Pirated Games: Playing Online Multiplayer?

Here’s everything about playing pirated games online in multiplayer:

In most cases, it will be difficult to play pirated games in any kind of online multiplayer system.

This is because most multiplayer systems require you to log in with a licensed account and play on a developer-run server.

Some games don’t, and in those cases, you often can play online with pirated software.

So if you want to learn all about the odds of playing pirated games online in multiplayer, then you’re in the right place.

Let’s jump right in!

Playing Pirated Games: Possible in Online Multiplayer?

What Are Pirated Games?

Excited Gamer Playing First-Person Shooter Online Video Game on His Powerful Personal Computer

Let me reiterate the short answer to the original question.

Sometimes you can play pirated games online in multiplayer, and sometimes you can’t.

It depends on several different factors, so in order to help you understand the intricacies, I’m going to explain everything thoroughly.

That starts with a bit of a definition of pirated games.

What constitutes a pirated game?

That’s any game that you can access without going through the official licensing mechanism.

That’s a bit technical, so let’s talk about what it means.

When a company makes a video game, they own the copyright to that game.

Because of that, they actually get to determine who is and is not allowed to play the game.

In the vast majority of cases, this ownership is used to require people to pay to play the game.

It’s pretty simple in concept, but the entire process revolves around the game license.

Basically, game designers get to pick how they regulate their own games.

They usually write up a formal license and user agreement, and you have to follow the rules in those two documents to be allowed to play the game.

So, if you try to play a game outside of those agreements, regardless of how or why, then we’re going to call that pirating.

This might not perfectly fit the legal definition of pirating, but that’s ok.

The real concern here is why you may or may not be able to play the game online and in multiplayer.

A Quick Disclaimer

Considering today’s topic, I want to take a moment to make a quick disclaimer.

I’m about to explain a lot of how pirating works and how it interacts with multiplayer gaming.

Nothing in this article is intended to support or promote acts of piracy.

In most cases, pirating software (including games) is illegal.

I don’t recommend the practice, and if you do pirate software, you are doing so at your own risk.

With that covered, let’s get back to learning.

How Does Online Multiplayer Work? (3 Ways)

Beautiful Professional Gamer Girl and Her Team Participate in eSports

Just because you’re playing a pirated game doesn’t mean that the software company is aware of it.

In fact, there are some cases where they don’t really care.

To understand when, where, and why some pirated games will work and others won’t, we have to get into how multiplayer connections actually function.

In general, there are three ways to play with other people in a multiplayer video game:

  • LAN
  • Direct internet connections
  • Via servers

By looking at these specific connection types, we can shed some light on how piracy will factor into the equation.

It’s also possible for online gaming to combine the different types of connections listed below, but to keep things simple, I’m going to focus on each connection method separately.

#1 LAN

Two young happy professional cyber sport gamers giving fist bump and celebrating success while participating in eSports tournament

The first type of connection is a direct connection that requires you to be more or less in the same building as the other players.

While a LAN connection is a specific thing, in the gaming world, this has been turned into a slang term that simply means you’re in the same physical room as the other people playing.

If you have ever watched a live, in-person gaming tournament, they’re doing LAN gaming.

You might have multiple computers directly connected to each other.

You could even have multiple people playing on a single console.

So, you can have LAN gaming that isn’t technically online.

The different computers might be networked to each other, but the communication doesn’t have to use the greater internet at all.

That’s an important point that you’ll see when we start discussing piracy in the context of LAN gaming.

#2 Direct Internet Connections

Streamer gamer playing at strategy game in broadcast browser

You can also have a direct internet connection.

If you have ever played multiplayer Minecraft without a server, you were using a direct internet connection.

This type of gaming is a lot less common than it used to be, but it still does exist.

Basically, this is like a LAN connection that runs over the internet, so you don’t have to be in the same room.

The reason it’s still similar to LAN is that you aren’t using any kind of matchmaking system to pick who you are going to play with.

You’re choosing the specific players yourself.

The important thing is that you can do direct connection gaming without running the game through a server.

That’s really key to this whole thing.

#3 Servers

Excited girl wearing headset playing online games

Servers are the most common and popular way to play online games.

Many game developers provide their own servers, and you connect to those servers in order to play with other people.

Just about every MMORPG ever uses this method.

