November 16, 2019

Steam Remote Play Together sometimes stutters

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Valve launched Remote Play Together for its Steam gaming service earlier this week. This feature enables you to stream a live local multiplayer session with your friends. So even if a game doesn’t have online multiplayer, you can still hop on with a buddy across the country to play it. But is Remote Play Together any good? Sometimes.

Remote Play Together works by broadcasting the hosts screen to the other players. Steam then acts as if the remote gamepads are plugged directly into the host’s PC.

But because Remote Play Together works by streaming from one player to another, it is highly dependent on the upload and download speeds of everyone in the group. While the feature is in beta, Valve says it supports up to four players (although it says more than that can work in “ideal conditions”).

So I’ve spent the last week testing Remote Play Together. I played with different people who live across the continent in a variety of scenarios.

My overall takeaway is that it works OK, but it is definitely a compromised experience. And it falls apart more depending on how many people are in the group.

Let’s break it down.

Testing Remote Play Together on Steam

Scenario #1

In the first test, I played with GamesBeat managing editor Jason Wilson. I live in Denver and Jason lives on the West Coast. The distance between us seems both great and close enough to expect Remote Play Together to function well.

And it did work well — although it wasn’t flawless.

We played Heave Ho and Blazing Chrome. Getting the session started was easy. For me, on the host side, everything was always perfect. On the remote side, Jason said that Heave Ho always seemed to work. The same was true for Blazing Chrome until we got to the boss, and then he noticed some hitching.

The boss did have more going on, so I think it’s possible that this was a video encoding issue on my laptop.

But both games were playable and enjoyable.

Scenario #2

For my second test, I tried playing with Sidequesting editor and podcaster Erron Kelly, who lives in Nova Scotia … or maybe it’s Newfoundland. Are those different things?

Here’s what I know for sure. Erron lives in Canada in a time zone that is East of Eastern Time, which is messed up. Point is that he is far away and in another country.

We played River City Girls, and he was kind enough to capture his remote session for me.

As you can see in the video, Remote Play Together definitely has a compressed look to it. It feels like you are playing a Twitch stream. But, again, it seems to work … until it doesn’t. If you watch Erron’s entire video, you’ll see that he has several moments where the game appears to freeze.

This was noticeably worse than when I played with Jason. Erron is twice as far from me as Jason. That distance — and the fact that he’s in another country — means that the signal probably has to bounce around a few more internet nodes.

But while the stream was slightly less stable for Erron, he didn’t experience any insurmountable input latency. I was playing on Wi-Fi, so it’s possible that playing on a wired connection could improve the reliability. It’s also likely that Valve will improve performance as the Remote Play Together moves out of beta.

Scenario #3

Finally, I wanted to see the Remote Play Together working with more than just two people. So I started a session of Heave Ho with Erron and a friend of ours named Henry. This was definitely the most difficult time I had getting everyone into the game.

Erron and Henry would both connect and then quickly disconnect. Or they would see an error. I restarted Steam, and that seemed to fix the problem. So it is indeed a beta.

Once we were all in, however, the stream seemed noticeably less stable for both remote players. The game would hitch for them far more frequently than when I was playing only with one other person.

My guess is that sending two video signals out instead of one created some issues. Henry is in Florida, so we have thousands of miles between each of us.

Again, I was on Wi-Fi — an 802.11n connection — but I wouldn’t try to make this work without 802.11ac or a wired connection.

Remote Play Together might work for you

If you have someone in your life who lives far away but would enjoy one of the more than 4,000 Steam games that support Remote Play Together, then you should give the feature a chance.

Valve suggests playing on a wired connection with lower game settings and no V-sync, and that should improve the experience. So you have some room to play around to squeeze out something better if you’re dedicated. And Valve says it’s working to improve network performance.

So, again, if you have someone in mind, this is a viable solution to get together with them in local co-op games. Beyond that, I wouldn’t expect this to replace your weekly game nights where you have the crew over to play games in person.