A Complete Guide to Streaming Video Games on Twitch
With only a few pieces of hardware and free software, you can start streaming video games on Twitch with Twitch Studio. Try this simple setup.
With video game streaming becoming a massive content creation outlet in the past few years, more and more people want to stream on the side, hoping to one day become a full-time, sponsored streamer.
The rise to the top has many paths, but you have to start somewhere. Top streamers are celebrities in their own right, complete with high-end streaming setups that would make the average wallet cry. But you don’t need an RTX 2080 Ti graphics card or a 4K curved monitor to stream. To start, all you need are a few pieces of hardware, some video games — although not all streamers play games — and an on-camera personality that’ll resonate with an audience.
While I can’t help much with the personality aspect, I can say there’s an audience out there for everybody, so don’t try too hard to appeal to the masses. Just do you, and other like-minded people will hop on your chat with subs and donations in no time. What I can do, however, is tell you the kind of equipment you need, how to set it up, and how to get from playing video games on your desk to streaming to (hopefully) thousands of people.
The Ideal Setup
You don’t need much to get started, and there’s a good chance you may already have some of the equipment needed to stream. The image above is something to aspire to, but not all the items are necessary to start with. Here are the basics to get you started:
- Dual Monitors
Yeah, that’s not much, but the computer itself will take up most of the budget. If you already have a capable computer, that’s a good chunk of money you won’t have to spend, and microphones and webcams can be found for around $100 each. The second monitor won’t necessarily improve the quality of your stream. Still, having a second monitor will make it easier to manage your stream, make layout transitions, and, most importantly, keep up with viewers on the chat.
Streamers with great setups employ a dual-computer streaming setup, playing on one computer while the other computer handles the stream. Since both activities, playing and streaming, use up a lot of computer resources, this is an excellent solution, albeit an expensive one not suited for beginners.
So, to keep costs low, you’ll want to play and stream games from the same computer, although that has some setbacks. Sticking to one computer is more cost-efficient, but there can be a drop in performance when playing and streaming simultaneously. Computers with better specs can handle both activities well, so you’ll want to make sure you have a good computer.
If you’re buying a pre-built computer or laptop, or plan on building your own, here’s where you should invest your money: CPU, GPU, and (to a certain extent) RAM. And, for an in-depth look into PC building, read our PC building guide, which details what each major component does and offers build guides at different price points.
Streaming takes up a good portion of the processor’s resources, so you don’t want to create a bottleneck by having a sub-par CPU in your system. AMD’s Ryzen line of CPUs are excellent, offering multi-threaded CPUs at four, six, and eight-core configurations that sell for less than their Intel counterparts. Something like the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 should be plenty for a playing/streaming system. This CPU costs $200, with a 4.2 GHz max boost frequency, 12 threads, and a low TDP of 65W — thermal design power measures the max heat generated by a CPU when under a heavy load. As long as you’re not playing games at maxed-out settings, this CPU should do just fine.
Graphics Card (GPU)
The GPU is the most important component for gaming, but it’s also used for streaming, though not as much as the CPU. On a gaming PC, this component typically costs more than any other, and for good reason. Whereas a CPU has a few cores, each handling different general tasks, the GPU has thousands of smaller cores, specializing in visual tasks that convert code into beautifully-rendered panoramas, space marines, and princess-rescuing plumbers. Nvidia’s 1660 Ti won’t win any races, but it’s a solid GPU with a respectable 6GBs of VRAM and a boost clock of 1875MHz.
System Memory (RAM)
Random Access Memory (RAM) is as important as any other component, responsible for storing program instructions for the CPU. Graphics cards use separate memory, called Video Random Access Memory (VRAM), but CPUs use the system’s memory.
As you open any software, those instructions are loaded onto the RAM for the CPU to access quickly. When you don’t have enough RAM, older instructions are moved over to virtual memory, which takes a longer time to load back to RAM when your CPU needs the information. When there isn’t enough memory, computers tend to crash or freeze.
These days, many high-end games, referred to as AAA games, use a considerable amount of RAM — sometimes up to 12 or 16GBs. If you’re streaming and playing from the same computer, you’ll at least need 16GBs of RAM to start, with plans to double when the budget allows. For two 8GB sticks of RAM, totaling 16GBs, plan on spending $60 to $80 — during a RAM shortage, expect to pay twice as much for the same kit. Check out our in-depth RAM article for a detailed look at system memory and the best RAM kits currently on the market.
While some streamers choose not to use a camera, a camera feed on your stream makes viewers feel more at ease, adding to your on-air personality. If you’re not comfortable showing your face on stream, that’s okay, but having a camera is often more advantageous than not.
Using a webcam is the most convenient way to set up a camera on your stream — check out our list of affordable, stream-ready cameras. Webcams are convenient, and decent ones are priced somewhere around $100, but it may be tough to find them right now as the pandemic continues. With more people working, studying, and keeping in touch from their homes via video conferencing software, webcam supply is low mostly everywhere.
The alternative, although expensive, can help your stream look much better. While webcams are easier to set up, using a mirrorless or DSLR camera can increase your stream’s quality.
To use a mirrorless or DSLR camera, you’ll need a capture card or similar device. Elgato manufactures the Elgato Cam Link 4K, which costs $129. To learn how to set up the Cam Link 4K, view our in-depth guide. A capture card does the same job, but the Cam Link is less expensive, smaller, and easier to set up.
Twitch and other streaming platforms are all about visual media, but it’s not wise to forget about a stream’s audio quality. Weak audio can ruin a stream, with viewers quickly running off to watch something else.
