It’s always more fun to play with friends. If you’re a PC gamer, then you can take advantage of the proliferation of broadband internet to stream your gameplay and commentary online, letting fans across the world tune in and watch you play. It’s a great way to make friends and have a little fun; if you’re a great player or just rage amusingly when you lose, you can get very popular very quickly, particularly if you play a popular game like StarCraft II, Skyrim, Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3 or Amnesia.
This guide will show you to how to unlock that potential; how to get streaming online as quickly and easily as possible.
1. Make Sure You’re Ready
One important thing to remember is that streaming your games online will take up more system resources than just playing the game. If you’re already taxing your system playing the game itself, streaming may be too much. At the very least, you’ll have to decrease your system settings to compensate.
Generally, your CPU will be most heavily taxed by streaming so if your system’s speed in the game is limited by the CPU, that’ll have a more adverse effect on performance. Hard drive speed can also be an issue when loading levels, so if you have two hard drives it can be a good idea to record any videos you’re making to one hard drive and run the game from the other.
Another issue is your internet connection, specifically your internet upload speed. Generally your internet upload speed will be much lower than your download speed, and determines at what resolution and quality you can stream. You can check your upload speed by running a speed test. Note down what your upload speed is for later — if you’ve got at least 1 Mb/s up, you should be good to proceed with HD streaming, while slower speeds will require lower resolutions.
If you’d like to provide a personal touch, a microphone or webcam can be a good idea.
2. Sign Up For Twitch.TV
The first thing you’ll need to do is sign up for a streaming account. One of the best stream providers is Twitch.TV, a gaming-centric offshoot of the older Justin.TV. Sign up for an account; it’s free but you’ll need to provide the standard cadre of personal details: username, password, DOB and email.
3. Download XSplit
Now that you’ve got your Twitch.TV account, you need to download a program that’ll actually allow you to stream. I suggest using XSplit, as it’s free and quite easy to use. You can download Xsplit from their official website; you’ll have to sign up to do so but there’s no obligation.
You can make things slightly easier by buying the premium version of Xsplit, which allows you to stream full-screen (e.g. non-windowed) Direct X games. The premium version costs $39 or £25 for a two year license, so you’ll probably want to ensure that you’ll be streaming fairly often in order to justify the expense.
4. Set Your Settings
With your Twitch.TV account ready and your XSplit downloaded and installed, it’s time to set up your settings. First, head over to the Channels tab and add your Twitch.TV channel (called Justin.TV in the interface, but it’s the same thing.)
Insert your Twitch.TV username and password. Your channel name will automatically be detected, so move onto the next field. Choose the location nearest you, or leave it at ‘Default’.
For video encoding, you’ll want to refer to your upload speed calculated in step 1. Generally you’ll want to use about 80% of your maximum upload speed, depending on how much bandwidth you want to leave for the rest of your household. I’ve got a 1.5 Mb/s upload that can go down to about 1.2 Mb/s at some points, so I set the bitrate to 1000 (1024 bits = 1 Mb) for both VBV Max Bitrate and VBV Buffer.
Leave the quality at 6 for now, and the resolution as ‘Default Stage Resolution.’ Audio Encoding should be 44.100 KHz 16 bit stereo, but leave the bit rate at 128000. If you’ve got plenty of upload to spare, then feel free to set it higher.
Head to the Resolution tab now. I’ve gone ahead and chosen all of the 16:9 resolutions up to 1080p, but I’ll probably be streaming in 720p. Again, you’ll set this per broadcast later, so just check the 16:9 resolutions and move on to the General Tab.
The General tab is pretty simple. Just allow XSplit disable the Areo theme, and Enable Game Source if you’ve gone for the Premium version. The microphone should be set to your webcam or microphone, and your recordings should go onto your secondary hard drive if you have one.
Now it’s time to move onto the main window.
First, you’ll want to set the screen resolution via the ‘View -> Resolution’ menu item. I’d suggest 720p (1280 x 720) if you’ve got at least 1 Mb/s in upload speed. The frame rate is fine to stay at 25 fps, and you can easily raise it later to provide a better looking game.
Now you’ll want to add the game and your webcam, if you have one, to your ‘scene sources’. Start up the game, then alt-tab back to XSplit.
Just hit add, then select ‘add screen region’ if you’re using a windowed game (including StarCraft II and TF2′s full-screen windowed mode). Just click on the game in the taskbar, and its screen region will automatically be selected.
If you’ve got the premium version, then just hit ‘add game’ and select the game from the menu. (It should be the only one there. If it’s not, restart the game and try again.)
Now that you’ve got the game added, it’s time to add your webcam. Just hit ‘add camera’ and select the webcam you want to use.
Typically you’ll want to arrange the two sources to choose how much of the screen they take up and which is on top of the other. The webcam should go over the game, so drag it to the top of the screen sources list.
You’ll probably also want to move the webcam into a corner and shrink it down to a small portion of the screen, so mouse over the webcam feed in the preview window so that you can see its white outline, then click and drag to move it or drag on a corner to resize.
The game is a bit simpler, just make it as big as possible on the screen and ensure it’s underneath the webcam.
And that’s all the settings you should need — you won’t have to modify most of these again; for the others feel free to make small changes based on feedback from your viewers.
5. Now Stream!
Phew… now you should be ready to stream! Go to Broadcast, then your Justin.TV (aka Twitch.TV) channel, and the stream should start. Now’s a good time to get someone else you trust to check the stream. Have them go to twitch.tv/youraccountname to view the stream, and let you know how the sound and video quality is.
You’ll want to make sure that the video isn’t stuttering and the audio is discernible. Once you’ve achieved those basic goals, you can then adjust the video quality slowly upwards until you begin to stutter again; then choose the last settings that didn’t make it stutter.
Now you should be ready to roll — once your test friend lets you know everything is alright, then start playing and promote your stream to your friends and communities you belong to. Good places to start are fan forums for your game, Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. You’ll also get some traffic from visitors to Twitch.TV who see which game you’re playing – be sure to specify that on the Twitch.TV site as well as giving yourself a good description.
If you have any problems, you can ask on the Twitch.TV or Xsplit forums. You can also contact me on Twitter and check out my stream — when it’s up — over at twitch.tv/velocitygirl. Good luck, and have fun!