If you like to build up an army and march on your opponent in force, many strategy games for the PC are now playable over the Internet. Rather than controlling just one character, as you do in most shooters and RPGs, strategy games give you an entire empire to attend to, and hopefully, expand. Real-time games like Warcraft 3 and Age of Empires 3 seem to be multiplayer favorites, but there are also a few turn-based games, such as Civilization 4, that can be played online.
Recent titles in this genre feature 3D graphics and require a decent PC to run properly. A mouse and keyboard are the prefered controllers. Once you have the game, Internet play is usually available at no extra charge.
Strategy games are rarely designed for more than 12 simultaneous players, although competition ladders and ranking systems are quite common. For a match with only 2-4 players it is still possible to get reasonable performance with a dial-up connection.
Finding other people to play with gets easier with every generation of games released. Game companies now frequently integrate free online services for this purpose into their products. Once registered with the service, you will be able to find players of similar skill level, set up a password protected game with friends, as well as participate in ladders, rankings, and tournaments. One of the most highly praised services of this kind is Blizzard's Battle.net, where games in the Warcraft strategy series are played online.
Occasionally you will still come across games that require you to enter the IP address of the person you want to play with. They usually show you your IP address in the game interface, so it's not that painful. If you need to know what your IP address is, our Networking site has all the details.
There are many sports simulation games that have online capabilities. Multiplayer football and racing games are extremely popular on consoles, but there are also plenty of PC titles to choose from. Madden Football, FIFA Soccer, Need for Speed, and Project Gotham Racing (an Xbox exclusive) are just a few of the sports games that let you compete head-to-head over the Net.
Note that the prefered controller for sports games is a gamepad, and many of these games are designed with gamepads in mind. While PC versions do offer keyboard and mouse controls, they can make playing a little awkward. Of course, you can buy a gamepad for your PC. Steering wheel controllers for racing games are also available for both PCs and consoles.
Naturally, team sports games like football and hockey are usually designed for two players. There are exceptions to this, and racing games often allow a few more people into the action. Setting up games and finding other players is handled in ways similar to strategy games. This varies slightly depending of the game and the platform, so in some cases you may need to read the instructions provided.
Fantasy Sports Leagues
The Internet has spurned a great deal of interest in fantasy sports. To play you need to create an account, draft a team, and change your weekly lineup. Your team competes with teams built by other players. Scoring is done automatically and is based on the real-life performance of the athletes you drafted. For more detailed information on how fantasy football works, Fantasy Football 101 is a great place to start.