Ask LH: How Do I Set Up A LAN Party?

Ask LH: How Do I Set Up A LAN Party?

Dear Lifehacker, I am interested in hosting my own LAN party at my place with about 20 friends but I have no idea on how to set it up and how to allow everyone to have the same game to play. Any quick tips? Thanks, Aspiring Gamer

LAN picture from Shutterstock

Dear AG,

Unless you live in a Great Gatsby-style mansion, getting 20 people, their gaming rigs and a bunch of tables and chairs into your house is going to be tricky — especially if you want everyone to play in the same room. One popular solution is to use a two-car garage, but if you don’t have access to one of those you may want to scale the LAN party back to around eight or nine people. This should still be plenty for a fun night of gaming.

When it comes to gaming equipment, most amateur LAN parties are a BYO affair, so you don’t need to worry about supplying extra monitors and gaming PCs/laptops for your friends — just get them to bring their own, along with their mouse and keyboards of choice.

What you will need to provide is a robust power setup and a reliable network. Your first port of call should be a network switch for your router which all the gamers then plug into. These come with multiple ports and you can plug more than one into the same router. Naturally, you’ll also be wanting some extra-long ethernet cables, a surge protector and plenty of extension cords. (Cable management is very important here, or you’ll risk injuring friends and/or equipment.)

For larger LAN parties, you also need to ensure you’re not overloading the electricity circuits in your house; instead use power sockets on separate circuits (this is where the extension cords come in). You may also want to install a dedicated game server which will help ensure everyone has a good connection to the game at hand. You can find a list of Australian game server providers here.

Alternatively, you could set up a Virtual Private Network and host the whole thing remotely. This obviously isn’t as social or fun but it does mean none of your friends have to lug their computers to your house. You can find out more about setting up a private LAN gaming network in our Build Your Own VPN Guide.

Unfortunately, most games require each member of the LAN party to have their own copy. There are ways around this, but none of them are particularly legal so we’ll leave you in the hands of Google [Disclaimer: breaking the law is bad, mmkay]. It is possible to pick up free and affordable games suitable for LAN parties however: the various iterations of Counter-Strike remain incredibly popular, for example.

As always, if any gamers have tips or suggestions of their own, let AG know in the comments section below.


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  • A good network switch is vital, maybe ask some friends to bring some if you don’t have a large or fast one.
    Make sure everyone has a space on a sturdy table and has a chair allocated.
    make sure there is enough room for people to walk behind the player, and that they don’t trip over cords and bags.
    have some spare power cords and mouse mats, people tend to forget those
    split power needs evenly over the house, e.g. front to back maybe run an extension cord over to the friendly neighbor.
    Steam has many free to play games, get people to download and install them before they come e.g Team Fortress
    Steam often has a free game weekend to try it out, try to schedule the LAN with a free trial date.
    sometimes an older game is reduced down to below 5$, which is worth buying just for one night of LAN gaming.
    Have directions to the local fast food restaurants, or even ask if anyone wants to chip in on a stack of pizza.
    headphones are preferred to speakers, as speakers just annoy others.
    fill the fridge with drinks to buy for a $1 a can.
    after a few LANs you will learn what works and what doesn’t, I am sure that most of the people coming will have LAN experience

  • I used to host LAN party’s many many many years ago (think coaxial network cable days) sometimes up to 50-80 people. The number one issue was power. The number two was when’s the Pizza arriving.

    These days a lot of people tend to bring laptops along, so this helps a bit compared to the old juice sucking 1000w+ gaming rigs with 22″ CRT screens, complete with mini beer fridge, I used to see.
    That being said spread your power grid out to a number of outlets across the house, and don’t load 20 computers off just a few power boards connected to just 2 or 3 wall sockets (hello overload…, fuse pop, blackout). You could look into a relay power regulator to hire out for the night, but for 20 this could be overkill.

    Also if you haven’t got one, you can pick up old 24 port 10/100 switches off Ebay for under $30. These are more than enough for gaming, especially if you set up a dedicated server…leeching that 16gig file off each other though on a 10/100 will take some time however (Leeching comes with the LAN territory).

    You’ll be surprised how many free (& legal) LAN party games are about floating on the net. Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory although a bit dated is a fan favorite, not to mention a few others like Tribes 2 & FreeCiv. And if your online connection can handle it (granted 20 people might ping you out a bit online) you maybe able to team up and play against others such as in Americas Army (also free).

    Happy Lanning.

  • It was a lot easier back in the day when you could pass around a few disks with cracked games that you just copied and ran.

    I’d suggest figuring out a list of games you want to play first. Try to find a bunch of cheaper games that people don’t mind throwing some money at (things like Torchlight 2 come to mind).

