You might not be familiar with latency, but it’s an issue that affects gamers and developers alike. Defined as the delay in data transfer between a request being made and when a response is received, it’s an inevitable byproduct of the internet’s architecture. Data packets can only travel along fiber networks at a certain speed, while network congestion or server delays exacerbate any lag between response and receipt.
When loading a web page or sending an email, latency is barely perceptible. When playing Day of Infamy, it could make the difference between reaching those sandbags or being undeservedly shot. Even if a consumer device isn’t displaying action completely live, the network servers powering the action will be sending and receiving data in real time. As such, latency represents the death not just of a mission, but of online gaming in general. This is particularly the case with first-person shooters, where split-second accuracy is required to hit targets or achieve objectives.
While malware and even ambient weather could play a role, latency usually results from one or more of these issues:
1. Distance from the host server.
If you’re playing an FPS shooter on an overseas server, there will be a greater time delay between issuing a command and its acknowledgment, as data needs to travel a greater distance through extra online nodes.
2. Traffic loads.
Between streaming and gaming, web traffic is being distributed in unprecedented volumes. Peak periods lead to a heightened risk of packet loss, necessitating the resending of information.
3. Overloaded servers.
Host servers begin to stutter if they’re overwhelmed with data requests, affecting everyone’s gaming experience. In fairness, games developers try to minimize this by providing plenty of spare server capacity at any given time.
This inefficient method of data transfer suffers interference from other wireless devices on the GHz spectrum. Solid objects and distance from the router pose other challenges, while WiFi is prone to random dropouts.
5. End-user device issues.
From a lack of hard drive space to multiple running processes, an inefficient CPU or GPU may exacerbate latency issues. Older devices are particularly prone to this.
How to tackle the issue
Eliminating latency is practically impossible since data can’t travel faster than the speed of light. Even the best hosting solutions like algorithmically optimized data routes can only achieve so much, as will ensuring data centers have spare capacity for traffic spikes. After all, latency of 30 milliseconds or less shouldn’t have a significant impact on progression in Far Cry 5 or Overwatch.
To determine how severely latency is affecting the consumer gaming experience, conduct ping tests to see how long a test packet takes to complete a round-trip journey to the server. It might also be worth running an antivirus scan, just in case malware is commandeering network bandwidth as part of a botnet or self-replication programme. Also bear in mind that a sluggish internet connection will throttle any gaming experience – it’s always worth adopting the fastest line speeds or broadband provider in a particular area. Equally, games developers should publicize minimum connection speeds to prevent criticism from consumers.
Avoid wifi connections in favor of hardwiring devices to a broadband router, by using a Powerline adaptor if an Ethernet cable won’t stretch directly. Ensure Ethernet cables are Cat6, which throughput data far more quickly than older Cat5e wires. Minimize web traffic through the router while gaming, and look for tools which prioritize gaming content over lower priority traffic. Try to connect to the nearest gaming server, and be prepared to set graphics at a lower resolution – exchanging pixel-perfect displays for smoother gameplay.