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Skip the explanations.
Take me right to the solutions for gaming problems!

Sometimes it seems like there is no help for on-line gamers who are trying to get games working through shared connections. Is it all a conspiracy by the ISPs to retaliate for all that bandwidth gone bye-bye?  Or are the complainers just incompetent whiners who wouldn't know what a forwarded port was if it came up and bit 'em?

Gaming related questions account for a large amount of the feedback and questions that we receive here at Practically Networked, so we decided we'd tell you what we see from our vantage point (and also give us a URL to throw at you instead of typing all those individual email responses...)

Who's got the blame?

It is true that the same game, with the same router, set up the same way, can act differently depending on the network that it's connected to. Assigning blame (or finding the root cause) for the problem, however, is difficult.

There are four parts to the problem:

  • The game manufacturers/designers:
    In their quest to have fast, reponsive game play, the game designers use the UDP protocol (which doesn't have a "handshake" for sending and receiving data) and in many cases large numbers of ports (which is difficult for many routers to handle). UDP was probably the right thing for games when they ran on LANs, but getting reliable UDP connections across the Internet is tough enough without NAT routers mixed into the problem.  Add NAT routers into the mix, and you've got the potential for plenty of mishandled bits.  The other nasty problem that many games foist on their users is their method of updating their server lists, which tends to break most routers. [Go here for more info.]
    Microsoft has done some work to help players of their DirectX based games.  Read this!

  • The ISPs:
    These folks have a large network to run and make their money by efficiently managing their (and therefore your) bandwidth and running a secure network.  This means that they do scan their network regularly, looking for unsecured SMTP servers, proxies and things that spammers and crackers can use.  Some of these scans might interrupt game play, and there are some ISPs who block ports used by popular games (and other applications) too.  But there are probably more problems caused by other ISP bandwidth managment techniques such as caching proxies, router & firewall set up, etc.

  • The Router manufacturers:
    They're supposed to make boxes that handle any strange packet thrown their way and make sure it gets to where it's supposed to go unmolested.  It's a tough job, and seems to get tougher every day with new authentication methods (PPPoE), protocols (IPsec, QoS) and popular applications coming out at net speed.  Throw in the ISP specific issues mentioned above, too, just to keep things interesting!

    Some router makers are better than others at juggling all of this, but no one is perfect.  And router performance does vary network-to-network.  So stop posting snide comments about how other people must be dumb because the router works fine for you..!

  • You, gentle reader:
    Yeah, you!   Didn't know you were going to have to learn about port forwarding, protocols, RWINs, MTUs, etc, didja?  All you just wanna do is blow bad guys away!  Unfortunately, the state-of-the-art in gaming for shared connections isn't plug-and-play.  So you'll need to do your homework, read the games' FAQ, hit the discussion groups... and hope the planets are in correct alignment.

 

What's a gamer to do?

Now that you know that the problem isn't a simple one, you're ready to get started.  To get any game servers to run behind a NAT router, you'll need to open holes in your router's firewall.  

attentionsml.gif (1034 bytes)NOTE: Opening holes in your firewall can compromise your LAN's security if done incorrectly. Please read this information on Security.

This function goes by different names on different products, and you'll need to consult your router's User guide for your particular router's capabilities in this area.  You'll also need to dig into your game's documentation for information on using your game behind a firewall.  You'll be looking on information on the ports that the game uses.  If the game documentation is no help, you can try the Special Applications area of this site.  You'll find a list of ports used by popular games and other applications and also some tips on how to use the port information.

Getting multiple players running behind a router may not involve opening any ports, but you may need to edit or create some information in your game's configuration file (if it has one).  Check the next page for some of these configuration tips.  Note that some of the newer games check for unique license numbers for each player, preventing the use of one copy of the software by multiple users. Specific game troubleshooting tips can be found on the next page.

Solve my gaming woes!



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