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How to throw a successful LAN party

Written by Mr. WellCultured, Tuesday, April 15th, 2008 in Culture, Geek Stuff

by pi4arctan1guy on the forums:

As I have been without a job for the past couple months, I’ve had plenty of time for LAN parties. A LAN has occurred every week or two at my apartment since mid January. I thought I might share some of what goes into how I organize my LANs and some of the problems I’ve come up against while doing this. I feel that it would be a good supplement to the recent “Party Hard: How to throw a party that’s worth throwing” article, which only touches on LAN-specific topics briefly. Since becoming a professional man of leisure, I have refined how I execute a LAN through trial and error. I’ve also asked several regular guests how I can improve the LANs. The result is a system that works pretty well for my situation.

What you need

The first topic is the space in which to hold the party. I have an apartment with one large living room, one bedroom, and a bathroom. The LAN is generally confined to the living room, which is set up to accommodate ten computers comfortably. I use regular tables and chairs for this, since tables allow for computers to be packed quite densely, compared to traditional computer desks. They’re cheaper, too. You can draw inspiration for how to set up your LAN from computer labs in schools. Make sure as you set up stations that you test each one for comfort. Put a mouse and keyboard in position and sit down at the space. Move the mouse around and type on the keyboard for a bit. Depending on which tables are available and how much space you have, you may need to sacrifice some comfort to fit more computers. I’ve found that having enough stations is more important than the quality of the stations. You don’t always know exactly who is coming and not having enough space for everyone is very frustrating. Lock up valuables and firearms, if you have them. I have a couple of lockers that I use to store my guns. Not everyone you invite will know how to safely handle firearms, and some guests will probably be drinking, so do not leave them out.

There is some hardware that is absolutely essential for you to provide. You should have, at a minimum, power strips for every station, power cables for monitors and computers at every station, headphones with extension cables at every station, a mouse pad at every station, and spare mice/keyboards. People forget these small things, and nothing sucks more than showing up without the necessary hardware to use your system. I keep these hookups at each station so that someone can just plug a computer in and start using it. I also have a whole bunch of IBM Model M keyboards, which I provide for my guests. As a rule, everyone at the LAN needs to use headphones. This should be enforced in a fairly strict manner. The only exception is everyone watching a video or something (It’s rare). Dissimilar sounds coming from multiple sources can be really irritating to many people. Besides, headphones have distinct advantages over speakers in most computer games. I currently have a bunch of headphones I found at the dollar store. They suck, but they’re better than nothing. My guests know that they will need to use headphones, so many bring their own. Power and ethernet cables are cheap. I keep a shallow box out at LANs with headphones, headphone extension cables, mice, ethernet cable, WiFi cards, and a few other trinkets that guests might need.

One topic that should not be neglected is setting up computers you already have before the LAN. If you have more than one, make sure you’re done getting everything working the day before the LAN. As far as LAN games go, “Fix the Network” isn’t a very fun choice. I have seven computers that I keep hooked up all the time. Each one has a clean Windows install, all the games, and all the essential software installed. I keep a share with all of the installs for programs like VLC and Firefox on my main computer for ease of building new systems. I also keep the games shared on each box on the network so that the strain of copying the games doesn’t get focused on one computer. Even if you own legal versions of all of your games, you should get the warez versions to play on your LAN. Just make sure to scan them for viruses before using them. All the DRM/CD check/activation crap is just going to cause you and your guests problems. Nobody wants to have to swap around CDs just to play games. That’s stupid. Besides, people forget to bring CDs. Make sure that you test your games. Open a server on a system and connect the other computers to it. Play the games a bit and adjust controls, video settings, and mouse sensitivity. Install Firefox with NoScript, AdBlock Plus, and FlashBlock on all of your systems and hide the Internet Explorer shortcuts. You can remove the IE shortcut from your desktop by going to desktop properties and clicking the “Customize Desktop” button under the “Desktop” tab. Not everyone who shows up will understand safe web browsing habits. You don’t want to have to reinstall after every LAN. I would also advise not letting guests on your main system at all, except to play a game.

Make sure that if you need any additional hardware or furniture you get it before the LAN. You can sort of count on people bringing stuff if you ask, but it’s best to get the equipment a few hours before so you have time to set it up. If you need help setting the network up, try getting a knowledgeable friend to come over the day before to teach you how to do it.

