Over the last ten years, we’ve seen online gaming go from a feature in some PC games to the standard for most games across all platforms. Not only are games requiring more information to be sent to and from your computer or console and the host server, but voice chat and recently video chat are becoming more common as well.
And of course, most of us have other family members who might be using the internet at the same time for downloads or watching high definition movies. So now more than ever, a good, high speed connection is important to having an enjoyable online gaming experience.
When it comes to online gaming, there are two main factors to look at: network speed and latency. Speed is simply the rate of data per second that can be transferred between two points. This is determined by your internet service provider (ISP) and the quality of your connection. Latency (also called ping among most gamers) is the time it takes for data to make a round trip between two points. Latency is affected by both speed and your distance from the host server. The lower the latency, the better.
Although most games send and receive little data, if someone on their laptop is downloading something while another person is watching a movie on Netflix and you’re playing the latest Call of Duty, you’ll probably notice a decrease in game performance unless you have a high speed connection. In addition, if you need to download a big update or even a full game from a digital marketplace, a high speed connection can be the difference between waiting two hours and waiting ten minutes.
Latency’s importance depends entirely on the type of game you’re playing. Playing a turn-based strategy game like Sid Meier’s Civilization V? You won’t require a fast connection or a low latency. However, if you’re blasting people online in the latest shooter, where reaction time is critical, severe lag from a high latency can ruin an otherwise fun gaming session. Lag caused by high latency leads to delays between inputs and what you see on the screen and in some cases rubber banding or warping can occur. Tip: If you’re in a lobby looking for servers, sort by latency and pick one of the lowest ones. Ideally you want a latency under 100 ms, but some people find it acceptable to play with a latency as high as 150 ms.
Finally, you need to consider what else you’ll be doing with your connection. Some gamers like to stream video of themselves while they’re playing. Because upload speeds are capped at a much slower rate than download speeds, you can easily affect your game’s performance. If you’re looking for a high speed internet plan and you intend to stream yourself playing a game, you’ll need to consider both download and upload speed.