These days, there is much more to social gaming than inviting your buddies over to play Mario Kart. It’s easier than ever to share every game you play online with hundreds of people, building one gigantic community around your exploits in your favorite titles—whether you’re any good or not.
This guide is going to take a look at streaming and recording your games across the biggest platforms. Our instructions will focus on Twitch, but know that plenty of other streaming services exist that you can use as a home base for all your gaming adventures:
Why would I want to stream my games?
Broadcasting games to an audience of strangers might seem a bit… strange. After all, isn’t the fun of gaming playing rather than watching someone play? But if you think about it, people have been looking over each other’s shoulders as they game for years—from the first pinball machines, to arcades, to the modern day, with celebrity gamers making millions on YouTube and large online gaming tournaments being broadcast to thousands.
You might not be the celebrity superstar of your favorite game just yet, but sharing your daring digital pursuits with the world is a worthwhile endeavor. Sometimes you pull off some sweet trick or discover a hidden gem. Sometimes it’s entertaining to watch someone else screw up. Sometimes the story is so engaging, it’s almost a movie. Watching movies is fun, so why wouldn’t watching cinematic video games be fun?
All those videos you’ve ever watched of people playing games online have to come from somewhere. Broadcasting is easier than ever, and not only do you get to share your experience with other people, but they get to see what a game is like before purchasing it.
Basically, if you’re enjoying playing a game, there’s no reason to think other people won’t enjoy watching you play it, too.
How to stream games on Twitch
When it comes to game broadcasting, there’s Twitch, and then there’s everyone else. (Sorry Mixer and YouTube Gaming.) Twitch allows you to broadcast your gameplay live, embed the stream on your web site or blog and share it to social networks. It even comes with a built-in chat room for your viewers. If you want to share your games online, this is your first stop.
For all of the methods in this section, you’ll need to register for a Twitch account—so go ahead and do that here if you don’t already have one.
How to stream games on a PC or Mac
Streaming from your computer requires special broadcast software. Twitch recommends several selections here. XSplit Gamecaster is one of the easiest to use. Although there is a fee to upgrade to the premium level, its free offerings are more than adequate for most gamers. It only works on PCs, but another solid option, Open Broadcaster Software (OBS), works on Macs as well.
XSplit Gamecaster (PC Only)
Here’s how to get started with Gamecaster:
- Download the software and log in using your Twitch credentials. In addition to Twitch, Gamecaster offers support for the following streaming services: YouTube Live, Facebook Live, Mixer, Smashcast, Ustream, Dailymotion, Niconico and LIVEhouse.in.
- The software will automatically set itself up to stream your gameplay to Twitch.
- Choose a template that will act as the frame for your game. Themes have Start, Main and Intermission scenes that let you set up the screens your viewers will see before you play, while you’re playing and when you need a break, respectively.
- Click “Stream” on the bottom of the screen, select Twitch and start playing your game.
Pressing Ctrl+Tab opens the Gamecaster HUD (heads up display) where you can set up your chat room and control other features. Gamecaster also allows you to set up your webcam and microphone by clicking the options in the lower left corner of the screen.
Open Broadcaster Software (Mac, PC, Linux)
Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) is a little more complicated, but it’s completely free and it offers pro-level options for streaming. Once you get the hang of it, you can use it to create some impressive streams and recordings.
Once you’ve downloaded and installed OBS, you’ll need to log in to Twitch. OBS does not support the ability to log in to Twitch directly, so you have to obtain a “stream key” from Twitch, which you can get here. This key changes periodically, so you may need to update it each time you stream with OBS. Once you have it, follow these steps:
- In OBS, click the Settings button in the lower right corner.
- Select “Stream” in the left-hand pane.
- Next to “Service” select Twitch.
- Next to “Stream Key,” enter the key you acquired from your Twitch dashboard.
- The first time you set up OBS you may be prompted to change some video settings, depending on your setup. These will be displayed at the bottom of the window in red text. If any of these exist, fix them before moving on.
