clock menu more-arrow no yes
Illustration: Ariel Davis for Polygon

Filed under:

Your guide to streaming games and VTubing on a tight budget

Streaming on Twitch and YouTube doesn’t have to be expensive

Streaming is now easier than ever, with content creators able to broadcast gameplay through modern consoles, computers, and phones. And contrary to popular belief, those looking to dip their toes into more elaborate streaming options — or even pursue streaming as a career — don’t need to start with a wildly expensive setup, either. While there is a certain barrier of entry, there are numerous options for streaming on a budget.

One of the first things a potential streamer should keep in mind is what platform they intend to use. Twitch and YouTube are the most obvious answers, given their size and dominance in the market. Alternatives exist, like Facebook Gaming, but require more effort to access for low-budget streamers.

Modern consoles have a Twitch app, which allows content creators to stream their games directly to Twitch from the comfort of their gaming setup. I spent a good six months streaming exclusively from my PlayStation 4, testing the waters of what I wanted to achieve before buckling down and investing in equipment within my price range. Companies like HyperX and Razer provide affordable headsets, like the HyperX Cloud Stinger and Razer Kraken, that can be used for streaming directly from your console, or through the use of your PC with minimal adjustments needed for decent audio quality.

Start small, buy second hand

One thing that I cannot stress enough is do not be afraid to start small. One of the most important things to factor into being a streamer is your budget. If you cannot afford an expensive gaming rig, or a capture card which allows for you to stream gameplay directly from your console to your PC and streaming software, you can still be a streamer within those means.

And don’t be afraid to buy second hand. If you intend to pursue streaming on a serious level, make sure to create a budget and slowly invest in your setup overtime. You don’t need expensive equipment. The capture card I currently use to stream from my consoles to my PC I received second hand. It’s one of the first external Elgado HD capture cards that was made available, and it has proven to be incredibly reliable and easy to use. Alternatively you can look to the Elgado 60 S, a slightly older model compared to the newer, 4K capable capture devices.

Just keep in mind, buying old hardware means that you will potentially need to dig around online for the appropriate drivers if anything goes awry.

Taking it slow in terms of streaming investments is important for multiple reasons. At the top of the list: Your health is more important than anything else, and people who show up to your streams will want to see you doing well rather than barely scraping by to provide a “better” experience for them.

Is VTubing the way to go?

New types of streaming have also exploded in popularity, revealing that there is more than one way to interact with an audience. VTubing, where streamers interact with their audience through the use of a virtual avatar, is now more popular than ever and shows no signs of slowing down. The most popular and immediately recognizable VTubers are largely ones associated with HoloLive Production, a Japanese talent agency that represents some of the most popular and well known VTubers, though some independent VTubers like AICANDII have bridged this gap and encouraged other creators to pursue this style of interaction.

A 3D model shows what a fully-rigged character can look like
VTuber AICANDII
Image: AICANDII

VTubing can seem intimidating at a glance, but streamers who have dedicated PC setups can pursue VTubing with the right gear and an appropriate budget. However, VTubing is by no means cheap and potential VTubers should consider the initial investments required to see their virtual avatars fully realized.

I myself have spent roughly $1,500 on a Live2D VTuber model, and it took me a few months to find an artist and rigger I felt would help me best realize my avatar. This included the artwork and the rigging for a basic half-body model, and did not come with any extra bells and whistles. Prices for Live2D models will vary between artists and riggers. The average can vary between $1,000 to $2,000 or more, depending on the complexity.

VTubing on the cheap

There is a cheaper alternative that potential VTubers can pursue. This involves the use of PNG artwork to create a reactive image when a streamer speaks. Prices for PNGs will vary between artists, since you’re effectively commissioning an art piece to use for streaming. Shop around and see what works with your budget. Saving and budgeting is everything, as VTubing is expensive. And not without reason! Riggers and artists are the key foundation of the community, and their work provides an invaluable service.

If you want to create a 3D VTuber, unlike the models used for VTubers associated with Hololive, you can make one yourself for free using VRoid Studio. This will require some level of experience with the program, and knowing Blender is a plus. If you want to create your own VTuber model, there are tutorials out there that will teach you to do this on your own, but it will require a lot of practice if you are not already familiar with the process of 3D modeling or rigging 2D models depending on what you’re looking to pursue. Thankfully, some of the best software to load your model is available for free. This includes VSeeFace for 3D models and VTube Studio for Live2D models.

There is one final expense those pursuing VTubing should know about and that’s the potential cost of a camera or smartphone to make sure that their expressions are picked up properly through the program. Right now, iPhones are considered the standard for VTubing and catching the expression of the streamer. This is due to having several cameras built-in to the device. Do not be afraid to simply use a standard webcam or any other mobile phone for VTubing, but understand that there may be some quality differences. Again, this may be one of those instances where you will definitely want to search around and buy an iPhone second hand if you are dedicated to pursuing this style of streaming.

Thankfully, there are a lot of avenues out there which makes the dive into streaming a lot more accessible than it used to be. Loads of free programs are available to download, like OBS, to get you off on the right foot. These programs allow you to stream games directly from your PC to your preferred streaming platform. And once you feel comfortable you can start to invest in your stream, be it overlays, special alerts, or even a VTubing avatar if that’s something you’d like to pursue. Just remember that success is relative to what you make it, and that you shouldn’t have to stream at the expense of yourself or your wellbeing.