Although a headset microphone can get the job done, it’s best to use a dedicated microphone for the best quality. You don’t need an XLR microphone with a mixer and audio interface either, but something in the $100 range should do nicely. I’ve used Audio-Technica’s AT2020 USB microphone for years now, and it continues to be a great entry-level mic at an affordable price. This type of condenser mic is prone to picking up even the smallest sounds, so it’s best to have your setup in a quiet place.
Having a second monitor sounds over the top, but you’ll quickly find out how necessary it is when streaming with only one. The second monitor is where you’ll have your stream window open, and where you can chat with your viewers, make layout transitions, change audio levels, and monitor everything else.
When using only one monitor to stream, your ability to make changes to your stream will be limited. Between a computer, camera, and microphone, I know this list is getting expensive, but your stream won’t be as good if you’re stuck with one monitor. Also, the second monitor doesn’t have to be as good as the first one. I recently bought a second monitor — a 1080p 60Hz 22″ Acer — which I got for $140 from Best Buy during a sale. It’s not as good as my primary monitor, but it doesn’t need to be. It just needs to show my stream.
Streaming with Twitch Studio
I’ve written extensively about using OBS for streaming, videoconferencing, and capturing footage. Yet, while I think it’s an incredible piece of freeware, setting up OBS can be too involved for beginners. Instead, Twitch’s broadcasting software, Twitch Studio, is a much better option for beginners, one that cuts out all unnecessary features to deliver a streamlined user experience that’s perfect for anyone looking to stream for their first time.
The software is currently in beta, but it’s at a point where all the major features are functioning, and I didn’t come across any bugs in my testing. I originally planned on making this section about OBS, but after streaming with Twitch Studio, it was evident that the purple streaming giant hit it out of the park. While the software is easy to use, it may be too simple for long-time streamers, whose stream setups are far more complicated. What Twitch Studio offers is a lightweight broadcast solution that’s capable of getting the user — whether experienced or not — stream-ready in only a few minutes. I streamed a couple of times using Twitch Studio and the following is what I learned.
Initial Setup — Stream Settings
Twitch Studio will run a stream quality diagnostic upon first opening the software, which tests your internet bandwidth and your hardware (computer specs) to provide you a preset of recommended stream quality settings.
After running a diagnostic on my computer and internet connection, the software suggested to stream using their 720p60 preset, which automatically sets the resolutions, frame rate, bitrate, and encoder. I chose to increase the preset to the maximum 1080p60 preset, which the software warned me might cause buffering for viewers with slower internet connections. After doing two streams, I don’t think it was an issue, but I’d need more viewers to find out how many are affected by the higher bitrate.
In the initial setup, the software will also check for a camera and microphone and give you the option to select a color scheme for your stream layout. You can change these options later on, but the initial setup makes it so you can start streaming right away.
Setting up Stream
After the initial setup, you can boot up any game and select it for screen capture on the software’s upper left corner. You can change this to capture any full screen software, but I prefer to individually select the game so as not to show notifications or other programs accidentally.
Before you click on Start Stream, it’s a good idea to edit the stream’s information, which you can use to send notifications to your followers. You can activate the Stream Info window by clicking the text above the stream window. This is where you can name the stream, set a notification, select a category, tags, and stream language. For viewers that may not know who you are, this is one way to grab someone’s attention, so try to create an eye-catching title.
The software, while not packed with as many features as OBS, makes everything so much easier. From creating new layouts to setting up Twitch Alerts, Twitch Studio boils down the streaming experience to its most essential functions.
Layouts and Twitch Alerts
If you’ve ever watched a stream, you may have noticed that streamers transition between different screens. Twitch Studio includes three pre-made stream layouts, of which you can choose the color theme during the initial setup. Each layout can be edited later on, and you can make new ones, which is much easier than it looks.
The Main layout, which shows game capture and your camera, is the one you’ll use the most if you’re streaming games, and it’s well made. But you can click the Edit Layout button toward the bottom of the screen to make any changes.
Creating a new layout is easy, and I made a new one in just a few minutes. Using Twitch’s assets and built-in tools, I created a layout with a gradient background and text that says, “Stream Starting.” Having a pre-stream layout is great because it gives viewers time to populate your stream before starting, giving viewers time to log on to Twitch. Some streamers like to place a countdown in their pre-stream layout, but that feature is not currently supported in this software.
While it’s possible to create multiple layouts in OBS, you’ll need a third-party extension to use Twitch Alerts, which are built into Twitch Studio. The Main layout uses Twitch Alerts that activate a banner whenever there’s a new follower, subscription, or cheer. From Twitch Studio, you can customize the look and sound of each of the five alerts.
For many beginners, the tools for creating new layouts may seem daunting, but they’re actually somewhat limited. It’s great that Twitch Studio provides some layouts to start with, but you can make creative layouts using the built-in tools.
With the right combination of hardware and software, streaming can be easy, and getting started doesn’t have to be ridiculously expensive. Don’t think for a minute that your stream has to compare to somebody sponsored by Mountain Dew. Sure, buying a stream-ready computer, capable of streaming and playing games, isn’t cheap, but that’s the price to stream.
Keep your eye on computer and component sales from Newegg and Amazon, or look for good second-hand hardware on eBay. You don’t need to start with the best stuff. You just need a setup that works reliably. And, when it comes to setting up your stream, Twitch Studio streamlines the broadcasting experience, so you can worry about playing video games instead of stream quality.
If your first stream doesn’t attract thousands of viewers, that’s normal. Nobody launches their streaming career with a huge fan base unless they’re already famous. Get comfortable being in front of the camera, learn how to get the most out of your tools, and keep it simple. Followers, donations, and better gear will come later. For now, boot up the game and pretend you’re playing with friends. That’s what it’s all about, right?.
Cover image via Wajahat Baig.