Whether you have a smartphone or a tablet, Android is a pretty great place to pick up some games for on-the-go. While perhaps not quite as diversified as iOS, Android is in a close second for gaming, feature most of the big names you’d expect on other platforms ready to be played on your device. With everything from classic, 40-hour RPGs to mobile free-to-play titles, competitive MOBAs to action-packed first-person shooters, it’s obvious that playing games on your mobile devices has never been better than it is in 2018. No longer do you have to drop several hundreds of dollars on a gaming PC, a PS4 or Xbox One, or a portable gaming system like the Nintendo Switch or 3DS. For plenty of casual and hardcore gamers, mobile phones and tablets have completely replaced the need for those dedicated systems, and you can get away with more than ever just by focusing on the device you already own.
That said, there are plenty of reasons you might want to take those Android games and play them on other platforms. Whether you’re looking to use a mouse to control your favorite MOBAs like in Vainglory or Mobile Legends, or you’re looking to play older RPGs with a proper keyboard, it’s relatively easy to get Android games working on your PC. Free games can even be installed using APKs directly from sites like APKMirror, and you can log into your Google account to sync any paid games you may have purchased from the Play Store to your computer instantly. With the assistance of shortcuts, reassigned controls, and more, you can play nearly any Android game right on your PC, just as you would any other PC-based game or software. The next time your friends ask you to jump into a quick game of Arena of Valor, don’t put up with having to use your finger. Instead, use your mouse and keyboard and play games the best way imaginable. Here’s our full guide to playing Android games right on your PC.
Can My Computer Run Android Games?
To run Android games on your computer, we’ll be using the tried and true emulation tactics on your PC, which means we’ll need to ensure your PC is powerful enough to run the software necessary for emulating Android software and games. Emulation, as a general rule, requires far more power than the traditional hardware originally used for games; for example, emulating a PS2 game on a PC requires a more powerful processor and graphics card than what was originally included in the PS2, because it has to emulate both the hardware and the software, in addition to the game, to help decode the application. You’ll want to keep this in mind if you’re at all interested in playing games that use 3D graphics or are difficult to run. That said, basic apps like Candy Crush Saga or Clash of Clans shouldn’t have too many difficulties running on general hardware. Basically, here’s what you’ll need to use Android emulation software:
- Windows 10, though older versions of Windows like Windows 8.1 and Windows 7 will also work
- Intel Core i5-680 processor or higher
- Intel 5200HD Integrated Graphics or higher (dedicated graphics are ideal!)
- Built-in SSD, though a traditional HDD will also work, with 40GB or more of free space
- Broadband internet
- Your computer’s power plan set to “High Performance.”
These specs aren’t incredibly difficult to meet, so if you have a fairly modern computer, you shouldn’t have any difficulty being able to run Android games on your computer. There are some emulators for MacOS as well, but those aren’t quite as reliable as the software made for Windows. For the purpose of this article, we’ll be focused primarily on Windows PCs, which is where gaming is typically a focus of the platform.
What Software Should I Use?
There’s a number of Android emulators on the market today for Windows, including the Android emulator created by Google to help developers create and publish their apps, but when it comes to gaming, there’s really only one option available to use today. That’s BlueStacks, now in its third version, a fully-featured Android emulator designed to run your games just as you would run typical PC games through Steam or other gaming clients, like Origin or Battle.net. BlueStacks includes a full app software store, the ability to add friends to your list to play with, and even a social network called Pika World where you can connect with other BlueStacks players around you. We’ll cover all that below, once BlueStacks is set up on your computer.
Outside of the friends list and social options, the most important aspect of BlueStacks is the inclusion of the Play Store. Unlike basic Android emulators, the inclusion of both the Play Store and Google Play Games means you can install any Android game you’ve downloaded and purchased on your Google account through the BlueStacks software, all without limitations. If you’ve purchased a wide library of games on Android but never found time to play them, BlueStacks is the best way to get them onto your PC for some more serious gaming. It’s seriously impressive software.
If you aren’t interested in using BlueStacks—which, we’ll be upfront, is what this guide is based on—you aren’t out of luck entirely. Though BlueStacks was, in our testing, the most reliable emulation software we tried for Windows, it’s not alone in the field. You can find other emulators across most platforms, including Andy, a close competitor to BlueStacks. Andy runs on Windows and Mac, and is perfect for games and productivity apps alike. The interface isn’t quite up to par with what you’ll find on BlueStacks, but if you don’t want to deal with some of the social aspects of BlueStacks 3 like Pika World, it may be worth switching. MEmu is another solid option, especially for anyone looking to run software made only for Android 5.0 or above. Droid4X is an older emulator that has gone without updates for quite some time, but it may be worth looking into if you aren’t into the other options on this list. Finally, KoPlayer is a gaming-focused emulator for Windows that allows you to map your keyboard to specific controls, similar to the mapping options in BlueStacks. Any of these options are solid for gaming and will provide you with a pretty decent experience on your desktop or laptop PC, though we still think that BlueStacks is the one you should focus on.
