Like to play PC games? Fed up of being chained to the desk? Now's your chance to play those games on your Android phone! Here’s how…
Valve’s massively popular Steam PC game store and distribution platform has, up until recently, been solely accessible on powerful desktop computers and barely portable gaming laptops. But that’s now changed, thanks to the release of the Steam Link (BETA) app – a new Android app that lets you beam your gaming library straight to your Android phone.
How does it work? What’s the best way to get connected? And is it the death knell for console gaming? Here’s what you need to know…
Steam Link: The basics
Let’s address availability before we dig into the rest of the hows, whats, and whys. The Steam Link app is (currently) only available on Android – not iOS. And we wouldn’t hold our breaths for an iPhone release any time soon. Apple hasn’t approved the app on its devices due to Steam Link breaking some of the App Store’s more stringent guidelines surrounding in-app purchases. But if you have an Android device? You’re in luck!
Anyone who already uses Steam will know how good it is for finding, buying, and playing the bestgaming titles – all from one place. But the downside is that those games have typically only ever been accessible on your computer.
But the Steam Link (BETA) app streams the action from your PC to your mobile device, providing both devices are on the same local network, letting you play your games laying in bed or on the couch.
How it works
Put simply? Think of it likeAmazon Prime Video, but with a game instead of a video, and instead of the content coming from the web, it’s coming directly from your home computer.
So when streaming Steam games from your PC – something Steam calls ‘In-Home Streaming’ – to your Android device, the video and audio from the host computer are sent through your home network where they’re picked up by another device in your home – in this instance, your mobile or tablet. In return, your smartphone acts as a gateway and can send back information, such as controller inputs, so you can actually play your games etc., rather than just watch. Magically, this all happens in mere milliseconds, so your gaming experience isn’t ruined by frustrating lag.
Of course, with video, audio and inputs being beamed across the house at lightning speed, you’ll need to have a reliable and fast internet connection. Thankfully, Vodafone Home Broadband can offer you just that! In fact, we’re so confident you’ll receive the advertised ‘sync speed’ that you’ll get a 15% discount if you don’t as part of our Ultimate Speed Gurantee. You can find out more about that right here.
What you need
There are four essentials here: a gaming computer; a Steam account; an Android device; and a wireless controller.
On the computer that’ll play host to these games, Steam says that you’ll need Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10, (or newer), MacOS El Capitan (or newer) or the latest Ubuntu version. Your Android device, meanwhile, can be either a smartphone or a tablet, whichever you prefer to game on, and must be running Android 5.0 (Lollipop) and up, which is great news, because it means Steam streaming isn’t the sole reserve of current top-end smartphones.
Next up, you’ll want to connect a controller (wireless or USB) to your Android device, since the games you’ll be playing will, more often than not, be designed to be played with physical inputs. Steam recommends using its own Steam Controller or other Bluetooth controllers, such as Xbox One Wireless Controller.
Thankfully, setting up Steam Link on both your computer and Android-powered mobile device is relatively easy; just by the ticking of boxes in Steam’s settings on the host computer and then following a very small step-by-step process on your phone or tablet within the Steam Link (BETA) app.
On your computer, find the settings option (look top left, under the Steam tab) and locate the ‘In-Home Streaming’ option. Check the ‘Enable streaming’ box and you should be good to go.
Now, on your Android device, download, install, and open the Steam Link (BETA) app, but make sure you’re on the same wireless network as your computer, otherwise you won’t be able to pair the two. The app will walk you through the pairing process, and even ask you to pair a controller.
Once you’ve selected your gaming computer in the app, the phone will show a four-digit PIN, which will also be asked for by the computer. Tap it in and, hey presto, they’re paired! The whole process shouldn’t take longer than a few minutes.
You should now see the Steam screen on your Android device and be able to navigate around using your controller.
All that’s left to do is put your feet up on the couch, select a game, and play! Welcome to the future of gaming. Speaking of which…
Is this the end of console and PC gaming?
While gaming over the decades has typically meant switching on a PC or games console and inserting a CD or downloading games, we’re now in a world where internet speeds are fast and stable enough to open the possibility of streaming games to whichever device you’re using without any troublesome lag.
And we don’t just mean streaming from your PC (where the game is stored locally) to your phone; we mean streaming games from a service onto any device – essentially cutting out the computer-shaped middle man.
A few companies have already tried this, and viable platforms are now starting to take shape. Way back in 2010, the since-defunct gaming startup OnLive dipped its toes into the waters with a small set top box that could stream dozens of games direct from the companies servers. The company might not have stood the test of time, but Sony later bought up OnLive’s patents, and is using them for its subscription-based streaming service, PS Now. You can’t currently play PS Now titles on your phone, but you can stream them to a Sony TV, so it’s not difficult to imagine a future where Xperia phones have the capability built in too.
Chipmaker Nvidia, meanwhile, lets gamers stream titles from its own Android-powered Shield TV box, offering us players a bevvy of award-winning games without the need to upgrade our graphics cards every six months.
And this idea – where the gaming legwork is done elsewhere, and streamed to whichever device you like – looks to be the way of the future. If any more proof were needed, Microsoft’s gaming chief, Phil Spencer, recently revealed that the company is currently working on building a secret streaming service that would “unlock console gaming on any device.” And that has to include mobile, right?
While there are currently no clear times and dates as to when this new cloud-streaming gaming platform may materialise, the fact that the big companies like Microsoft are investing in it shows that the model definitely has legs. Watch this space.
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