When it comes to recording and streaming games, you need a tool designed specifically for the task. Some YouTubers and Twitchers choose to invest in premium software, but there are brilliant free screen recorders that are just as good as their paid-for counterparts.
When you're choosing a free screen recorder for games, there are a few important points to consider. First, it needs to be able to record at a high resolution, at a decent frame rate.
It also needs to be able to record for a reasonable period of time (you don't want it cutting out after a few seconds), and it shouldn't apply any watermarks to the finished videos unless you've chosen to create your own.
You also need to consider whether you want to stream footage from your games or just record them, and whether you'd like to add your own commentary while you're playing.
Before you get started, bear in mind that running any screen recorder will affect game performance, though the degree will vary.
1. OBS Studio
Easily the best screen recorder for gamers, whether you want to capture footage to upload to YouTube or stream your sessions live to Twitch
Whenever we want to record a game here at TechRadar, we reach straight for OBS Studio. It’s open source, which means anyone is free to contribute to it, add features and fix bugs, and there are none of the limitations that come with free versions of commercial screen capture software.
It’s not just a recorder either – you can also use OBS Studio to stream games directly to Twitch, YouTube, or any other service you like.
It can record from pretty much any source – not just screens, but media files and attached cameras and microphones too – and if you’re streaming you can switch between sources on the fly.
There’s no need to mess about launching the recorder before your game either – with a couple of clicks, you can configure OBS Studio to start capturing your display as soon as you launch a full-screen program.
Review and where to download: OBS Studio
2. Nvidia Shadowplay
If you own a GeForce graphics card, Nvidia's own recording and streaming software has you covered – and it's bundled free with the drivers
We’re listing Nvidia’s excellent Shadowplay video recorder second because – unsurprisingly – it’s only available to owners of its own GeForce graphics cards. You probably already have it as part of the GeForce Experience application, but if not you can download it separately from Nvidia's site.
If you've just pulled off something amazing, but weren't recording at the time, Nvidia Shadowplay has you covered. It temporarily caches footage as you play and lets you save the last 30 seconds via a keyboard shortcut (a feature called Shadow Time), or send it straight to YouTube or Facebook. Alternatively, you can start recording manually.
You can stream games straight to Twitch, Facebook or YouTube too, add audio from your microphone, and take 4K screenshots.
If your gaming PC supports it, Nvidia Shadowplay is excellent.
Where to download: Nvidia Shadowplay
3. Flashback Express
An easy way to record games, with a video editor thrown in as a bonus
Flashback Express from Blueberry Software isn’t quite as feature-packed as OBS Studio or Shadowplay, but it’s less intimidating if you’ve never used a similar program before. There’s no setup process to worry about – just tell the program to start recording and it handles the rest.
Flashback Express also comes with its own little video editor, which you can launch immediately after you’ve finished recording. It’s not a fully-fledged movie making tool, but it lets you crop, trim and otherwise adjust your recordings to suit your needs.
Flashback Express might sometimes run into trouble with hardware accelerated graphics, so if you find that it’s recorded a black box where your gameplay should be, try experimenting with the graphics settings. If things still don’t go to plan, OBS Studio (above) isn’t much tricker to use if you stick to the default settings and are willing to use a separate video editor to make any tweaks.
Review and where to download: Flashback Express
Another good choice for gamers new to recording, with plenty of features, but it can only send videos straight to YouTube – not save them to your PC
Ezvid’s homepage is a little strange. Most of the buttons are sponsored links, but that’s fair enough – this is an excellent free screen recorder for games, and its creators have to pay the bills.
It also has a bizarre Ezvid Wiki, which sounds like it should contain tips for using the software, but is actually a buyer's guide covering cheese slicers, bowling balls and dish racks.
To download the software you need to scroll right down to the bottom to the button marked ‘Get Ezvid Now’. There are no cheeky extra programs bundled in the installer, so once you’ve got the right link there’s nothing to worry about.
You can record up to 45 minutes of gameplay – plenty for most purposes – though you might need to run the game in windowed mode, which is a considerable drawback if you want to show off what kind of performance your gaming rig can deliver.
There are no watermarks on recorded videos, and you can record from your microphone or add annotations while recording.
Unfortunately, while you can upload your recordings straight to YouTube, there's actually no way to save them from Ezvid to your PC. You could always upload them to YouTube privately, then use a free YouTube downloader, but that's a lot of hassle.
Review and where to download: Ezvid
The original screen recorder for gamers is still superb, but the free version is only designed to whet your appetite for the subscription
Fraps is the web's most famous screen recorder, and has been capturing pixels with great enthusiasm since 1999.
It’s still an excellent program that’s optimized for gamers with tools like an fps counter to help you monitor performance mid-game, and support for very high resolutions. Unfortunately though, the free version is severely limited. You can only record your game for 30 seconds at a stretch, and the resulting video will be watermarked with the developer’s URL.
The free version of Fraps is also restricted to saving still screengrabs in BMP format, whereas tools like OBS Studio will happily save them as much smaller compressed JPG files.
The free version of Fraps can really only be considered a trial for the full edition. It’s not immediately obvious how much a full license costs (the ‘Buy’ link on the site takes you directly to Paypal), but the price for a single user is £27 (about US$35, AU$45) – a modest fee if you’re planning to monetize gameplay videos
Download here: Fraps