Installing and Setting Up BlueStacks
To start using BlueStacks, you’ll need to download the installer from their website here. Once you have the installer saved onto your computer, open the file from your Downloads folder on your PC and follow through the standard installation instructions. When the app has installed on your computer, you’ll be prompted to run it for the first time; select yes and complete the installation. The app will take a few minutes to configure on your device. The length of installation and preparation times will depend on your hard drive speed; if you happen to have an SSD or a hybrid drive, you’ll likely find that the installation time is much faster than if you have a basic disk-based hard drive. After the installation completes, you’ll be asked to create a username and an avatar. The former can be whatever you want, though it can’t be something used by another BlueStacks player. As for the latter, you don’t need to spend too much time on the avatar portion if you don’t want to. Simply hit the random button and move onto the next step. You’ll be asked to select some popular games you like to play to connect with other users. Once you have those down, you can move onto the map, or you can skip the game selection altogether.
Once you complete creating your account, you’ll find yourself at Pika World menu for BlueStacks. This might seem off putting at first, especially since no one needs a new social network to connect with random users all over the world, but luckily, you’ll never need to come back here. Take this opportunity to get used to the layout of BlueStacks. At the top of the page, you’ll find a tab layout, similar to any modern internet browser, including Chrome and Firefox. This tab interface allows you to run multiple apps at once, so you’ll want to make sure you understand how it works. For now, you’ll probably only see the “Home” tab appear in the upper portion of your display, but as you explore the app more and more, you’ll see other applications, including the Play Store, the settings menu, and any games you’re playing, appear there. Below that tab is four options for navigating BlueStacks’ features on the home screen launcher: My Apps, App Center, Help Center, and the aforementioned Pika World. If you haven’t navigated away from the start screen yet, you’re probably still on Pika World. Here’s what each of these options are for:
- My Apps: This is where all apps installed on your computer will end up. Every time you add an app or game, either from Google Play or from one of the other sources of content we’ll discuss below, you’ll see the icon appear here, along with a shortcut to the app on your desktop. When you first load this, you’ll see three app icons alongside a folder; those apps aren’t installed on your device, but are instead advertisements for content. You can remove these icons by clicking the uninstall icon in the lower-right hand corner and clicking on the small X’s on each app. Inside the folder is access to Google Play, along with settings, a browser, a camera app, and a media manager. This is basically your Android launcher for BlueStacks.
- App Center: This is BlueStacks’ own app store, and it’s worth exploring even if you intend to solely use Google Play for your apps. We’ll discuss this more in a section below, but it’s fairly easy to navigate with a mouse and a keyboard, and feels a bit more fluid than the actual Play Store in BlueStacks.
- Help Center: Think of Help Center as a FAQ and a forum section for BlueStacks rolled into one tab, allowing you to find the answers to any questions you may have about using BlueStacks. Since we can’t cover every individual feature in this article (though we’ll most certainly try), if you’re having an issue with one specific part of the software, it’s best to check out this section of the app to see if you can solve your issue using their guides. You can also view this support section on their own website with your browser.
- Pika World: We already defined what Pika World is, but essentially, this map of avatars nearby you acts as a certain type of friends list (similar to Steam) mixed with Facebook or Snapchat’s Map feature. You can see notifications of who has viewed your profile by clicking on the bell icon in the top right-hand corner, and you can move the map around by clicking and dragging your mouse or my moving the mouse to the edges of the screen. To “add” a friend, hit the thumbs-up icon on their profiles when you roll over their names. You can view your location in the upper-left hand corner, and at the very top of the display, you’ll be able to see how many people are playing around you. Each player profile will display the games played by each person, so you can keep track of what those around you are playing.
You’ll probably spend most of your time in the app on the My Apps display, since that’s where all of your apps and games are kept to be played. Outside of what’s mentioned above, it’s also important to notice the controls in the lower-right corner of the window on My Apps. In addition to the aforementioned Uninstall Apps option kept here, you’ll also see that it’s possible to install APKs (more on this below), change your home wallpaper, and run multiple instances of BlueStacks.