When you’re done, you can move onto setting up broadcasting. Starting a stream will require a little more setup than Gamecaster, but it’s still fairly straightforward. To get started, follow these steps:
- Open the game you want to stream.
- In OBS, right-click in the “Sources” box.
- In the Add > menu, choose “Window Capture.” (You can also use “Desktop Capture” if you want to be able to share more than just your game window, but for now we’ll keep it simple.) Name the source and press Enter.
- In the drop-down menu at the top of the next dialog box, choose the window of your game. Click OK.
- When you’re ready to begin broadcasting, click “Start Streaming.”
You can create additional Window Capture sources for your stream, such as adding in your webcam feed on top of your game. OBS also has a collection of plugins that can extend the app’s functionality. While OBS is a bit more complex to use, it also offer a lot more features and customization options than Gamecaster, so it’s up to you which you want to use. It’s also the best option for streaming gameplay from a Mac.
If you’re an early adopter, you can give Twitch’s own new broadcasting software—Twitch Studio—a try. Currently in Beta and only available for PCs, the program walks you through everything you need to do to start streaming, which makes it leagues simpler than OBS.
How to stream games on an Xbox One
With the Xbox One, game streaming is baked into the OS; you don’t need to install a separate app to broadcast your gaming. By default, you’ll be sending your stream to Microsoft’s Mixer service.
To get started, hold down the Xbox button while you’re playing (or preparing to play) a game, select the “Broadcast” tab and then select “Start Broadcast.” A wizard will open to help you tweak things like broadcast quality, adding extra players and more. Pressing the B button will send you back to your game.
If you’d rather stream to Twitch from your Xbox One, you’ll need to download the Twitch app to your console. And before you broadcast, you’ll need to link your account. To do so, follow these steps:
- Open the Twitch app on your Xbox One console.
- On the left side of the app menu, select “Log in.”
- Open twitch.tv/activate on your computer or phone.
- Enter the six digit code on your Xbox to link your account.
Once your accounts are linked, you can start broadcasting. Simply select the “Start Broadcast” tile to begin sharing. You’ll be given the option to enable Kinect video or audio with your microphone. If you’re a Kinect user, you can also say “Xbox, Broadcast” to begin a streaming session once everything is all set up.
How to stream games on a PlayStation 4
The PlayStation 4 can also stream directly to Twitch. The PlayStation controller has a Share button on it that you can use to start the process—but as usual, you’ll have to link your accounts first. To do this:
- Go to Settings > Account Management > Link with Other Services.
- Select Twitch and sign in to your Twitch account.
Then, launch the game you want to play. To broadcast:
- While playing the game, press the Share button.
- Choose an online service. We’ll use Twitch, but the PS4 also supports YouTube out of the box. Sign in to your streaming account if prompted.
- To adjust your broadcast while streaming, you can use the “Options” button to open the “Advanced Broadcast” menu.
Of all the platforms, the PS4 seems the easiest to stream from, as it doesn’t require any special downloads. You can also use the Share menu to take screenshots or record video clips.
How to record your games to show off later
Broadcasting live can be fun, but once the stream is over, you (or your viewers) may want to rewatch it. You can also use your recordings later to make highlight reels or just show off something crazy you pulled off . If you’re using Twitch—as we’ve recommended in this guide so far—there’s an easy way to make that possible:
- Before your broadcasts, open your Twitch account on the web. In the top right corner of the site, click your profile icon and choose “Creator Dashboard.”
- Select the “Channel” option at the left.
- Toggle the switch next to “Store past broadcasts” to the On position.
With this option enabled, you can choose to save broadcasts for later viewing. Twitch will not save your broadcast indefinitely (currently, whole broadcasts will be saved for 14 days), but you can download videos to your computer and share them on any video platform you’d like. If you’re not already into broadcasting, this is the simplest method to record your videos. However, if you want to save and edit them before they go live, there are other ways.
How to record your gaming on a PC or Mac
To record your gameplay on the PC, you can use either of the applications that we talked about in the broadcasting section. (Mac users will want to use OSB.)
