Twitch: How to stream your games

Join the game-watching boom that has made Twitch insanely popular. The software you'll need is free, and we'll walk you through the setup.
  • Ian Paul (PC World (US online))
  • 26 August, 2017 00:56

Not so long ago there was pretty much one way to interact with a video game: You sat down and played it. Maybe you watched an older friend or sibling play while pointing out all their mistakes, but gaming was never what you’d call a “spectator sport.”

That’s changed in recent years thanks to YouTube gaming celebrities, the booming popularity of professional e-sports, and most importantly, the online game streaming service Twitch. Firing up a stream and watching someone else play a thousand miles away is now a perfectly legitimate way to enjoy a game. Best of all, anyone is free to participate on either side of a Twitch stream. If you want to be the one gaming in front of a live audience, you can start doing it today, for free.

Here’s how to stream your games on Twitch.

How to stream to Twitch: OBS Studio 

This guide assumes that you have a PC with a discrete graphics card and processor

powerful enough to stream games. To start broadcasting to Twitch, you’ll need two additional things: desktop software that can record and stream footage from your gaming computer, and a Twitch account. We’ll start with the software.

Options abound for desktop streaming software. You can find debates over the relative merits online, but we recommend one broadcasting suite that’s free and easy to set up—plus it integrates nicely with Twitch. The program is called Open Broadcaster Software Studio (frequently shortened to OBS Studio), which is the replacement for the classic OBS software.

We’ll discuss the OBS Studio client for Windows, but Mac and Linux versions are also available.

obsstudio 1 Ian Paul/IDG

The OBS Studio interface on its initial launch. (Click on any image in this post to enlarge it.)

Once you’ve downloaded OBS Studio and run through the installer, the client will launch. You’ll see a window with an empty letterbox screen, and a bank of options at the bottom. Here, you’ll set up the “scene” and sources for your broadcast. The scene in OBS Studio is the final product that you’ll show on Twitch, while the sources are all the various elements that make up your scene. 

Most Twitch gaming streams aren’t just a plain screencast of the game itself; they usually include multiple sources, such as a picture-in-picture webcam feed of the player, a watermark, and sometimes even animated screen overlays. Animations are beyond the scope of this tutorial for beginners. We’ll stick to the three basic sources: the game, the webcam, and the watermark.

Source 1: The game stream

We’ll start by adding the most important element to the scene: the game window.

obs rename Brad Chacos/IDG

Before we do that, however, let’s rename our scene something more memorable. Below the letterbox, right-click Scene in the left-most panel at the bottom of the OBS window. Select Rename and then give it a better name. In my example, I’m going to stream The Witcher 3 ($20 on Amazon) so I’ll title my scene with the game’s name. 

Now let’s add the game feed. Start up your game, and once it’s running press Alt + Tab to navigate back to the OBS window. It doesn’t matter whether the game is in full-screen or windowed mode.

TIP: Multi-monitor users should put OBS Studio in a secondary monitor during the setup process to more easily see what’s going on. 

obsstudio 2 Ian Paul/IDG

Select Game Capture in the sources window to get started.

Next, you’ll add a new source. Click the plus sign in the Sources panel, and from the menu that appears select Game Capture. This will pop open a second window, but just click OK here to open yet a third window. 

obsstudioproperties Ian Paul

Geralt is waiting patiently while we set up OBS Studio.

This is the properties window and is where we add the game. At the top, click the drop-down menu next to Mode and select Capture specific window. Then set the Window drop-down menu to the executable file of your game, which should be listed since it’s running. In my case it’s witcher3.exe. 

Once you’ve selected your EXE file, you should start to see a preview of your stream in this pop-up window. There are also a few options you can tweak here—experiment with them if you so choose. Now click OK to return to the main OBS Studio window.

obsstudio 3 Ian Paul/IDG

Previewing a game stream in OBS Studio on a secondary monitor.

At this point you can see a preview of your stream running in OBS. It should appear surrounded by a red outline. If not, just highlight Game Capture in the Sources panel or click on the game feed itself. 

You can use the outline to change the size of the game window. In my case, I ran Witcher 3 at 720p since my external GPU setup can’t handle this game at 1080p. That meant I had to drag and extend the outline to make the game fill the entire letterbox window.

Since OBS Studio is so flexible, Game Capture isn’t your only option. You can also stream your whole desktop instead of just a single program using the Display Capture option in Sources. This is a good tool for broadcasting something that uses multiple programs, such as a screencast tutorial.

In the OBS Classic days a number of games wouldn’t work with OBS’s default game capture mode. Instead, you had to broadcast your whole desktop. During my time with OBS Studio, however, I didn’t run into that problem.

