Entertainment

We Tried & Tested 4 Free Tools That Let You Play Multiplayer Games Without Owning Them

Author’s Blurb: In all my life, I can confidently say I’ve never gamed as much as I have in these 2 months of the MCO. Not only am I finding it a great way to destress, it also helps fulfil my social needs, especially with multiplayer games.

Online multiplayer games are nothing new, all you need is to own the game yourself and have working internet, and you can play with a friend halfway across the world.

But not every game offers online multiplayer. Some multiplayer games require you to be present in the same physical space, where you and friends or family play together on a single screen with multiple controllers (you may have heard gamers refer to this as ‘couch co-op’ before).

With social distancing measures in place, meeting up at a friend’s house in a group just to play games for a few hours is kind of out of the question.

This is where certain platforms come in handy. I’ll admit that I’m not sure about the jargon behind the tech, but let me explain this in a way that I find easily understandable.

Take a game like Overcooked 2, for example, where you would usually need to play it in couch co-op. Either that or all 4 of you would need to own the game for online multiplayer.

Cloud-streaming platforms bring something different to the table. They abolish the need for both of the above.

Essentially, if you own the game, you’ll be streaming it as your friends watch, but they can also join the game and play through the stream, so long as they have downloaded the same platform.

Here are 4 free platforms that we’d recommend after trying and testing them.

1. Discord

If you know how to use Slack or Facebook Workplace, Discord should be easy for you to familiarise yourself with.

The difference is that Discord has features that cater better to gaming communities, though it can also be used for general and educational purposes.

Gamers with Steam can connect it to Discord and livestream whatever game they’re currently playing for their friends to watch.

Key Takeaways

Pros: It’s multi-functional, as you can create servers and channels for different groups of friends that will let you chat while streaming. Once you get the hang of it, it’s extremely easy to manoeuvre, and streaming a game requires no additional, fancy software.

Cons: The only type of multiplayer games you can play here are limited to ones like Jackbox Party Packs or Use Your Words, for example. These games aren’t the types where controllers are required; all you need is your phone and wit. They’re a lot like Kahoot!, if you’re familiar with the game based learning platform.

Download this if: You only want to play games like Jackbox Party Packs, Use Your Words, and similar.

It’s available for: Windows, Mac, and Linux on PC, and iOS and Android for mobile and tablets.

It accommodates: 10 people in total in one stream (but during the COVID-19 pandemic, the limit has been temporarily increased to 50 people). The number of people who can actually play the aforementioned games will depend on how many the game can accommodate. For example, Jackbox Party Pack games can accommodate 3-8 people.

2. Moonlight Game Streaming (Moonlight)

For Moonlight to work for you if you’re hosting, you’d need to have a GameStream-compatible PC. If your PC meets all the necessary requirements, you’ll be able to stream your collection of PC games.

As long as a game has multiplayer mode, you can stream it on Moonlight and have a friend play with you. However, do note that Moonlight might take longer to download and install compared to the other platforms, even if you have great internet.

You’d also have to restart your PC to complete the installation process, so if you’re planning to use Moonlight, install it well before you begin playing.

Key Takeaways

Pros: Pairing is quite straightforward. The host will have to share either a QR or letter code to the other player for them to connect, and even if though my internet isn’t the strongest or most stable, I didn’t experience any lag in gameplay.

Cons: You may have noticed that I used singular nouns of ‘friend’ and ‘player’, and that’s because Moonlight only allows for 2 people to play together—the host and another player. If a third player tries to enter, the second player would automatically get their connection terminated.

Download this if: Parsec or Steam Remote Play doesn’t work for you (and you’ll see why we say so below). Nonetheless, Moonlight is good enough if you’ve planned on playing with only one other person.

It’s available for: A variety of devices, including Windows, MacOS, Linux, ChromeOS, Android, iOS, Raspberry Pi, and more.

It accommodates: A maximum of 2 people, no matter the game.

3. Parsec

When using Parsec, it basically streams your entire desktop to people you share your link with. This means that people will see everything that’s on display (though they can’t access anything unless you give them control), so hide what you have to before streaming.

Aside from being super easy to setup, fast to download and install, there’s also Parsec Arcade for those with no friends (or who have busy ones).

Parsec Arcade is a peer-to-peer network of people sharing their desktops, so it’s a fun way to connect and game with strangers, or just watch them stream their game.

Key Takeaways

Pros: The UI and UX is sleek and easy to use. Sharing your desktop is as easy as clicking ‘Share’ and passing the link to other friends. You’ll be notified when they try to connect, and can accept or reject their requests. Parsec also has an in-built chatting system that you can use while streaming/playing.

Cons: While we didn’t experience any lag in gameplay, if your internet connection isn’t too stable, your screen might grow more pixelated. When your connection gets too poor, you’ll get notified and possibly disconnected, which can be irritating if it happens too often.

Download this if: Your PC meets the requirements for hosting a gaming session on Parsec, and you want a versatile platform that allows for both streaming and remote gaming.

It’s available for: Windows, MacOS, Android, Linux, and Raspberry Pi 3.

It accommodates: 20 people in a stream, but the number of people who can play will depend on the game being streamed. For Overcooked or Moving Out, for example, only a total of 4 people can play.

4. Steam Remote Play

If you’re an avid gamer, you probably already have Steam downloaded. For those new to this, Steam is a video game digital distribution service with an extensive library of games.

Since it’s a platform where you would purchase most games, it’s already a convenient setup for streaming and remote gaming through a feature called Steam Remote Play.

Key Takeaways

Pros: Easily set up a session by launching your game, going to your Friends List and right-clicking them to invite them to your game, and once they accept, you’re ready to play together. Through Steam Remote Play, you’d need no third-party software to handle the streaming for you as it’s like a convenient all-in-one thing.

Cons: For some reason, the quality of the stream isn’t quite as crisp as Parsec’s, though there was barely any lag as we played, even with my weaker WiFi.

Download this if: You want access to an extensive library of games and don’t want to download additional software to stream a game.

It’s available for: Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, and Android.

It accommodates: A total of 4 players in a stream, but Steam claims it can accommodate more if the game and WiFi connection allow for it.

Personal Picks

Aside from Discord, the other 3 platforms allow you to play with either a controller, gamepad, or your keyboard (though the requirements might vary depending on the games you play).

It also goes without saying that all of these platforms will require that you create a free account before you can use them.

Personally, Parsec would be my platform of choice to remotely play couch co-op games, as I’ve had little to no issues with it. Plus it has Parsec Arcade where you don’t have to be dependent on friends to join a game stream.

Steam Remote Play would be my second option, due to it lacking the crispness of Parsec’s streams. Its advantage is definitely the fact that you don’t need to download another platform to just to stream your game.

Bottom Line: Times have changed to the point where playing games online with your friends no longer require all of you to own the game. I’ve heard this technology being described as ‘magic’ by some gamers, and I couldn’t agree more.

  • You can read more gaming related articles here.

Featured Image Credit: Jonathan Alvarez

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