For XSplit Gamecaster, you’ll see a record button right next to the stream button. If you followed the instructions above but want to save your action rather than stream it, simply hit that option.
To find your recordings, go to Settings, open the “Recording” tab and click on the location next to “Directory.”
To record your gameplay with OBS for either Mac or PC, follow these steps:
- Select the “Settings” button in the lower-right hand corner of OBS.
- Click “Output” option in the left-hand pane.
- Next to “Recording path,” choose the directory where you’d like to save your output files.
- Choose an output quality. Note that if you choose “same as stream” you won’t be able to pause your recording while you are gaming.
- Click OK.
- Open the game you want to play and add it to the Sources pane.
- Click “Start Recording” in the lower right.
Your gameplay will be recorded to your hard drive while you play and will be available for viewing or editing as soon as you click “Stop Recording.” You may need to fiddle with your recording settings if you find that the quality of the video isn’t up to snuff. Keep in mind you’re playing a graphics-intensive video game and recording it on the same machine; this can be taxing on your computer, so either reduce the graphics quality on your game, the resolution you’re recording at or both if you find the video stutters or skips too much.
One final option for recording your gaming on a PC is to use the Game Bar in Windows 10:
- Open your game.
- Open the Game Bar by pressing Windows + G on your keyboard
- Adjust the settings as needed. You can choose the volume levels and sources for your audio as well as activate or deactivate your microphone.
- Click the “Record” button, start playing your game and capture the action.
How to record your gaming on a console
Way back in the ancient era of just a few years ago, recording or broadcasting console gaming meant plugging your device into a capture card on your computer and using an app like OBS or XSplit. If you’re using an older console like an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, that’s still your best bet, unfortunately.
Recording newer consoles, however, is much easier: Our sister site Kotaku has a lengthy guide specifically for recording console gaming, but here are the key steps for both Xbox and PS4.
If you have a Kinect installed, you can start recording by saying “Xbox, start recording.” You can also use “Xbox, record that” to start a clip that includes the last 30 seconds of gameplay (thanks to the system’s default video buffer). If you don’t have a Kinect, follow these steps:
- Press the Xbox button.
- Press the X button to save the last 30 seconds of play.
- To record longer segments, press the view button (it has two small overlapping boxes), then “Record from now” followed by the A button.
- Recording will start when you resume the game. When you’re done, press the Xbox button again and then the X button.
Note that the Xbox will store up to 10 minutes of game play, or up to an hour if you connect an external hard drive. You can edit your clips on the Xbox using Microsoft’s Upload Studio if you want to adjust endpoints or string multiple videos together.
If you want to transfer the videos to your PC, you can install the OneDrive app on your Xbox, upload them to your storage and access them on your computer.
Sony has made recording your gameplay just as easy as broadcasting it. To record clips, double-tap the Share button. This will immediately start recording. To stop, double-tap it again.
You can press the Share button once only to change recording settings if you’d like—including the default length of clips. If you want to record more than a few minutes of gameplay, you can set the maximum recording length as long as an hour.
If you want to record something that just happened rather than something that’s going to happen, the PlayStation serves you even better than Xbox because the machine is always recording your last 15 minutes of play. So if you do something epic and want to save it, simply press and hold the Share button, and choose “Save Video Clip” or hit the Square button. You can also use the share menu to send your clips to social media (found in the Capture Gallery).
Sony also has a built-in video editor called Share Factory that you can use to edit your clips. If you want to export them to edit on a computer, you can plug a USB stick into your PS4 and use the Capture Gallery to copy them over. From the Capture Gallery, select Options and choose “Copy video to USB.”
This article was originally published in 2015 by Eric Ravenscraft and updated in April 2020 by Michael Franco. We significantly revised the article in the revision, clarifying instructions for software/devices that have changed, rewriting portions of the article for clarity and suggesting a few additional ways to stream and/or record your gaming. The post was updated again on Nov. 9, 2020 to align the content with current Lifehacker standards for the use of photos and screenshots.