Logging Into Google and Installing Apps
Once you’re inside of BlueStacks, you can ignore the general interface and location information provided by the service for now. Instead of looking at all that, you’ll want to click over to My Apps, then tap on the System Apps folder to enter your main list of content. Select the Google Play icon, just as you would on another Android device, to open the Play Store. Google will prompt you to enter your login information for the device, using a tablet interface for the menu and visuals. It’s unclear what version of Android BlueStacks is emulating, though it seems to be an older version based on the menus. The software version is hidden inside the settings menu of the app, but thanks to a terminal emulator application inside of Android, we can see that Bluestacks is using Android 4.4.2 KitKat. This may cause some apps not to run correctly if the application only works with Android 5.0 or above, so keep that in mind when installing apps and games.
When you enter your login information for Google Play, you’ll be redirected back to the app, now able to install apps and launch content from within the store. Unlike the BlueStacks App Store, Google Play is entirely unchanged here. If you’ve ever used Google Play on a tablet, you’ll know what to expect here; the app is identical. You can search through apps at the top of the browser, select one of the options from the carousel of highlighted apps and games at the top of the screen, and scroll through the suggested games below. More importantly, however, is the ability to access your own account. Use your mouse to select the horizontal triple-lined menu button that will be familiar to any long-time Android user to open the sliding menu to the left of your screen. Since you previously logged into Google Play when first launching the app, you’ll see your standard number of options appear inside BlueStacks’ terminal, including your account name, your library of apps and games, and the ability to browse suggested categories like books, movies, and more.
To install from your pre established library of Android apps, you’ll need to click “My Apps and Games” at the top of the list. Enter the list, then click on “Library” at the top of this page to navigate away from the sparse “Updates” page. Your Library page shows every single individual app or game you’ve ever installed or purchased on your device, and you can install each of them by clicking on the Install button next to each app. Whether you purchased a specific app five years ago on Android, or you just bought an app a couple weeks ago, it’ll appear in your library. You can also search for the app to reinstall it from the store automatically, and you can use the Play Store browser on Chrome or other similar browsers to push the installation directly to your device; BlueStacks appears as an AT&T Moto X (2013) on your account.
If you’re looking to purchase or install new apps, it’s done the same way as any other Android device. Search for the app using the search icon in the upper-right hand corner of your display, and select the app from the list of search results. Then simply hit the Install button for free apps, or the Purchase button for paid apps, to install the application to your device. If you’re buying an app, keep in mind that there’s always the possibility of incompatibility between your app and BlueStacks. Google Play has a refund option for most paid apps that you can use if your app doesn’t properly launch.
Installing Apps Outside of Google Play
BlueStacks has full access to the Play Store, and that is one of the reasons it’s our top pick for use on your PC. That doesn’t mean you have to be locked to the Play Store, though. Instead, you have two other options for installing apps outside of Google Play, and both work just as well as using the Google-approved app store supplied with BlueStacks. The first method uses the BlueStacks-centric app store provided within the app itself, which you can access by selecting the “App Center” tab on the top of the app. App Center has basically every option you could ever want in a Google Play Store replacement, from Clash Royale to Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire, allowing you to install the apps directly to your computer by navigating through the options allowed to be installed on your computer. That said, we should also note that many, if not most of these games are downloads from Google Play, so you’ll still need a Play Store account to download them. Clicking on the app will simply load the Play Store interface to install it.
That said, there are plenty of reasons to use the App Center interface over Google Play proper. For one, it’s a bit smoother and faster than the emulated Play Store, and a bit easier to browse with a mouse and keyboard. There are separate, game-focused top charts, including lists of the most popular, top grossing, and trending games based on the use cases of BlueStacks players. Rolling over any app will tell you where the application is installed from, be it Google Play or another outside source. You can search for apps using App Center, though it won’t load every single possible game in the store. Searching for “Final Fantasy” will bring up four distinct results, but to view the rest of the apps, you’ll need to click the “Visit Google Play” icon, which will load a pop-up display with your results. It’s not the perfect way to browse for apps, but App Center is a solid way to find out what other BlueStacks users are playing in their spare time.
The other option for installing apps outside of the Play Store build into BlueStacks is by using straightforward APKs, available on the web from sources like APKMirror. APKMirror hosts free application packages, or APKs, available to be downloaded by anyone to install on Android. BlueStacks has the capabilities of installing apps from these packages, and you’ll find the option right on your own home display within My Apps. At the bottom of the page, tap on the “Install APK” option to open a File Explorer window for your computer. Select the APK from your Downloads folder or wherever else you save your content, then click enter. You’ll see the app begin to install on your own home screen, and you can use the app like any other. In our tests, installing from an APK over installing from the Play Store didn’t change the user experience in any meaningful way.
