Game Lag? Check Your Speed or Wreck Your Lead

Topping the charts in online console gaming takes dedication, focus, skill — and a great connection. Even the best players can get tripped up by game lag and find themselves precious seconds behind the competition: whether it’s a first-person shooter (FPS), real-time strategy (RTS), or endgame MMO content, lag is a killer. So how do you stay ahead of the pack? Start by checking your connection.


Good Advice

Console game developer Activision offers several pieces of advice when it comes to maximizing network performance. First, make sure you’re using a wired rather than wireless connection. While WiFi networks are great for light video streaming or a quick gaming session, their inherent variability makes them a less-than-optimal choice for blazing fast performance. In addition, make sure you’re not running bandwidth-heavy applications alongside a game; using a PC to stream HD video while you try to achieve multiplayer victory can slow your ascent to a crawl.

You can also go deeper and modify router settings as needed. For example, make sure Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) is turned on. This allows devices on your home network to intelligently discover each other and helps correctly route data to your console. If this isn’t successful, find your gaming console in router settings and use “port forwarding” to assign the correct UDP ports. Popular FPS game Call of Duty, for example, uses port 3074. Forwarding traffic from this port directly to your console can help decrease lag.

Faster, Faster

If the tips above don’t lower your game lag, the speed of your connection may be to blame. Start with a speed test from a free online service. These tests give you a ballpark idea of your “ping,” which is the time it takes to communicate with your Internet service provider’s (ISP’s) web server. Ping is measured in milliseconds: the lower the number, the better.

For console gaming, you want a ping under 100, ideally under 50 and — if you can manage it — under 25 milliseconds. Too high a ping means a large delay between what you do and when that action is registered by the game server, putting you out of the running for top spot. Speed tests will also give an average download speed in megabits per second (Mbps). Some companies now offer speeds up to 50 or even 100 Mbps, but you can usually get away with speeds between 5 and 10 Mbps as long as the game server isn’t trying to push through large files while you’re playing. If you’re downloading movies or other games while playing, however, you may max out the bandwidth of your connection and experience lag.

Bottom line: If you’ve got high ping and low bandwidth, you may need to upgrade your Internet connection. A bigger “pipe” to your ISP’s web server means less time between when you press a button and when the results are displayed on screen, and a better chance that you’ll top the leader boards.