Video game live streaming, like so much of the internet, is controlled by massive corporations. When you broadcast your gaming sessions to huge audiences on Twitch or YouTube, you help Amazon and Google become even more powerful. Owncast shows that this doesn’t need to be the case. It takes some hard, technical work to set up shop using this open-source, live streaming platform, but you’ll be rewarded with a freedom that no other service provides.

Owncast directory

Pirate Radio

Unlike Twitch, Facebook Gaming, or any other major video game live streaming service, Owncast is entirely free and open source. You’re welcome to donate to the volunteer contributors behind the software as they work towards a 1.0 release, but there’s nothing stopping you from simply downloading the code for your Linux virtual machine.

Instead of being hosted by a centralized corporate entity, Owncast users self-host their channels as instances. Think Mastodon, but for Twitch instead of Twitter. This also means there’s no centralized corporate entity selling games and subscriptions, or displaying ads across every channel and splitting the revenue with the streamers. Compare that to Mobcrush, which lets you broadcast to multiple popular sites simultaneously, unifying your entire streaming presence and maximizing your profitable efficiency.

That’s not to say there’s no way to make money with Owncast. Anything that helps you build an audience could later help you successfully promote a Kickstarter or Patreon campaign. Still, Owncast encourages you to stream just because you can, to embrace streaming’s purity on your own terms. The current community is so limited you’ll basically be streaming for your own entertainment right now, anyway.

The Viewing Experience

Setting up Owncast for broadcasting purposes requires technical chops that I’ll explain later, but watching Owncast’s streams is as simple as visiting the website. Owncast’s Directory displays many channels that you can stream to your web browser. Owncast lacks console or mobile apps, but the site works just fine on mobile browsers, adjusting its layout to fit the smaller screen.

The Owncast Directory features channels that channel-owners have agreed to be highlighted by the service. Anyone who follows Owncast’s admin instructions can join the club, and no company can strike down your copyrighted content. NSFW content is hidden by default, but you can flip a switch to see everything. The demo server plays movie trailers on loop. Aside from video games, Owncast’s major categories include tech and chatting. You can search for more specific tags, too. Like Caffeine, Owncast has a heavy music presence. I spent much of my testing time listening to underground, progressive, house DJ sessions. 

Owncast feels purposefully stripped down to give users room to customize the tech to their own needs, but the default player is serviceable. Under the video is a text description of what you’re watching. You can watch streams picture-in-picture. You also don’t need to create an account to chat. Anonymously type whatever words and emojis you want. That may make moderation difficult, an issue that users have raised and fixed themselves in a few instances. Still, Owncast harkens back to the early internet before platforms were so desperate to make money from your personal data and identity. On Owncast, I’m just User 420.

Owncast demo server

The Broadcast Experience

Because Owncast requires you to self-host your channel, streaming is closer to building your own website than creating a Twitch account. You must maintain your own server, and pay whatever monthly fee that entails. You even create your own URL ,such as tv.dub.ninja. 

This alone creates a significant knowledge hurdle that many casual streamers will not want to engage with, and I don’t blame them. Also, it’s not like you just press one button to install and launch the program. You’ll also need to familiarize yourself with potentially complicated coding and development tools, such as Docker and GitHub.

Fortunately, if you do get past this steep learning curve, Owncast provides great documentation to help you start broadcasting as soon as possible. Don’t know which storage solution to pick? Check out Owncast’s suggestions. In addition, the many guides help you determine the frame rates and resolutions that you can realistically hope to output given your resources. 

Owncast documentation

Beyond the basics, Owncast points you toward integrations and different ways of customizing your broadcast experience. Alter the way embeds work. Connect to GoPro cameras with native live streaming. Like Mastodon, Godot, or any other user-driven, open-source software, Owncast’s functionality will only expand as more users contribute. Seeing that growth, or adding to it in real-time, is exciting. 

Although Owncast rolls out new API tools with each update, you also need your own software for streaming, such as OBS. Veteran streamers should be familiar with these tools, but for some tips check out our guide on how to get started in game streaming. Owncast even supports Zoom, even though the developers stress that Owncast isn’t meant to be a video conferencing tool

Open Waters

Thanks in large part to our Editors’ Choice pick, Twitch, video game live streaming is easier than ever. Just about anyone can seamlessly start playing games in front of strangers for cash. That’s a good thing. Still, that convenience forced us to trade away some of our freedom to truly sinister business practices. We shouldn’t need Amazon’s permission to goof off in a battle royale in front of our digital friends. It takes some work, and your audience will be limited, but Owncast offers a promising alternative glimpse into a more democratic, live streaming future that’s ripe for seizing. 



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