In fact, if the game uses a matchmaking system to find other players to connect you with, then you’re playing via a server.

That said, servers come in two varieties.

There are developer-run or “official” servers.

Those are the ones that run matchmaking.

You can also have private servers.

Minecraft is the most famous example of this.

You can have your own Minecraft server where you pick game rules, custom features, and who is allowed to play on your server.

The distinction between these two kinds of servers matters a lot when it comes to pirated games.

Can You Play Pirated Games Online in Multiplayer? (4 Scenarios)

Focused Hispanic Female Gamer Plays RPG Video Game in Online Tournament

We’re ready.

Let’s look at how piracy works with each of these multiplayer systems.

#1 LAN

Successful young female gamer wearing headphones and raising her hands in victory

Even though LAN gaming is technically not online gaming, I want to include it for the sake of contrast.

In most cases, you actually can play multiplayer LAN games with pirated software.

It depends on how the software is pirated.

Basically, the pirated software has to be compatible with whatever your friends are using to play, and that’s usually the case.

The real key to LAN gaming is that it doesn’t really involve the developers.

You aren’t using their servers or resources to play the game.

Sure, you’re using their software, but assuming the piracy was competent, you have access to the software.

As long as you can connect to another person using the game, then there’s no problem.

The easiest way to think of this is if two people play multiplayer on the same device.

Even though the game is pirated, there’s no reason to think that you can’t play together.

This holds true over LAN connections.

However, this doesn’t hold true on hybrid connections.

I skipped over a lot of this to keep things simple, but if your LAN connection actually still uses servers to play (League of Legends custom games are a perfect example), then piracy typically won’t work.

#2 Direct Connection

Young man cyber sportsman in headphones looks at computer screen online stream tournament esports

In most cases, direct connections are going to play just like LAN connections.

Even though the networking mechanisms are different, as far as the game is concerned, it’s the same thing.

You aren’t connecting to any official servers, so you can play with anyone who has compatible software.

It’s pretty simple.

Once again, there’s an exception for hybrid connections.

As soon as developer servers get a chance to interact with your pirated game, they might notice that it’s not an officially licensed copy.

That’s always the risk.

#3 Independent Server

Teenage Boy Wearing Headset Gaming At Home Using Dual Computer Screens

Independent servers are a whole other animal.

I’m going to use Minecraft as an example because it’s so popular, but these concepts are generally true, regardless of the game you’re playing.

With Minecraft, you can set up your own server to play with friends, and you can do it in a few different ways.

You can use your computer as a server, in which case you have absolute control over how the server works.

You can also rent a server.

That’s where professional IT people run the server, but they give you connection codes so that you can access it and manage it the way you like.

You can go a step further and get cloud servers that are endorsed (and sometimes operated) by Microsoft. In this case, you’re still managing the server, but it’s run by the very company that owns Minecraft.

You might see how this plays out.

If you own the server, then you can set it up to allow pirated software to connect.

If the server is rented from a third party, they probably won’t have any software in place to detect piracy either.

But, if you rent your server from Microsoft, they might be inclined to try to stop piracy, in which case pirated copies won’t be able to play on those servers.

I want to emphasize that such rented servers are not the same things as “official” servers that are run directly by developers. 

#4 Official Server

Gamer with his head on hands, unable to play

Instead, developer servers are the ones with official matchmaking.

Now, not all multiplayer games need matchmaking.

If you’re playing an online RPG like Final Fantasy, WOW, New World, or any countless others, you’re still playing on developer servers, even if there is no matchmaking system.

Perpetually online games (as in there is no offline mode) usually fall into this category.

The point here is that there are games that you literally can’t play except on developer servers.

You don’t get to set up your own servers. There are no direct or LAN connections.

For those games, it’s very common for developers to include software that detects piracy.

If your copy is detected as pirated, you won’t be able to play.

Some pirated copies might get around that detection, but it’s not something you can rely on.

Your pirated copy might work for months or even years, but then an update happens, and you’re out of luck.

It’s hard to predict, but the point is that this is the case where pirated software is very unlikely to work, and these days, it’s the most common way to play online games.


  • Theresa McDonough

    Tech entrepreneur and founder of Tech Medic, who has become a prominent advocate for the Right to Repair movement. She has testified before the US Federal Trade Commission and been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, helping influence change within the tech industry.

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