Gaming has come a long way in recent years; both in terms of the quality of the games, and the interest in watching other people play. Whether it’s through live streams on Twitch or watching recorded gameplay videos on YouTube, gaming videos are becoming increasingly popular. But how do the YouTubers and streamers do it?

While many professional gamers will have a dedicated recording/streaming PC, you don’t need one. In fact, you might not even need to pay a penny to record games and livestream to popular platforms including Twitch, Facebook and YouTube. Here, we explain the differences between hardware and software-led recording, along with our recommendations of the best game recording and streaming software for PC.  

Should I opt for streaming software or hardware?

If you’re looking into game recording and streaming, you’ll have probably noticed two options: software or hardware. Is there any difference between the two? In a word, yes.

Software-powered streaming and capture is recommended for those just starting out, as it’s usually much cheaper than buying streaming hardware that can cost upwards of £100. In fact, if you opt for OBS or Nvidia ShadowPlay, it’s completely free to download and use!

The downside? Software-powered capture and streaming can have a negative effect on the performance of your PC, especially when gaming. This is because your PC is using your CPU and GPU to record, encode and (if applicable) stream your gameplay alongside powering the game itself. While it won’t have a noticeable effect on PCs and laptops running the latest hardware, you may see frame rate drops and more if you’re running it on an older PC.

Hardware-powered options like the Elgato Game Capture HD60 have a minimal effect on your PCs performance because all the recording and encoding is handled by hardware that sits between your PCs display output and the display itself. The bundled software is usually a breeze to use too, though this will depend on the capture card in question. We’ve got a list of the best capture cards if that’s the route you’d like to go down.

It's worth noting that if you're looking to stream your gameplay live, you'll always have some kind of effect on game performance as that is always handled by the PC, regardless of a hardware recorder. 

If you think that software-led game streaming and capture is the way forward, keep on reading for our recommendations of the best game recording and streaming software for PC.

Best Game Recording & Streaming Software

OBS Studio

OBS Studio

Let’s start with Open Broadcaster Software, often referred to as OBS. OBS is a free, open-source recording and broadcasting app that’ll allow you to record gameplay alongside broadcasting to the likes of Facebook Live, YouTube and Twitch.

While it’s historically been a confusing app to use, a recent UI update has brought it kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Gone are the Windows 98-esque textures, replaced by a sleek looking interface that fixes many long-time complaints from users. It’s now much easier to use, though it’s not the most user-friendly app we’ve ever used (though we can show you how to use OBS if you’re interested).  

You can create multiple ‘scenes’ (or layouts, as they’re otherwise known) for different games, and include graphics, a live webcam feed and text on your livestream. It’s a powerful tool if you take the time to learn about how to use it.

XSplit Gamecaster

XSplit Gamecaster

XSplit Gamecaster is the premium option for game recorders and streamers, as you’ll have to pay a subscription fee following a free trial period. But what do you get for your money? Compared to other options on the market, XSplit Gamecaster is the easiest app to use while also managing to sport a rather premium look.  

In addition to offering both gameplay recording and live streaming support for a number of popular streaming platforms, XSplit boasts features not offered by software-based competitors.

Features include an in-game overlay where you can initiate and control your recording, you can add advanced widgets onto your stream that display chat panels, follower/subscriber alerts and more, and you can even draw directly onto gameplay to help point something out by using the app’s built-in Annotation feature. Oh, and when you’re done with recording, you can upload it directly to YouTube without having to leave the app.

It generally makes the recording/streaming experience more streamlined and simple to use, though this is expected with a £59.95/$59.95 yearly subscription fee.

Nvidia ShadowPlay

Nvidia ShadowPlay

If you use a Nvidia-branded graphics card in your PC or laptop, you’ve got another option available to you; Nvidia ShadowPlay. ShadowPlay is an optional part of GeForce Experience, and provides an easy way to not only capture but also live stream your gameplay without having to use a dedicated app.

ShadowPlay can be activated in any supported game by pressing ALT + Z (default), and after hitting the broadcast button and signing in to Facebook, Twitch or YouTube, you’ll be live. It’s a very bare-bones experience and doesn’t provide an app for clip editing, nor does it offer much in the way of customisation, but it does what it says on the tin, and it does it very well.