Video games have been a forever-fun tradition from day one, offering countless titles for kids (and families) to lose themselves in for hours on end.
And Minecraft has certainly made its mark—since its initial PC (Java) release, it is now more available than ever, online and across different consoles including PS4, Nintendo Switch, and XBOX 360, and mobile devices. (Check out these mind-blowing stats about Minecraft.)
While even basic gameplay offers loads of entertainment - say, solo play with the vanilla version - this expansion, the power of modding, and an increasing number of options to play Minecraft with friends has certainly kicked things up a notch.
From simply playing with others under the same roof, to connecting with friends who live across the country and even internationally, there are a few different ways to enjoy the ever-popular sandbox adventure—and each multiplayer experience offers its own unique benefits.
Need a little bit more background information about the game before jumping in? Here are some handy Minecraft resources for parents that will help de-mystify the world of Ender Dragons and mods!
How to play Minecraft with friends
To play Minecraft with friends, kids can choose from setting up a LAN, creating a private Minecraft server, playing Minecraft Realms, or even just splitting the screen on their favorite console.
Minecraft Bedrock Edition
A quick note before jumping in: when looking into ways to play Minecraft with friends, it’s important to note that the Java and Bedrock editions of the game will offer different options. And though there is certainly overlap between the two, it’s helpful to know what your child is working with for accurate guidance!
On one hand, Minecraft Java edition is compatible with Mac, Linux, and PC, so it works for connecting with friends using computers. When it comes to making Minecraft mods, which requires Java, it’ll be no surprise that the Java edition is easier to use.
The Minecraft Bedrock version is console compatible, and it’s perfect if kids want to play using Nintendo products or Xboxes.
Both Bedrock and Java versions of the game offer ways to connect via realms and private servers (more on that later!)
So, should you use Bedrock or Java while playing Minecraft? The answer is : it depends! Part of the beauty of this game lies in the limitless ways it can be customized for different players’ preferences.
Please note these instructions are intended to be carried out by parents, and kids shouldn’t attempt to set up LANs or private servers without parental guidance and/or permission.
LAN stands for Local Area Network, and it’s a great option for playing Minecraft with friends when kids have company over and everyone is connected to the same WIFI.
To get going, you will need a host computer that is powerful enough to run the game while also acting as the server for others, which might be tough. If you have one though, the LAN option stands out as a relatively quick setup. There’s an added benefit of online safety—music to any parent’s ears, given that the game-player pool is limited to those connected to the home’s WIFI.
For instructions on how to play Minecraft on a LAN, check out these user-friendly guides:
- Tutorial for how to set up a LAN world
- How to play multiplayer Minecraft
- Troubleshooting Minecraft LAN game problems
Private Minecraft server
“Server” can be a scary word, especially when you have kids connecting to random public servers filled with strangers and unknowns.
By setting up your own private server, though, much of that risk is mitigated, as you’ll have a much better grasp on who is connecting with and playing in your child’s worlds.
With that said, we are still talking IP addresses, so these instructions are meant for parents who are assisting their kids with setup. In other words, kids shouldn’t be going about any of this without parental permission.
Why is that? Setting up and running an online server means that anyone with your external IP address will be able to join your server and play in your Minecraft world. Naturally, that’s something for adults to keep an eye on.
On that note, it’s also a good idea to keep a running list of who you and your kids are inviting to play on the server. Of course, the best way to ensure online play is as safe as possible is to only invite those you know and trust.
A good way to think about it is: would you invite these people into your home physically? Going through this type of thought process will help reduce surprises and uncertainties.
In terms of getting started, we won’t get too technical here, as we’ve already detailed a lot of what is needed to set up your own Minecraft server, but to summarize:
- Verify you have the latest version of Java
- Grab the server files from Mojang
- Create a batch file to run the server
- Agree to the EULA (End User License Agreement)
- Launch the server
- Join your server
- Forward your port
- Find your external IP address
- Connect others to the server
- Adjust settings in the server.properties file
This list of actions might look overwhelming to beginners; never fear! If you don’t have experience in this area, please do consult our more detailed instructions here.
If you would prefer to avoid this scenario altogether, we’ve got you covered as well.
Another option to consider is Minecraft Realms, which can be thought of as renting a Mojang server to allow for kids to play with their friends.
While similar to setting up your own server, Realms allows for a much easier and perhaps even safer experience. For instance, in terms of console setup, players simply need to create a world and then click the “create” Realms button to kick-off the straightforward process.
Then, in terms of safety, Realms has built-in protections. The only way for players to connect to a Realms world is via official invite, whereas with the server we described above, anyone with the IP address can jump in.
So, if kids truly just want to play with close friends, Realms is a great option.
These added benefits of Realms come at a cost, though; they require a monthly subscription of $7.99 for a max of 10 players per month (cheaper options are available for fewer players: more Realms overview here).
There will also be differences in terms of the gameplay experience. For instance, according to gamesradar.com, worlds in Realms live on and are accessible even when the creator is offline. That means anyone on the guest list can jump in and out at their will, which, on one hand, can be seen as a fun benefit.
But on the other hand, for those who want to play with mods and plugins, Realms doesn’t currently support the capability of doing so. (Additional content, texture packs, skins, and more can be found with Realms Plus, though.)
If you’re still uncertain about which option is best for your child, VentureBeat breaks down the question of Realms vs. server.
And here are a few additional resources to help!
Split screen console play
Now, do you need an internet connection to play Minecraft?
When playing Minecraft on the console, the split screen feature is a great way for kids to game together offline, without needing servers (or having to play for Realms).
This feature displays a view for up to four different players at a time, but the downside is, of course, players must play with only what’s available on consoles and need to share a single screen.
Actually, one more option
If you’re a follower of this blog, you know we are also big fans of the many educational benefits of Minecraft.
You might also know that we are experts at blending tech education with fun! This is precisely why we have a number of Minecraft summer camps and online courses available for kids and teens.