One of the most enjoyable things you can do with a computer network is play connected games with friends and family. To use so-called LAN games and online games, you may need to upgrade your local network and Internet setup. You should also be prepared to troubleshoot certain types of technical problems commonly associated with local network and online games.
Types of Local Network and Online Games
Single-player PC games only run on one personal computer, but some (not all) multiplayer games also function across a network. Check the game’s packaging or documentation to determine the nature of its support:
- PC games that list “LAN” or “local network” support allow sharing between two or more computers across home network connections (each computer must run its own copy of the game)
- PC games that list “Internet” or “online multiplayer” support allow you to play live across a high-speed Internet connection
Game consoles like Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation offer both local-based and Internet-based play options for games that support them. Each console manufacturer maintains its own, separate Internet service for online games. For example, Microsoft consoles use its System Link feature for local play and the Xbox Live service for Internet-based play. The Sony Playstation Network likewise facilitates Internet gaming between PS3 consoles. You can share live sessions with those who own the same type of console and a copy of the same game, but you cannot share live sessions between a console and a PC or two different types of consoles.
Setting up Your Network for Online Games
PC multiplayer games typically work across any wired or wireless home network. Some experienced gamers may prefer to use wired Ethernet connections for local network gaming, however, due to the performance advantages Ethernet can offer (especially for high-end games). Besides reliable network connections, PC games also benefit from running on systems with fast processors.
All modern game consoles also contain built-in Ethernet support for connecting to each other and to the Internet. With a console, you can also use wireless game adapters that convert its Ethernet connector to a Wi-Fi link suitable for connecting to wireless home routers.
Both PC and console games benefit from having a fast Internet connection when used online:
- online games require low latency links; you generally cannot play online games over satellite Internet connections, for example, because of the high latenciesassociated with that kind of service
- online games also require a moderate amount of Internet bandwidth: Any type of service except dial-up Internet should provide sufficient bandwidth for individual game sessions, but if several people in the household intend to play online games simultaneously, you may need to upgrade your Internet connection bandwidth
Troubleshoot Network Games
Be prepared to encounter some technical glitches when setting up and playing online games.
1. Cannot connect to other players locally—PC games consume a variety of port numbers to establish LAN connections. You may need to modify or temporarily disable network firewalls running on the PCs to unblock these connections. Additionally, check for loose cables, failed routers and other home-network problems not specific to games.
2. Cannot sign into the Internet gaming service—Online gaming services often require setting up an Internet subscription and sometimes paying a fee. Carefully follow the directions for setting up your online account and contact their technical support if necessary. Some routers are incompatible with online gaming services; you may need to adjust the router’s configuration or replace it with a different model. Finally, if suddenly or occasionally you are unable to connect to the service provider, the service itself could be at fault rather than any problem with your network and Internet setup.
3. Game crashes—Sometimes while playing a network game, the screen will freeze and the PC or console will stop responding to controls. Reasons for this include:
- Overheating of the PC or console—move the system to a better-ventilated location
- PC driver problems—ensure both graphics and audio device drivers for the PC are up to date and try workarounds such as disabling sound or turning off advanced graphics options in the game settings
- Game glitches—the game itself may suffer from technical issues (“bugs”) so look on the game developer’s Web site for official game patches to install, or search for unofficial workarounds published by other players online
4. Lag while playing—The term lag refers to a sluggish response in game controls arising from network slowness. When lagging, your view of the game action falls behind that of other players, and the game may also occasionally freeze for short periods. Several different factors can contribute to this frustrating problem including:
- High latency of your Internet connection—consider changing service providers
- excessive network traffic being generated by other on the home network (or on the Internet)—upgrade home network or Internet links to higher bandwidth
- Slow PC—for PC gaming, consider upgrading components of your system including processors and memory to match the recommended configurations for the games you play
- Slow game servers—for both PC and console gaming, the other systems besides yours being used to share or host games may be suffering from performance problems; these problems are short-lived and are generally outside of your control
- Unscrupulous players on the Internet using lag switches—avoid playing with these people
To determine whether your game is suffering from lag, use tools like ping on the PC or look for similar graphical indicators provided on game consoles.