Alright, enough about setting up BlueStacks. Now that we have some games installed on our PC, it’s time to learn how to play them. For the most part, launching an installed game is as easy as clicking on the shortcut created on the My Apps tab on your home screen; it’ll launch the app in its own tab along the top of BlueStacks, and you can begin playing the game. We didn’t run into any major compatibility issues when testing apps on either of our test PCs, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Just as we’ve mentioned above, there’s a solid chance that you may have an app or game designed for newer versions of Android that simply won’t work with your device. If this is the case, you may need to check with the app’s developers to see if support for Android 4.4.2 or below has been scaled back. That said, as far as we can tell, newer apps that won’t run on your PC inside of BlueStacks seem to be hidden from the Play Store on that device. For example, Google Assistant requires phones with Android 6.0 or above, and searching for it inside of BlueStacks returns results for other Google and voice assistant apps, but not Google Assistant itself.
When you’ve installed a game on your PC through Google Play, head back to your My Apps page to open it. Each app opens in its own tab along the top of the screen, which helps you to play more than one game at a time. If you wish to have multiple games open at once, or you want to keep Google Play open in a separate tab at all times, this is a good way to do that. With the game of your choice open, you’ll quickly realize that not all games work perfectly with a mouse and keyboard out of the box. While some games, like Final Fantasy: The War of the Lions, translates well to a mouse since the enter game is made to be tapped in lieu of a mouse or cursor, games like Wayward Souls use swiping controls to move around the screen. To swipe with a mouse, you need to click and drag around your screen. Even though this is manageable, you’ll learn that using your mouse to move means you can’t use the right side of your display to activate your weapons or powers.
BlueStacks comes with a complete control mapping scheme to fix the problem described above. It isn’t a perfect solution, but it is a good way to take what’s possible with a mouse and keyboard combined with what would typically be touch-based controls and meld them together to create something that can function, completely designed by the player. This is what makes BlueStacks one of the best Android emulators for PC, beyond the inclusion of the Play Store, and makes it ideal for any type of game on mobile. More specifically, however: if you’re looking to play platformers, action games, first-person shooters, or MOBAs, this is probably the way to do it.
To open your control mapper utility, look to the bottom-right corner of BlueStacks. Near the left of the icons, you’ll see a small keyboard button. Select this to open the control mapper for your specific application, which will cover your game in a blue highlight and give you a series of controls along the top of the screen. If we’re being honest, BlueStacks does a pretty terrible job in explaining what each of these controls do, but here’s our basic guide to what each control does, from left to right:
- Link: This icon is the hardest of the bunch to determine what it does, but it seems to create two quick-release buttons with specific custom shortcut keys to allow you to program an area of the touchscreen with your own commands.
- Right-click: Allows you to use the right button on your mouse to move instead of the left button. It’s used mostly for MOBAs and other similar applications, though you can use it for whatever you determine necessary.
- D-Pad: This allows you to control a virtual D-Pad or joystick with the WASD keys on your keyboard, mapping W to up, A to left, S to down, and D to right, like most computer games. You can drag this over the D-Pad or Joystick to use, and can resize the circle to fit the device you’re using.
- Shooting: If your game has a certain set of crosshairs used within the game, in order to shoot, fire, or switch to a scope, you can set the icon on top of that button to control the camera with your mouse.
- Scope: This is your fire button, meant to be dragged over the button on your screen that fires your weapon. It translates directly to left click, allowing you to fire faster than with touch controls.
- Swipe: This button allows you to set the direction in which you swipe on your keyboard, either between left and right or up and down.
- Rotate: This button determines the rotation and orientation of your device, which translates directly to your gyroscope.
- Custom gestures: While on the blue highlight screen, drag your mouse in the necessary gesture to create a custom gesture, which can be activated with a specific key binding.
- Ctrl/Mouse Wheel: This shortcut allows you to zoom in and out of your screen.
- Clicking: Click anywhere on the blue portion of the display to create a custom click that can be bound to any key on your keyboard.
Unsurprisingly, this method isn’t perfect. There is most certainly some input lag when playing with mapped controls on your mouse and keyboard. Moving around in Wayward Souls, for instance, had about half a second of lag before the input was registered. For something like Wayward Souls, that isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world, as it’s easy to get used to within that game. For other apps, however, like MOBAs or online twitch shooters, you may run into more problems. We also experienced the control mapper freeze up more than once while programming controls, though it’s easy to reset the app and relaunch quickly on your PC. It’s not perfect, but BlueStacks does go a long way in making controls manageable within the emulator.
