Vortex is popular for their rock bottom pricing, but they are also known for their glitchy streaming performance (especially on Windows). With this in mind, Vortex is expanding both their development team and their network. Today they are announcing a formal partnership with IBM Cloud. Will this partnership be enough to make them a go-to option for Cloud Gamers?
A Brief History of Vortex
Before you can fully appreciate the changes that are coming, it’s helpful to know how things have been. Vortex started many years ago as a completely different product. A small team of developers worked together to create a streaming App called Remotr. Remotr was completely focused on streaming from a user’s personal PC to an iPhone or Android device. It worked well, and the team decided to go bigger.
It would be fair to think of Vortex as an evolution of Remotr. Even though it doesn’t completely replace Remotr, it is definitely standing on the shoulders of its predecessor. While Remotr is focused on self-hosted streaming, Vortex is a completely cloud-based system.
The developers of Vortex believe that it is very important to bring exceptional value to their subscribers. They take pride in offering the cheapest Cloud Gaming subscription by a large margin (they are $20 less per month than their closest competitor). As a result, Vortex is very popular. Throughout 2018 it became clear that Vortex’s network was not ready to accommodate the number of users that they had attracted.
As a result, they were forced to implement a queue system. Subscribers found themselves waiting anywhere from 10-30 minutes just to start playing. Vortex’s subscriber base is largely made up of mobile gamers. Gaming on mobile is different than it is on other platforms. People tend to pick up their mobile device when they need a distraction to pass the time. The key is that mobile gamers often don’t play for as long during a single session as computer or console gamers. According to Techcrunch, mobile gamers only spend an average of 7 minutes playing during each session. When you consider this detail, it’s easy to see how a 10-30 minute queue can be a problem.
In addition to their queue, Vortex also struggles with the quality of their streaming experience. Their network features an older Tesla M60 GPU. It’s powerful enough for medium quality experiences at up to 720p resolutions. While this in itself is not a deal-breaker, the fact that their streaming technology is also buggy creates a very real problem. When you combine these issues together, it makes it hard to maintain long-term success in the Cloud Gaming market. So let’s fast forward to today, because things are about to change.
Part of Vortex’s streaming problem is that they originally based their streaming algorithm on the TCP protocol. A protocol is a set of rules that dictate how data and bandwidth are treated during transmission. The TCP protocol is largely focused on data integrity. Measures are taken to ensure that data arrives in exactly the same condition that it was sent. On the surface this sounds like a good thing, until you realize that TCP prioritizes data integrity above streaming performance.
Vortex needed to go in a different direction, and today they are working on doing just that. Instead of relying on TCP, they are switching to a UDP-based protocol. UDP is pretty much the opposite of TCP. It doesn’t care about data integrity. Instead it focuses on streaming performance. You’ve probably experienced it through other streaming services like Netflix.
Vortex has already begun implementing an early version of their UDP technology. It hasn’t completely solved all of their streaming problems, but things have noticeably improved. Games that weren’t playable in the past are now usable. These early results are promising, and Vortex is dedicated to improving their algorithm even more in the coming months.
It’s normally a good thing for a Cloud Service to offer a variety of streaming options. Vortex is currently available as a Windows App, Windows 10 Store App, Chrome Browser App, and through Android. These are all good things until you remember that Vortex has a fairly small development team.
Historically the majority of Vortex’s development was handled by just two people. This has recently changed, and Vortex’s staff is now a little larger. However, maintaining this number of clients is still unrealistic. While diversifying is important, it can also cause you to spread yourself too thin. In the near future Vortex will decommission their Windows 10 Store App and their Chrome Browser App. This will allow them to narrow their focus and should result in higher quality experiences in both their Windows App and on Android.
Partnering with IBM Cloud
Everything that we’ve discussed so far is important, but the biggest announcement of the day is that Vortex is partnering with IBM Cloud! This partnership will provide Vortex with the resources to address their two remaining problems.
We’ve already discussed the negative impact that the queue system can have on subscribers. IBM Cloud provides Vortex with a diverse network that can be used to support more concurrent gamers. In fact, you may have already enjoyed the early fruits of this partnership.
Vortex made this arrangement recently, and has already started leveraging IBM’s network to handle their overflow. They are currently observing network conditions and are identifying any remaining peak times that need more attention.
They are also preparing to leverage IBM to upgrade their network. We discussed how Vortex is currently powered by an older M60 GPU. In the near future Vortex plans to upgrade their network with a newer Tesla T4 GPU. The T4 is more powerful and offers more memory. It will allow Vortex to offer 1080p Cloud Gaming at higher quality levels.
Waiting for Results
We’ve shared a lot of exciting information today. Vortex is cracking down on the problems that have held them back in the past. The combination of a new streaming protocol and new network should elevate the experience that they can offer to their subscribers. And they are planning to make all of these improvements while maintaining rock-bottom pricing.
Some of these improvements are already in progress. They’ve already implemented an early version of their new UDP Protocol. And they are currently integrating IBM’s resources into their network. If you try Vortex today, you can expect a great experience on Android. They are still one of the best when it comes to Cloud Gaming on mobile. The Windows side of Vortex still has some opportunities.
At Flickstiq we recently took a look at both the Android and Windows clients that Vortex offers today. It is clear that their Windows Client is better today than it was when we reviewed them in 2018. However there are still opportunities outside of their streaming and quality.
Vortex uses a launcher system to get you into your games. We found the launcher to be a bit buggy. Launching a game often triggers anti-cheat technologies that required us to quit the game and try to launch it again (keep in mind that Cloud Gaming is not cheating, but it can look like a bot to some detection systems). We also found that our mouse was a bit jittery in some titles. These issues are noticeable and can be frustrating to work through. However it is very encouraging that Vortex is paying close attention and is dedicated to perfecting their system.
On the plus side we didn’t encounter any queues during the various times of day that we tested. And the Android version of Vortex is still very good (if not the best). If you’re interested in signing up for Vortex to play exclusively on Android, then we can easily recommend it. If you’re wanting to use them primarily through Windows, then you will need to note the details that we shared in this article. Many of their improvements are slated for the near future, and there are still some lingering issues that you’ll notice.
If you’d like to try Vortex for yourself, you can sign up through our Affiliate link (and we greatly appreciate everyone that uses it). And if you’d like to see what Vortex looks like today, take a look at the video below.
Josh is a long-time Gamer and Technology Guru. He is known for his writing and troubleshooting skills. Josh can solve just about any problem, and is especially good at getting to the bottom of technology challenges. He has a background in Networking and holds a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology degree. When he’s not gaming, Josh can be found blogging, testing new tech, and interacting with Flickstiq’s social media following. He lives in Ohio with his wife and children.