Monday, April 18, 2016

How Latency is Harming the Future of Online Gaming

Today is my birthday. And it seems fitting that today we talk about latency and how it's killing online gaming. Because as one gets older, we get slower. Like our internet connections seem to be. Get it?

VentureBeat wrote up an in-depth article on how latency is turning gamers away. But it's not just gamers that are experiencing latency and lag. If you ever watch a video on YouTube, Netflix, or Hulu, download a file for work, or send an e-mail you have probably experienced some form of lag. In gaming terms, lag is the delay between the reactions of the player and what they see on screen with the server. It is typically caused by high latency, but can also be due to the processing power of the computer or the servers that are not able to keep up with the high work load. Latency is the time interval between the action and the response. The higher the latency, the longer it takes to respond.

All of this leads to a really bad time if you're on the internet and it's taking, what feels like forever, for a webpage to load. One of the easiest fixes is to upgrade your hardware. But we all know that's not a permanent solution. You can have a top of the line PC and still run into latency and lag. From the developers end, the cause can be lack of servers to keep up with the player demand, high player load on a server, players with slower PC's causing more energy to be used to process the game, low peering, or not distributing server load to multiple servers/vendors. It could also be the fault of your internet provider: some are notorious for throttling speeds even when you're paying top dollar for the best package available. Combined it spells trouble for online games that require user interaction to stay afloat. Even load times that take 2 seconds longer then their atypical set-up can cause an 87% abandon rate among users. You don't want users to abandon your game!

So the question is, how do we solve this problem? A lot of it is out of our hands, and we have to beg and plead with our ISP's to give us the speeds we are paying for. In the U.S. the highest speed available is 12.6. Which is pretty pitiful given how many other countries in Europe and Asia (including the Middle East) kick our butts on the speed, and price (in South Korea for 20mb/s you only pay an average of $30 a month). Until Google Fiber is everywhere (they seem to be the only ones to offer good speeds at a fair price), we're stuck. So it's up to the devs to save us! More servers, lower server caps; simple fixes that could mean the world to reducing latency for gamers. They cost extra money, but could retain tens of thousands of users who don't abandon the game due to low speed. The initial costs are worth it to retain an active player base.

Spend your lunch break reading the VentureBeat article. It doesn't provide all of the solutions, but it is a start and something devs need to be aware of as more game content moves online.

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