Source 2: The webcam feed 

Adding a webcam stream gives your gameplay a personal touch. For Twitch streamers, the webcam feed is standard practice. If your PC doesn’t have a webcam, the Logitech C922 ($80 on Amazon) is a stellar one you can add to any PC. It’s very popular with streamers.

To set it up, click the plus sign in the Sources box once again, and from the context menu select Video Capture Device. Once again, a small window pops up that you can pretty much ignore. Just hit OK to get to the new properties window. 

obs video capture Ian Paul/IDG

OBS Studio’s video capture properties window.

OBS Studio should automatically choose your webcam. If you have two or more options, however, just choose the appropriate one for your broadcast. You can mess with the settings in this window, but as long as your webcam is selected from the drop-down list at the very top, it should work just fine.

The more important thing is to decide on the angle for your webcam. Do you want it to shoot you from above, like it’s sitting on top of your display? Or would you prefer a straight-on shot or something from below? To get an idea of webcam placement see what others are doing on Twitch and find what works for you. Also pay attention to lighting to make sure you’re clearly visible. 

If you’d rather not have the background of your home office or den show up, you’ll need

to use a chroma key to get that green screen effect. You can actually make this happen with nothing more than a sheet or large curtain and some even lighting, though basic green screen setups can be found online for as little as $20. To play with chroma key settings in OBS Studio, right-click on Video Capture Device in the Sources panel and select Filters > Effect Filters > Chroma Key.

If you need detailed help to set this up, there are tons of tutorials on YouTube—such as this one—that show the process.

obsstudio 4 Ian Paul/IDG

Hello, webcam!

Once your webcam is enabled as a source, you can choose where it will appear in the final broadcast. The default is the upper-left corner, but you can adjust this by dragging the window around the letterbox area in the main OBS Studio window. You can also use the red border around the webcam to size it to your preference. Many Twitch streamers position their webcam feed in a small area in the lower right corner. That’s far from the rule, however, and the onscreen elements of the game you’re streaming will likely dictate where you place your webcam feed. 

Next page: Setting up watermarks and the final stream

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Source 3: The watermark

To give a stream that extra veneer of professionalism, you can add a watermark—the ghostly little logo that appears in the bottom corner of TV broadcasts. For this example, I pulled a sample logo off Freepik.com.

OBS watermark Ian Paul/IDG and Freepik.com

Click the plus sign again in the Sources box, select Image, and click OK to get to the third window. Choose your image from your PC and then click OK again.

Going back to the main window, click on the watermark image in the letterbox window and it will be outlined in red. Now adjust it for placement and size. If you want to make the image transparent, right-click the image and select Filters > Chroma Key. Then choose a numeric value (out of 100) in the Opacity option to make it more transparent. You can also play around with the various sliders to get your desired affect.

twitchpreview Ian Paul/IDG

The finished product with game, webcam, and watermark (lower left).

Now that we’ve got a watermark, preview the complete stream by starting your game. Looking good? Then it’s time move on to the Twitch side of things.

The full stream

twitchdashboard Ian Paul/IDG

The Twitch dashboard.

Twitch is simple to set up. Just visit the site and create a user account. Click your user name in the upper-right corner, then in the drop-down menu that appears, select Dashboard.

You can preview your stream from the Dashboard, but it won’t actually appear until you connect your OBS client to your Twitch account. To do this, click on Settings in the left rail of the dashboard. On the next page you should see an option in the main part of the window titled “Stream Key.” Choose that and on the next page, select Show Key. Copy the code to your clipboard.

obs stream studios Ian Paul/IDG

OBS Studio’s Stream settings.

Next, open OBS and click Settings in the lower-right corner. In the next window that opens, select Stream. Under Stream Type, select Streaming services, then under Service, select Twitch.

At this point OBS Studio may run a test to find the best Twitch server suited to your location. If it doesn’t select a server close to you, you can choose one manually from the Server drop-down menu. Finally, copy the streaming key to the field marked “Stream Key.” Click Apply and OK, and you’re done.

Now go back and preview your stream in OBS Studio one final time.

Before we start streaming, go back to your Twitch Dashboard and click Live in the left rail.Under the sub-heading “Stream Information,” enter a title for your stream and the name of the game, then click Update Information.

Now it’s time to go live.

twitchlivestream Ian Paul/IDG

And we’re live!

Back on your desktop, click Start Streaming in the main OBS window. You’ll see the stream appear in your dashboard back at Twitch, which means you’re up and running. Congratulations!

There’s much more to explore in the settings for both Twitch and OBS, such as the desktop program’s volume settings for both the game audio and your webcam microphone. But at this point you have everything you need to run a successful broadcast. Have fun showing off on the big stage!