If you are an avid gamer, maybe you have thought about showing off your crazy stunts, tight-haired moments or crazy shots to friends not in the same room as you. YouTube is full of such moments, complete game walkthroughs and commentated Let’s Play XY videos – have you ever wondered what kinds of software these people use to record their games? Read on if you are interested in the most accessible game recording software you can use. These apps are all free to download and try – but
Do I need a capture card or will software be sufficient?
In addition to game recording and streaming software, you can also buy capture cards for your PC. If you want to record games you play on your computer, you generally don’t need to have one, but there are a few very specific cases where one might come in handy. For example, if you use a second PC to stream or record gameplay coming from your main PC, then a capture card is needed on the second PC to record or stream from the first PC, without it being affected by the CPU-heavy tasks of encoding and uploading a video stream. If you only have one PC, then a capture card is only needed in two rare cases:
- If you mainly play old games that do not utilize DirectX 9 at least (so games from before 2002 or so).
- If you want to fully capture or stream everything that happens on your PC, including full-screen games, Windows applications and media players at the same time.
If you need a capture card for any reason, consider taking a look at the following capture devices. These have the capability of recording in HD, and the more expensive ones can even capture in 60 FPS. These cards also come bundled with their own proprietary software required to use them, so for the most part, they are not compatible with regular game capture software.
- Elgato Game Capture HD / HD60 / HD60 PRO
- AVerMedia Live Gamer Extreme GC550
- Roxio Game Capture HD / HD Pro
Top 6 Free Game Recorders for PC
Most PC gamers won’t have any need for dedicated capture hardware, as gaming PCs are often powerful enough to handle running high-resolution games and recording or streaming at the same time. So if you want to get started using freely available recording software, take a look at these 6 applications dedicated to recording gameplay.
1. NVidia ShadowPlay
ShadowPlay, which comes bundled with all NVidia graphics cards starting from the GTX 650, is a free all-in-one suite for streaming and recording games. The software utilizes a built-in chip found in most modern NVidia graphics cards to encode video on-the-fly, which means that recording or streaming gameplay has a minimal impact on game performance. It is also capable of outputting high-quality videos at 60 FPS in 1080p resolution.
ShadowPlay also has a unique feature: it can also run in the background, continuously recording and keeping the past few minutes (up to 20 minutes) of gameplay, enabling you to quickly save videos of any amazing feats or shots you managed to make, without the need for continuous manual recording. ShadowPlay can also be started in Manual Recording, which lets you record almost unlimited lengths of gameplay, which is useful for tutorials or Let’s Play series, and you can even stream your gameplay to Twitch or similar platforms.
Ease of use, low performance costs and Shadow Mode recording all make ShadowPlay a no-brainer choice for all NVidia card owners.
OBS, which is short for Open Broadcaster Software, is a free and open-source game recording tool. In addition to Windows, it is also available for Mac and Linux, making it a great choice for users of these two operating systems. OBS is designed to be easy to use and hassle-free. It features three Capture Types:
- Game Capture for recording full-screen games
- Window Capture for recording a single window
- Monitor Capture for recording a full monitor or a sub-region of it
You need Game Capture if you play games on exclusive full-screen; if you play in windowed or borderless windowed mode, you can use the other two modes as you see fit. Unlike ShadowPlay, OBS takes a slight toll on the CPU, since it uses a CPU core to encode and process the video stream while playing. The settings are quite extensive, you can specify resolution and frame rate you want the video files to be output in. OBS can also capture the game’s sounds and a microphone at the same time, thus enabling you to comment on the game in real-time, as you play.
XSplit Gamecaster is primarily intended to be a live-streaming software, but it is also capable of locally recording gameplay videos. Unlike the previous two apps, XSplit has a free and a paid version but the free one has most features available; most of the paid ones are related to streaming, such as overlay creation and more. This recorder software is fairly limited when it comes to local videos: there are only a few pre-determined FPS options, with 60 fps being the maximum amount. Performance penalties are measured to be about 7-10%, depending on the output’s resolution.
Thus if you want to edit your video later, XSplit might not be the best choice due to the low frame limit, and the lack of recording options. But if your primary goal is broadcasting your gameplay across the internet, then XSplit can be a good choice due to its complex overlaying abilities and abundance of streaming-related options.
Fraps is one of the oldest game-related recording software. It was originally created just to show in-game frame rates, then more capabilities were added, including taking screenshots and recording videos. The app’s free version is limited to about 30 seconds per recording, and every video will have a watermark on the top.
Fraps is fairly simple and limited in settings: it can only record videos in full or half-size, and these sizes depend on the resolution your game runs in at the time of recording. You can set the desired FPS to 60, 50, 30 or specify a custom value. It is also capable of recording external audio in addition to the game’s. Fraps doesn’t feature any encoding on the fly; instead, it saves raw AVI files with huge file sizes. Due to the lack of compression, recording videos with Fraps requires tremendous amounts of drive space. Another limitation of Fraps is that it can only record the active game window, nothing else, and size options are also absent.
Bandicam is a simple tool that focuses on capturing and recording games. It is easy to set up, and can produce good video and audio quality, up to a maximum of 120 FPS. Bandicam has several options available for capturing – you can specify the window to be recorded, whether you want to record audio and microphones, and can choose between AVI and MP4 as output format.
To make it even more user-friendly, Bandicam has several presets for various recording needs – YouTube-friendly, ultrawide screen, and if you have an NVidia GPU, it can also use the hardware-encoder for high-quality, yet small AVI files.
Bandicam lacks any streaming capabilities, and it can have a larger impact on gameplay, especially when starting or stopping the recording. Both the free and paid versions have the same features, the only differences are that the free version limits each recording to 10 minutes max, and these videos will feature watermarks, just like with Fraps.
DXTory is yet another simple tool for game recording. Its free version is fully featured, but has watermarks in every video; other than this, there are no limitations on video length or size. DXTory is capable of balancing load between the CPU and GPU for the possible lowest impact on performance. If you want to record both gameplay and your commentary, you can do that too with two separate audio channels, making it very easy to edit them later separately.
DXTory is also capable of utilizing the various video codecs you have on your system, so you can try them out and find one which produces high quality videos with a low impact on game performance. This option makes it ideal for the more expert users. The FPS of recorded videos can be specified between 10 and 120, the available formats vary depending on your installed codecs, and you can choose any size for the output file depending on the game’s resolution.