What is so completely enthralling about watching somebody else play video games? Over the last couple years, live streaming has become a massive part of PC gaming. The top streamers can easily have tens of thousands of viewers at a time, with large eSports events boosting that number up to the hundreds of thousands. As I write this, there are more than twice as many people watching Arma 3 on Twitch than there are people playing it on Steam. Twitch's most popular streamer, Syndicate—who has nearly 1.5 million followers—has more people watching him than Arma 3 players and watchers combined.
The rise of streaming is partly due to how easy streaming is now. Just about anyone can do it: you may not break any viewership records, but as long as you have a stable internet connection you can share your gaming with the world. What’s more, some of the best tools out there are completely free. Unfortunately, this low barrier to entry means a lot of people make some pretty simple (and easily avoidable) mistakes. This guide is going to break down how to set up a stream, and offer some tips for making your stream better for the viewers.
OBS and Twitch
To start off, you need a program to stream with, and there isn’t a better free option than OBS. We’ve talked before about why OBS is the best choice and our opinion hasn’t changed. It’s free, open source, and can do nearly everything you are used to seeing on your favorite streams. It’s also extremely easy to use to setup and customize the look of your stream (more on that in a bit).
There are other options besides Twitch, but it has a few advantages over its competitors; It’s very straightforward and easy to use, it plays nicely with OBS, and there are just simply more viewers on Twitch. The likelihood that someone browsing streams finds you is much higher when there are more people on the entire site.
If you don’t already have one, make an account with Twitch and then go into the settings menu of OBS. Adjusting the stream’s preferences to fit your rig and internet connection is important, but until you have more experience streaming, it can feel a bit like punching in the dark. For now, it’s best to follow this guide on configuring OBS for streaming on Twitch. These settings are a great baseline, and in some cases won’t need to be adjusted again.
Setting up a webcam isn’t required to stream your games, but it is a feature that has become an important part of a lot of streams. A huge part of streaming is the personality you bring to the game, not just the game being played. The infamous Twitch Chat loves interacting with streamers, and having a webcam is a great way to do just that. It can be the reason people actually stick around to watch you but, if done poorly, can also be the reason they leave.
You don’t necessarily need the best webcam as long as you set it up well. Good lighting can go a long way in improving the quality of any camera. Additionally, what’s going on in the background can be just as important as your face being clear. Don’t set up a camera where other people, something embarrassing, or something distracting might show up behind you. A wall or similarly static background will help your stream seem more professional, and many larger streamers opt to use a green screen and remove their background altogether.
Mic and music
Your mic has a similar role to your webcam: it can make or break your stream, and is just as easy to get right as it is to get wrong. A stream with an echo is one of the most infuriating things to watch. If you are using a desk mic or the one built into your webcam then you NEED to wear headphones. There is nothing wrong with this type of mic on its own, and in a lot of cases desk mics are higher quality than headset mics, but they’ll pick up the game sound coming through your speakers and make for a very unpleasant viewing experience.
Another popular stream element: playing music in the background while you game, which is as simple as playing music on the same computer you are streaming from. But this comes with a few pitfalls. Twitch has an automatic system that mutes recorded streams playing copyrighted music. This won’t affect the stream while you are live, but any VODs of your stream will be muted for the a 30 minute section when an unauthorized song is played. A good alternative is Twitch’s royalty free music library, which currently has 500 songs to play. Otherwise, you might want to stick with the in-game music.
Whatever your sound setup, balance between mic, music, and game audio is critical. You want to be able to hear all three elements at the appropriate volumes. That takes testing. OBS has the ability record streams which you can use to test your setup, watch the recording, and then make adjustments to each volume level. It might seem like a small thing, but having music be too loud, or a mic too quiet, can be very distracting as a viewer.
Setting your scene
At this point, you're just about ready to start streaming. All that’s left is putting all the pieces in place within OBS.
When you open OBS, an empty scene should already be made. You’ll first want to add the game you’ll be streaming, so launch it now. Then, alt-tab back to OBS and right-click the empty Sources list. Select Add > Game Capture, then name the source and select the game you want to stream from the Application dropdown list and hit OK.
To add your webcam, make sure it’s plugged in, then right-click the Sources list again and select Add > Video Capture Device. Name the source and select your webcam from the Device dropdown list. If you want to adjust the resolution to something specific then you can do that here, otherwise hit OK as you’ll be able to resize the webcam in the scene viewer. Just hit Preview Stream then Edit Scene and you’ll be able to drag and drop your different sources around the scene with the mouse. When you click a source, it will get a red border around it and you can drag from the corners to resize any window.
Overlays should be added now too, but they're optional. An overlay is just an image or text superimposed over your stream, and can be as fancy as reskinning a game’s UI or as simple as putting your twitter handle on screen. To add an overlay, just right-click the Sources list and select Add > Image.
If the image is a PNG the transparent parts will remain so, which is how many streamers add frames to their webcams and other cool details. If you are streaming Hearthstone, consider taking a screenshot of your decklist, cropping it in Paint, and adding it to the side of your stream (see the image above for an example).
Be sure to consider what game information your webcam and overlays are covering up. Even blocking small UI elements can be frustrating to viewers. If you are planning on streaming multiple games, you can make different scenes that vary slightly in webcam size and placement to ensure everything is always in the right spot. Scenes are a great way to switch your stream up on the fly.
Good streaming habits
The screenshot above is of GuardsmanBob, a popular Twitch streamer.
At this point you should have a functional stream, but that doesn’t mean anyone is going to be watching. There are a lot of tricks to getting viewers, but one of the most important things is consistency. Setting good habits every time you stream is important to having people watch you. Even if you just want to stream for fun and hitting the front page of Twitch isn’t your goal, there are certain things that can only help.
This may sound simple, but tell people when you are streaming. It’s great to go live. It’s better when people know you are live. Tweet that you are streaming, tell your Facebook friends, yell it out your window. You may not have many followers, but that’s because you just started and the only way to get support is to make your presence known. Viewership can sometimes have a snowball effect, so even if your first five viewers are just your friends, the next five won’t be.
Another good practice is to turn on Panels on your Twitch page and write a short bio. Tell people who you are (without revealing anything confidential) and why they should bother to watch you. In the same vein, try to read and respond to chat if possible. Twitch has a built in delay of roughly 20 seconds, but people enjoy being heard and engaged with. Once again, even if you aren’t trying to become the top channel on Twitch, these habits will help you become a better streamer in the long term.
Last but not least, we have some extra features to help improve your stream. The following info isn’t for the average Joe who just wants to stream for the fun of it. If you manage to get a following and find yourself with more people in chat than you’re used to, the following things are the logical next steps to take.
The more viewers you have in Twitch Chat, the more out of hand it will start to get. So if you’re Twitch Chat starts to spam Kappas or raise Dongers at you, you’ll want to enlist the help of some auto-moderators. There are three free options, all detailed and available via this post on Twitch Tips, so take a look and see which ones you prefer. As that post mentions, it is easy to overuse bots, but they can also be a huge help and make your chat more interactive.
Additionally, if you ever watch a stream and wonder how they get those on-screen pop-ups each time they get a follower or subscriber, look no further. TNotifier is one of the most popular Twitch plug-ins available, allowing you to have on screen notifications, counters, goals, and other features completely free. Even if you are just tracking followers, people like seeing their name on screen, and giving viewers tangible feedback of their interactions helps encourage more.
Streaming can seem intimidating at first, but starting is the hardest part. The easiest way to get better is to just start doing it. Let yourself make mistakes and let other people know you are streaming. Got a livestream to share? Post it in the comments below.