November 15, 2009

My Case for Single-License LAN Play

Posted in Commentary, Games at 1:06 am by gloriouscomputing

I only buy games that give a better (or equal) experience to paying customers (vs pirates). I generally only play multiplayer games, so if your game limits installations, requires a CD in the drive, or prevents single-license LAN Play, my likelihood of purchase strongly decreases.

I can’t give enough props to Quake Wars for being a perfect example about how supportive a game should be of LAN Play. Unfortunately, I can’t play it with my LAN Party group of friends, because we are usually around 5, which isn’t enough for the game. Nevertheless, I purchased this game, and plan to buy future Splash Damage games (Yay Brink) if they don’t abandon this practice.

A bad offender was Tribes: Vengeance. It actually required different CD Keys for everyone in the LAN Party. No sale.

I realize some of you might not understand this mindset: that a group of friends should be able to locally play together with only one purchase of a game. To understand this, realize that I grew up in the era of the SNES. If you had a TV+SNES+Two Controllers (whatever technically necessary hardware) and a single cartridge (license) of Donkey Kong Country, you and your buddy were ready to play. That’s right: Anyone could just come over to your place, where you’d sit on the couch, and you’d play. It’s just like Monopoly: You buy the board game once, and then you can play with whoever comes by without them having to buy the game.

That you need a PC per player in a LAN Party is a technical limitation. Needing one PC, Screen, Keyboard, and Mouse per player is just the technically necessary hardware, just as it was with the Controller on the SNES. Also, that the game isn’t streamed from one mainframe, but must rather be copied to all computers is also just a technology limitation. It’s merely a step needed for everyone to be able to play the same game together. The technology is different, but what you are doing is not: You sit in a room and share the experience of playing in the same virtual world.

It is already no longer the case that one license to a game means that only one copy can be in existence; this has been done away with by the most popular game distribution service: Steam. No matter what PC you are on, you can download and play the game you own a license to. As such, you may end up with many DRM-protected copies of the game, on many PCs, which is fine, because only the PC that you are currently using is able to play the game. The game license follows you around, letting you play the game everywhere, and leaving behind many comatose copies of the game.

It’s amazing how close we already are to re-realizing the glorious days of no-crack-needed same-room-multiplayer sessions. Imagine:

  • You are in a room full of LAN-connected PCs with your buddies, but only you own a license to play (for example) Left 4 Dead 2
  • You log into Steam, run Left 4 Dead 2, and host a LAN server
  • Your friends log into Steam, and despite not owning a license to Left 4 Dead 2, are now invited to join your game session (LAN Server)
  • Rather than downloading the game from the internet, it is downloaded from your PC, after which your friends join your game session

It’s important to note that your friends would only be able to run Left 4 Dead 2 in what I will call Follow Mode. They could only join your game session: The one that you, the owner of the license on the local LAN, is in. No Single Player, and no game sessions without the license holder. Want to run two separate game sessions/server? Then you need at least two licenses on your LAN, just like you would need two boards of Monolopy to play two separate game sessions of it simultaneously.

I hope you agree that just because the technology has changed shouldn’t mean that you can no longer play a single license of a game with your friends, if you are in the same room.

Further Thought A: What about Online Play from your LAN: You and your friends are still all in same room, but say you are playing a game like Quake Wars, which requires at least 5vs5 to play: Should you be allowed to bring your friends into Online games, considering you are all hanging out in the same room? The PS3 offers this feature in Warhawk: You can play split-screen with 3 friends, and all of you can join an online session with just one game license. If you can do it there, why not let people do this on the PC? So you and 1 friend could play Left 4 Dead 2 against 2 other people online, you+friend sharing one license, and the other two having their own license (or maybe doing the same thing you are). Again, your (license-less) friend could never play online, even from your room, without you being in the same online game session/server also. You play together, that is the idea.

Further Thought B: I have mixed feelings about this one, but I will mention this non-the-less. How about your friends can join (only) your game session always, from anywhere in the world. This would probably have to be restricted a little further. I mean, clearly, you still don’t let people play Single Player, nor do you let them play online sessions that don’t contain you. Of course, this can easily fall into a scenario where everyone friends everyone, so you would only ever need one license-owner per server. Even if you limit this to only being allowed to bring along one non-licensee friend, the everyone is a friend of everyone scenario is still undesirable. Perhaps someone can consider this further…

Putting aside Further Thought B, I definitely think the main point is a must-have feature, and Further Thought A is at least often appropriate.



  1. JediZombie said,

    Thanks for your ideas, I agree with you wholeheartedly and I even learned a little something new. Until today I was not a user of Steam, but with a LAN party coming up at my house where we will be playing Left 4 Dead 2, I decided to get an account. I was however a little disturbed at buying the game because I have already bought it for my Xbox 360. Now that you have told me that I won’t have to re-buy it, my wallet and my wife will be very pleased!

    • Bob Jenkins said,

      Please read things carefully!

      * You are in a room full of LAN-connected PCs with your buddies, but only you own a license to play (for example) Left 4 Dead 2…

  2. Aqiul said,

    Great article and I completely agree with you on all the points. Plus I didnt know you could do that with Steam. Very informative, thanks 🙂

    • gloriouscomputing said,

      I want to clarify that a lot of what I talk about in this post is not implemented in Steam right now. This post is more “Imagine how things could be” themed.

  3. Will M. said,

    I remember back in the days of Starcraft they had the option of installing a “Spawn” copy. You could take your CD, put it in your friends computer and install a copy that would only allow them to play multiplayer with you. Why games got away from that I’m not sure. It seemed to work perfectly and is pretty much exactly what you were talking about as a “follow mode”.

  4. Dan Manning said,


    I very much agree with your points in many respects, being someone who loves having LAN play with a bunch of friends. However, I feel that what you propose is somewhat unfair to the content holders. Yes, it is the “same” as split-screen, but it isn’t one, or two, or even three extra players (especially in the case of Quake Wars), all separated from each other. I liken it to a restaurant. Let’s say you order a dish, a pizza, for instance. If you share part of it with a friend, that’s fine. You give them a slice of pizza, and you eat together. You had less pizza than you got, but it would be unreasonable to say that if you order a pizza, each of your friends should get a pizza too, as long as they’re eating with you. It would be fine if you shared your pizza with them, giving everyone a slice, but each friend isn’t entitled to their own pizza when they eat with you.

    • gloriouscomputing said,

      Right, this might only make sense in smaller groups.

  5. Pancake said,

    Sins of a Solar Empire allows up to 5 people on a LAN to play together off a single license.

    I wish all other games would be like this.

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