Entertaining your guests

A LAN is more activity-centered than a traditional party, but that does not mean that everyone there will want to game the whole time. I would say that about 1/4 of the people who come to my LANs want to game the whole time. 1/2 want to game most of the time, and 1/4 only want to game a little bit of the time. Alcohol consumption is less common at LANs than at traditional parties. File sharing and web surfing are pretty common LAN activities. The file sharing is pretty great. You can get a month’s worth of downloads in an hour or so. Obviously, this is limited to people who actually brought a computer. Most of my guests opt to leave their computers at home, since I provide enough computers for almost everyone who comes. Some of your guests may bring friends, so make no assumptions about how many people will be there. Try to have space for more people than you expect.

I generally don’t supply alcohol for guests. Some folks opt to bring alcohol, which is fine with me, but a LAN is generally not a drinking-centered event, so you can get away with not supplying alcohol. It impairs gaming performance, anyways. Also, as the host, you should not drink at all. You will probably end up driving people home at the end of the night. You might also have to put your foot down and insist on driving someone home so they don’t attempt to do so while intoxicated. I’ve had this happen a couple times, and it would have been impossible to handle, had I been drinking. You should provide food of some sort. A LAN is typically an all-night event, so it’s best to have something to eat there. I’ve found that frozen burritos are pretty good for this, since you can pop them in the oven during the LAN and have enough food to feed everyone there at very little cost. You also need juice or soda for everyone, along with cups for said juice or soda. Also, make sure you have something without meat, so that vegetarians can eat, too. This is true, even if none of your expected guests are vegetarians, as they may bring vegetarian friends.

You should avoid driving people to your LAN if it’s possible. You are going to be under enough pressure just getting the LAN set up and working. Try to get your car-owning guests to drive ride-needing guests to your LAN. If you must give rides, pick people up early so that you aren’t out getting people while other guests are trying to get in back at the house. Assume that each person you pick up is going to drag his or her feet for about fifteen minutes after you get there. If you don’t account for this, you will end up being behind schedule. It’s best to make this all someone else’s problem if you can. If you can get away with it, you should also have another guest there who knows your network so that you don’t have to fix every little problem during the LAN. With a larger group, those little problems can really stack up. You can also avoid some of them by testing all of your cables and having adequate hookups at each station.

Conclusions

The main thing I’ve learned by doing so many LANs is that you need to streamline as much as you can. Have the stations ready so that someone can hook up his or her monitor, keyboard, mouse, and computer, then be ready to go. Make sure that your network and the games you plan to play work completely on all of your computers before the LAN. Try to secure any furniture, switches, cables, or other stuff you need before the LAN starts. Try to avoid giving people rides to the LAN. If you must give rides, bring people over long before the LAN starts and assume that they will take 15-30 minutes to get ready AFTER you show up to pick them up.

One other piece of advice I’ll give is to ask people how you can improve your LAN for next time. They might come up with things that you didn’t think of.

further thoughts by Gwinthor on Console gaming

I have planned, hosted and been a part of a ton of console LANs, generally to play the Halo games, over the years. I can offer a few tips on hosting those types of LANs.

Another LAN Party1. The more TVs and Consoles you have, the better. If everyone has a TV to play on, and no one has to sit and play 1/4 screen on a 17″ tv, then everyone will be happier. This rule applies across the board to this generation LAN shooters. I know you can’t do this with the original Halo, you can only have 4 boxes hooked up.

2. Food and drinks are a must. Having pop, usually Mt. Dew, is necessary. Most gamers that I have met love the stuff, and drink it like crazy during games. Also, ordering Pizzas and collecting money from the guests is a great Idea too.

3. Basements are best for LANs. Finished basements, which are free of clutter are the best. Set up a bunch of tables and folding chairs, and it’s on. It’s also easiest to connect everything together when you are in a big open space, because all the TVs can be in the middle, and everyone else around the outside.

4. Extension cords and Power Strips are also very important. Every console and TV will need a spot to plug in, so you will need at least that many open outlets. That’s why Power Strips are the best.

5. Having multiple routers, and backup routers is important. I have had problems before, like the router doesn’t work, or that port on it doesn’t work, so we need a new one. It sucks when you have hardware problems, and can’t fix them. Then you have to find an alternative. That’s why having extra routers is important.

6. Count spaces and Controllers when you invite people. I’ve been to LANs with one extra person, and it sucks for that guy, because they don’t get to play as much. My dumbass friend brought his girlfriend, and expected her to play, and it ousted someone else for several games. That sucks. So know your guest list, and stick to it. Also, have everyone bring all the controllers they have. If you are a controller short or something, that sucks too.

That’s it, I hope this helps my console gamer friends out there.

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