The popularity of video game streaming has grown exponentially over the last several years. Where it was once a ‘geek niche’ for gamers to coalesce online and share in their unified adoration for the subject material, it has quickly gained popularity with mainstream media. Esports are spearheading this change with great effect, showcasing how video games are just as relevant today as traditional sporting endeavours – possibly even more so in our new pre- and post-COVID19 world. Naturally, many gamers have considered starting their own streams. However, where should you begin? This is where our ‘Beginners Guide to Game Streaming’ is going to come in handy.
Although many popular streamers have dual monitor and GPU setups, dedicated DSLR cameras to capture their likeness, professional lightning and more; the truth is that much of what they use is not necessary. Having these things is great and will certainly make you appear more professional in the long term, but for someone who is starting out the truth is that ‘less is most certainly more’. Save money and start out small, because you can always grow with your audience. This is especially true if you are merely testing the waters versus going all-in only to realise that online streaming is not for you.
In terms of actually starting out, the basic pillars of streaming online are: Internet access, computer, peripherals, games, and software.
The Worldwide Web is a fantastical entity, providing instantaneous knowledge and communication on a truly global scale. It has fundamentally changed the way the world works. Whether watching television, studying or playing games – almost everything today requires access to the Internet.
Any beginners guide to game streaming will have one obvious requirement: access to the Internet, with Uncapped/Unlimited broadband internet access being preferred. The quality of an online stream is also determined by the speed of the Internet connection. For the most part, streaming in 1080p/60fps with a high bitrate is the gold standard. However, this can be fairly resource intensive for mid-range computers (more on this below). As such, streaming at 720p/30fps with a bitrate of roughly 2500kbps will more than suffice for streamers who are starting out (results in roughly 10 GB of data usage per month with a one hour stream per day).
In this sense, a minimum upload speed of 5Mbps is required. However, it is often important to have a ‘buffer’ for speed, just in case someone else uses the network at the same time. It is therefore recommend to have an Internet upload speed of no less than 8Mbps for a 720p/30fps stream.
tl:dr – Minimum Internet upload of 8Mbps to stream 720p/30fps.
Contrary to popular belief, you do not need the fastest or flashiest RGB adorned personal computer or the best gaming peripherals in order to stream online. If you have a mid-range laptop/MacBook or computer/Mac from within the last five years, you are already more than well equipped to start your own stream.
As a rule of thumb: always use what you have and work up from there. From personal experience, I have used a 2015 iMac with an Intel i7 to stream perfectly in 1080p/60fps (pushing the output any higher would cause frame drops and general instability). The current streaming climate favours 1080p/60fps as the gold standard. However, there are many streamers who use 720p as their default. This is because higher resolutions require faster Internet connections and powerful hardware.
The absolute bare minimum hardware requirements for a starter 720p/30fps stream are: quad core processor at 2.5GHZ (i5 or higher), 8 GB RAM, some form of Integrated Graphics, and at least 50GB of available storage space. If you have a PC/Mac with similar specs and a fast enough Internet connection, you can start your streaming journey!
tl:dr – Minimum computer spec = Quad Core 2.5 GHz i5, 8GB RAM and 50GB storage
The gaming peripheral market is highly lucrative and ridiculously saturated. Almost every single computer hardware manufacturer has a ‘gaming edition’ of at least one of their products. The truth is that you do not need the ‘gaming’ variant any of these peripherals. For the most part, devices and peripherals marketed to gamers are merely rebranded ‘standard’ products. Sure, some are specifically designed for gamers, however, a large majority merely have a ‘gaming tax’ added to appeal to the gaming demographic – often in the form of gaudy designs and RGB lightning.
As you begin your streaming journey, simply look at the most basic of peripherals. In this sense, all you really need is a keyboard, mouse, microphone and webcam.
Depending on your current setup, many people will already have most of the basic peripherals needed for gaming, and, therefore, streaming. In fact, if you have a modern smartphone, the process will be even easier. This is because smartphones can be used as both a microphone and a webcam for streaming.
If you have a laptop or iMac, I would also recommend a basic mouse. This is purely because gaming with a trackpad can be ever so slightly more cumbersome than using a mouse.
If you are worried about lighting, try and place your setup in front of a window for daytime streams (use natural light as much has possible). In the evenings, you can use something as simple as a desk lamp to give enough light for people to see your face on stream, or even use the rear camera and flash on your smartphone. Given how this is a beginners guide to game streaming, there really is no need to splurge on a ring light just yet (that can always come later).
tl:dr – Smart Phone = webcam and microphone, buy a basic mouse if you only have a trackpad
Games are severely important when it comes to streaming online. Your choice of game and skill level will determine your audience. However, do you know what is even more important? Your enjoyment!
There is no point in embarking on streaming games online if you are only interested in playing popular games for the sake of, hopefully, becoming popular and being the “next big thing”. If you pursue this route, you will eventually find yourself resenting your streams. This is because they will feel like work, instead of a safe and fun space to chat with a community who enjoys you, for being you.
The best advice I can give, and it is one that comes from experience, is to follow your passion. If you are someone who enjoys spending hours and hours in The Sims, then that is the game you should stream. Conversely, if you spend days perfecting your twitch reflexes in Call of Duty, then that should be the title with which to build your audience. Simply put, stream games that you personally enjoy. Doing so will allow your passion to filter through to your audience, who will begin to tune into your streams for both your personality and the games you play. Craft your niche in your own way, and the success will come. After all, playing games should be fun, otherwise what is the point?
In terms of games, they can be easily accessed through a variety of online stores like Steam, Epic Games Store, Windows Marketplace, Mac App Store, and so on and so forth. In terms of the way the games look, do not worry too much about that. As long as your computer can handle a 720p resolution with medium-ish settings, you should be fine. When people tune into streams, they do so to enjoy their favourite content creators more so than to see if their PC can run a game at maximum settings.
tl:dr – Play the games you love, not the ones you think are popular
A part from the hardware and games, one of the most important aspects of streaming online is the software you use. In this sense, there are a myriad of programs available to do the job. Of all of them, however, I firmly believe the Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) project to be one of the best.
OBS is a powerful open source software package that is continuously being developed. It is also completely free and one of the only software packages to work, without issue, on OSX. Better still, the open source nature of the software means you can get a variety of unique plugins and add-ons to enhance your streaming experience (like allowing you to use your smartphone as a camera and mic). OBS does have a bit of learning curve, but once you have mastered it you will not look back.
In addition to the software needed for streaming, you will also need to choose a platform to stream to. In this sense I do believe it is wise to choose one singular platform to be your focus. Whether that is YouTube Gaming, Twitch, Mixer or even Facebook; simply choose one and go with it – especially at the start. If choosing one platform feels too limited, you can absolutely stream to multiple platforms at once using the free plan from Restream.
When it comes to streaming, I also highly recommend the creation of a stream schedule. Having a set time works for both you and your potential viewers, as it allows everyone to plan their days accordingly. If you cannot make a stream, for whatever reason, use your social channels to communicate it to your audience.
tl:dr – use OBS to stream and Restream for distribution
Owner, founder and editor-in-chief at Vamers, Hans has a vested interest in geek culture and the interactive entertainment industry. With a Masters degree in Communications and Ludology, he is well read and versed in matters relating to video games and communication media, among many other topics of interest.