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.

how to stream to twitch primary
Rob Schultz/Adam Murray/Ian Paul/IDG

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.

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