Once you have your controls mapped, you can play your game. We didn’t notice any dips in framerate during our test sessions, though it’s worth noting that both of our test computers are built for gaming, with real graphics cards and fairly-powerful processors, along with SSDs for storage. Overall, you should have a pretty good experience in game once you get the controls mapped and your software up and running. Google Play Services and Google Play Games both sync your content between devices, and connected to a network is flawless as long as your device is already connected to a wireless or wired connection.
What Else Can BlueStacks Do?
BlueStacks isn’t just limited to playing Android games. Effectively, BlueStacks is able to load basically any Android app digitally on your computer without too much of an issue, since it’s just running an emulator. As long as the app you’re loading works on Android 4.4.2, and doesn’t require Android 5.0, Android 6.0, or an even later version like 7.0 or 8.0, you should be fine running the software on your computer. Obviously, not everything works perfectly, but overall, if you’re looking to use an Android app on your computer, BlueStacks should be able to do it without much of an issue. As we mentioned above, searching for an app like Google Assistant returned no results for the actual app, because the version of Android simply isn’t new enough. BlueStacks is pretending to be a Moto X on AT&T with Google, so your software experience is limited to both the older, 2013 version of Android and the features included by BlueStacks directly.
That said, in basically everything we tested, it was a great way to keep apps you may want in a desktop experience right on your laptop or desktop PC. For example, we installed Weather Timeline on our device and had no issues using one of our favorite weather apps right on our desktop PC without an issue. Being able to use some of the best mobile experiences without pulling out our phone while working is incredible, and despite BlueStack aimed at gamers, it’s great that the app works just as well for all your favorite apps.
Do I Have to Pay for BlueStacks?
The short answer is no, you don’t. BlueStacks is basically free for most users, so long as you’re willing to put up with ads. We didn’t run into any major issues using the app during testing, and everything seemed to install and run without limits, issues, or anything else stopping us from running the app. If you click the profile icon in the very top-right corner of BlueStacks, you’ll load your account information, which provides you with the option to upgrade to a premium account. For your upgrade, you get access to three fairly simple changes:
- No ads: The app icons we mentioned earlier will occasionally add themselves back to your My Apps screen within BlueStacks if you don’t pay to upgrade your account to premium status, no matter how many times you uninstall them. However, they’re fairly easy to ignore, and there aren’t that many other ads within the app.
- Background personalization: If you want to edit the background on your BlueStacks home screen, you’ll need to upgrade your account. However, the default wallpaper is probably acceptable for most occasional uses of BlueStacks, and if it doesn’t bother you, there’s no reason to upgrade.
- Premium support: The app doesn’t quite make it completely clear what makes their support channel so premium, but if you’re worried about not receiving prompt responses from the BlueStacks team, you’ll want to upgrade to the premium account status in order to guarantee speedy answers to any questions you may have.
If you do decide to switch to the premium version of BlueStacks, you’re looking at paying $3.33 per month annually (for a total of $40 per year upfront) or $4 when paid monthly, for an annual total of $48. This is really a personal decision, but we’ll but upfront and honest: BlueStacks’ free version worked fine with us, without limitations or issues. While we wouldn’t be opposed to paying for the service if newer features were added, like the ability to install software updates into BlueStacks in order to runner newer apps, as of right now, BlueStacks works great as a free application.
There are a million reasons why playing Android games on your PC is a great idea. Whether you’re looking for a way to play Android’s best MOBAs with a proper mouse and keyboard, or you simply want to try out a game with a more traditional, more tactile control scheme, emulating Android on your computer makes this a reality. And considering the inclusion of the Play Store, the proper ability to remap controls right on your computer without much of a hassle, and the option to switch between apps in a friendly, easy-to-use tab interface, it makes perfect sense to use BlueStacks over most other Android emulators on the market today. BlueStacks isn’t a perfect application. As we covered above, it can be a little buggy, and the keyboard mapping can occasionally present some included lag. But all of that aside, it’s also one of the most enjoyable ways to play your Android games on a bigger device you already own, complete with added features and functions to make your game that much more enjoyable.
There’s an obvious reason to choose to rely on playing games on your computer as opposed to playing games on a device that fits in your pocket. PC gaming is a huge hit these days, but it’s difficult to get into without a powerful device that can cost a ton of cash some players may simply not have. If you’d rather play on the laptop or desktop PC you already own, and BlueStacks can run on your PC, you gain access to not just a powerful application that can run thousands of free games, but also low-cost games that may be even cheaper on Android than on other operating systems. It truly makes for a premium gaming experience uninterrupted by having to shell out thousands of dollars for new hardware and AAA games, all while keeping things smooth, and providing users with a fully customizable suite of software that can be controlled right with your mouse and keyboard.