    If your friends are like me and mine; they’ll already have a huge steam library of games ready to go… so key is figuring out what people have and making sure they pre-load the games so they’re ready to play!! What I find more often than not nowadays is that even with a number of people at a LAN, we’ll split into smaller groups since a lot of the better multiplayer games only support 4 people at a time (so we might have a Borerlands 2 party and a Torchlight 2 party going at the same time).

    Finally, modable games, or games that support custom maps/game types are fantastic. War3 was amazing back in the day because you could play loads of different types of games for the cost of one. SC2 could be a good one for this reason (there are plenty of fun RPG, TD, Arcade style games to try).

    • Some more things of note:
      Be careful with games that require internet if your connection isn’t fantastic. Even on a good ADSL2 connection you’re gonna struggle with 20 people playing online games.
      Age of Empries 2 HD has 4 packs available at the moment, nostalgic games like that are always good 😉
      If people are bringing PC’s… hopefully you’re planning on running the LAN for more than just a day? I only ever bother doing LAN’s if we can get at least 3 days of uninterrupted gaming goodness (so public holidays).

      • +1. A lot of modern games don’t let you host games locally, and you’re going to be seriously hammering your uplink using the ‘official’ servers. A standard 1mb dsl uplink will give you 6.4 kilobytes per person when spread over 20 users.

    • aye
      games back in the day were MUCH suited for LAN

      modern games with their retarded DRM, or Matchmaking systems or Online only or non dedicated server MP are the most antisocial concepts ever introduced

      back in the day setting up a CS lan was as simple as going -> MP -> host and everyone joins you

      and with games like starcraft you could “Spawn” a clone of the game for MP only that was 100% legal and free
      these days? Sc2 + shitty always online bnet + stupid match making system + $50 license

  • 20 Person garage LAN is doable but pretty large for a house.

    Space: As mentioned a double garage is good, but you’ll also need 20 table spots and 20 chairs, not many homes have this capacity natively so trestle tables will be your friend. Possibly borrowing your neighbours outdoor furniture will increase your capacity without any additional cost.

    Network: You simply need enough ports to cater for the people you want, switches are cheap these days and you can string a few together where required. Each PC also needs an IP address which is you connect one switch to your home router it will solve the problem for you. On this though, remember that a lot of games need internet connections either to start up, to play, or update. Which brings me to internet capacity, watch your internet cap, PC’s are notorious for downloading things in the background and 20 PC’s all updating TF2 might tap your bandwidth and cap very quickly.

    Power: The hard bit, 20 PC’s in a residential home will mean a bit of juggling, to confirm you spread the power load, across multiple circuits. tell your friends to bring their power boards, it’s unlikely you have 40 outlets worth of power boards to go around.

    Games: There are several good titles that are free or F2P, TF2 would be a stand out plus you can have local servers. Trackmania has free versions of it’s racing titles. Remember StarCraft 2 has a limit on the number of players who can connect via one IP. If you want everyone to have the same game, you could host it during a Steam sale so at least those who don’t have the game will be able to get it cheap. Another word of caution for games is to be careful of the number of people each game can host we had a Diablo LAN once and ended up with 5 people, where 4 was the party size, which means someone sits out of you play 2 and 3 people games which is awkward.

    Food: Pizza… Need I say more?

    Always remember the first event you are likely to spend more time getting setup than actually gaming so factor that into your expectations. Of course an alternate option would be to contact a local LAN group in your area you can likely get a space provided for you and your mates and it will only cost you the event’s entry fee without all the hassle.

  • I agree, Go to a small local LAN group first, and get the feel of it.
    e.g. For Adelaide just Google “Local LAN gaming Adelaide” after a few click you will find some nearby
    e.g. I go to this small one that we started off with just mates rotating who was hosting in our houses.

  • Quick tip/s for gamers who aren’t PC gamers…
    Xbox LAN parties are pretty awesome too. You can set up to 16 consoles together, which is a huge number of players, although not many games will support all 16 consoles. If there’s only two consoles, there’s no need for any special equipment, but three or more will need a switch.
    Assuming one-in-four of your friends owns an xbox, you should only need games. Borrowing from video-stores are a cheap way to set up for a night.

    No hate to PC gamers, but I love the simplicity of my xbox even if it doesn’t give me the same amazing graphics.

  • You need Pizza and lots of it! When you have that the rest always seems to fall into place well.

  • LAN gaming setup is not for n00bs. Go check out someone else’s setup first.
    1. Have a good wifi router
    2. Have a dedicated server hard-wired to the router
    3. Use laptops
    4. Play older games. My absolute favourite LAN game is AvP2 Primal Hunt. The most fun you’ll have with your pants on.

  • Lans are great fun, the only issue these days is no support for LAN gaming with most AAA titles and usually they are the games that support 20 players. the other option is look into your local gaming community some other Clans might have facilitys already worked out for a Lan and are allways looking for new players to join the ranks and have some fun.

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