that’s right. Steam hasn’t been investing all of its efforts into the Steam Linux App. It’s of course important for them. However, it was a logical thing to do when you consider the Steam deck runs via Linux.

The Steam deck by Valve runs on Linux

If Steam had to put a lot of hard work and money getting Windows games specifically made to work with MS Windows to work with their Steam Deck. They may as well tackle the issue of not being able to play PC games locally on Chrome OS. Both the Steam Deck and Chrome OS run on Linux. Therefore, it’s a match made in heaven when it comes to creating a project at Steam. Well, perhaps I’m overstating the simplicity of it, but I’m sure both of these projects would have overlapped to some extent.

Gaming locally on your Chrome OS device

The fact that Steam had to overcome many technical issues for their Steam Deck to play Microsoft Windows games on a Linux based system. Should mean the launch of the Steam Linux App will come with most of these issues already ironed out. Therefore, we should see the possibility of gaming locally on your Chromebook being a pretty decent experience.

I’m still not overly convinced Chrome OS computers are up for the job though. We’ve already been provided with a list of Chromebooks that should work with the Steam Linux App. You’ll notice these Chromebooks have the very latest of processors, which basically means they have an Intel i5 quad-core eleventh generation inside. Luckily for me, I own the Asus CX5 with a quad-core i5 processor, which appears on the list, so I’m eagerly waiting to test it out.

Asus CX5 Chromebook
My Asus CX5 is on the list of Chromebooks compatible with the Linux Steam App

The fact is though, even though I own a Chromebook that appears on the list. I’m not overly convinced I’ll get the same gaming experience as I would when using Nvidia GeForce Now. Sure, my Asus CX5 may have the latest quad-core Intel i5 processor and 8GB of RAM. However, it lacks the most important thing that I mentioned earlier, and that’s a dedicated graphics card.

We’ll need a different type of Chromebook

Although I have a lot of confidence in the Steam Linux App. I strongly believe we’ll need to see a totally different type of Chrome OS computer to play advanced games locally on Chrome OS. It does not really matter about the processor and RAM when it comes to gaming if they don’t have a dedicated graphics card to back them up.

Sure, we are seeing some new developments with integrated cards, which Nvidia is directly involved in. Perhaps these will be enough to get a decent gaming experience.

Either way, I would not get too excited when you hear the news that the Steam Linux App is finally launched for Chrome OS. Of course, it will be a great news story, but if you want to play the most advanced games out there. Then you’ll have to wait until we see the next generation of Chrome OS gaming Chromebooks and Chromeboxes, which I’m sure are already in the minds of manufacturers.

This isn’t a major criticism. Like I said at the beginning. This is what you need to play advanced PC games. If you need this sort of processing power on a Microsoft Windows computer. It makes sense you’ll need the same when using a computer running Chrome OS.