Play This Tonight

Lovingly curated game recommendations.

Steam Remote Play Together

by Dan McAlister

Screenshot of Overcooked! Chefs preparing food on a wooden ship.

Social distancing is an important tool for fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, but it’s costly for our emotional wellbeing. I'm introverted enough to schedule alone-time into my calendar, but I still need some social interaction, at least some of the time. But when we can't meet up in person, when we can't grab a coffee, or go see a movie, what do we do? How can we take time to intentionally connect with others?

Online gaming, at first, seems like a natural solution. Games give people something to do together, and the activity creates something to talk about when your life may feel increasingly static and uneventful. But there are also significant barriers to online gaming:

  1. Does everyone own the same game?
  2. If not, it it reasonable for them to buy something they may not enjoy?
  3. Does the game support online multiplayer?
  4. Does everyone have compatible technology to run the same game?

Remote Play Together is a new technology for the Steam game client that provides an answer to these problems. It’s not perfect, but as long as you understand its limitations and quirks it can be a valuable tool for socializing in scary times.

What Is It?

Released in November 2019 for Steam (a game storefront and hub for PC, Mac, and Linux), Remote Play Together is service that facilitates online multiplayer in a unique way. For most online games, players all have to own a copy of the game, and that game needs to be designed for online play. But Remote Play Together works a little differently.

For Remote Play Together, only one person (the host) needs a copy of the game, and the game needs to be designed for local (non-online) multiplayer. The host boots up the game, selects players from their Steam Friends List to play with, and Steam sends those players a live video stream of the game running on the host computer. Any player inputs, whether keyboard, mouse, or controller, are sent to the host computer, and the game runs as if everyone is in the same room, playing on the same device. And because other players are receiving a video stream rather than running the actual game, it doesn't matter if the game was designed for their system. If they have a computer that can download the Steam Client, they can join and they can play.

I recently started playing Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime with a friend who lives on the other side of the country. Lovers was designed as a local-only multiplayer game, and she doesn't have a copy anyway, but Remote Play Together solved both of these problems. However, the technology isn't without its quirks.

What Are Its Limitations?

Screenshot of Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime. Cute animals back up as reactor explodes.

Remote Play Together is essentially a video stream from the host computer to your friends' devices, and like any video stream, lag and stuttering are a risk. Most of my games have been stable, but your group's internet connection is going to be a factor in how playable your game is.

Player controls can be another issue. Local multiplayer is usually designed for controllers rather than keyboards, and Remote Play Together doesn't change that. It interprets all keyboard and mouse input as coming from the same computer, so 4 players on keyboards is going to confuse the system. You'll have the best experience if every player connects their own game controller, or at the very least, if only one person uses the keyboard and mouse.

Finally, only Steam games work with Remote Play Together, and even then not every game on Steam is compatible with this new technology. You can check the list of compatible games, or use the filter options in your Steam library to find compatible games you already own.

Getting Started

If you don't already have Steam, download the client, set up an account, and add people to your friends list. Then check out the list of compatible games and find one that appeals to you and your friends.

For cooperative action, I recommend Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime, or Overcooked. If you're playing with people who don't have their own controllers, Jamestown+ is an arcade-style shooter that allows for multiple players on the same keyboard. And if you want something that can accommodate big groups, the Jackbox Party Pack series is a good pick, and one that can be played over most video conferencing services as well as Steam.

And if this service doesn't fit your needs, look at games that are free to play and available on a variety of platforms, like Fortnite or Hearthstone. These are difficult times, but there are options out there for setting up a social gaming group. Talk to your friends, and find out which option is best for you. But most of all? Make sure you keep talking to your friends.

The opinions in this post are expressly the views of the author and do not reflect the views of their employer(s) or any entities that they might otherwise be affiliated.
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