Introduction to Online Gaming

Using computer networks

Woman playing computer game

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One enjoyable pastime you can do with a computer network is to play connected games with friends and family. To use 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 a local network and online games.

Types of Local Network and Online Games

Single-player PC games only run on one personal computer. Some multiplayer games also function across a network. Check the game 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.
Man playing Sea of Thieves on his computer with Xbox Game Pass for PC.
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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 a separate internet service for online games. For example, Microsoft consoles use the System Link feature for local play and the Xbox Live service for internet-based play. The Sony PlayStation Network facilitates internet gaming between PS4 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.

Set 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 due to the performance advantages Ethernet offers (especially for high-end games). Besides reliable network connections, PC games also benefit from running on systems with fast processors.

Two teenage boys playing Xbox video games while lying on a bed
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All modern game consoles contain built-in Ethernet support to connect 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 a wireless home ​router.

Both PC and console games benefit from having a fast internet connection when used online:

  • Online games require low latency links. You generally can't play online games over satellite internet connections, for example, because of the high latencies associated with that kind of service.
  • Online games require a moderate amount of internet bandwidth. Any type of service except dial-up internet provides sufficient bandwidth for individual game sessions. However, if several people in a 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.

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.

internet connection with wlan router in home office
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Cannot Sign in to the Internet Gaming Service

Online gaming services often require setting up an internet subscription and sometimes paying a fee. Carefully follow the directions when setting up your online account and contact technical support if necessary.

Some routers are incompatible with online gaming services. You may need to adjust the router configuration or replace it with a different model.

If suddenly or occasionally you are unable to connect to the service provider, the service could be at fault rather than any problem with your network and internet setup.

Game Crashes

Sometimes while playing a network game, the screen freezes and the PC or console stops 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 may suffer from technical issues (called bugs). Look on the game developer's website for official game patches to install, or search for unofficial workarounds published by other players online.

Lag While Playing

The term lag refers to ​a sluggish response in the 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 factors contribute to this problem, including:

  • High latency of your internet connection: Consider changing service providers.
  • Excessive network traffic: When several devices connect to your home network or if your internet connection lags, upgrade your home network or internet links to higher bandwidth.
  • Slow PC: For PC gaming, upgrade 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) used to share or host games may suffer from performance problems. These problems are short-lived and are generally outside of your control.
  • Unscrupulous players: Some players on the internet use 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.