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February 14, 2018
Online gaming is an industry that brings in billions (with a b) of dollars a year. Many professional gamers make their living on virtual comradery and split second decisions. Literally.
While latency isn’t so crucial for many average users, it still plays a crucial role in seamless gameplay. For those sniping through crosshairs in MW, or ranking every player to Elite in Smash Ultimate, a poor ping has put its fair share of us on tilt.
Most everyone else is simply wondering, “What is latency?”
What is Ping Latency?
Latency, commonly referred to as ping, refers to the total amount of time that it takes your gaming device to send data to the game server, and then receive back on your device. We measure latency in milliseconds (ms).
So if your ping is 100ms, then it takes 100 milliseconds from the time you pushed a button for the console to receive that info, and the display to respond accordingly. More simply, 100 milliseconds from input to action.
What’s a Good Ping in Gaming, and Impact?
In the worst of cases, low ping can cause servers to short circuit, resulting in lag. Too much lag, and you make other players online angry. Make enough people angry, and you get booted from the server or game. Plus a lower latency just equates to smoother, better gameplay. Reduce lag, and you reduce load times, improving the overall gaming performance, and ultimately, gaming experience.
If the ping is around 1000ms or higher, characters start glitching, or disappearing altogether. Certain servers overcompensate by averaging out all ping rates. This gives high ping rates advantages over the lower ones. Low rates buffer and lag until they’ve caught up with higher ones. This is the easiest and most frustrating “hack” most online gamers encounter.
How to Improve Latency
First off–internet speed isn’t the only factor with latency. You can have incredible upload and download speeds, and still face horrendous ping.
First things first. Run a Speed Test.
Some games show live ping rates (some call it a trip time), but for those that don’t run a speed test just to see where your internet falls.
Is 17 ms latency good? Is 150 ms latency good? Is 2 ms latency good?
20ms or less is actually an excellent latency! This is what diehard, hair-trigger, gamers are looking for. A rate from 20 to 100 ms seems to be acceptable latency for gaming, and really won’t affect everyday online play. Anything 100-150 ms is workable, but probably noticeable. If your game lagged in the past (online or private server alike), it’s probably because you were operating over 150 ms. Anything over 150 ms is going to be noticeably frustrating.
Once you have your results, you need to rule out Internet Service Provider (ISP) issues.
Most console manufacturers recommend 3Mbps or higher for the best experience. If your modem or router has a 5G compatibility option, use that to connect. Greater bandwidth transfers more data seamlessly. If your modem or router seems to be the problem, try resetting it and see if that fixes any lag.
Wireless routers and devices may be fine for day to day browsing and streaming, but they might not stand up to the constant bandwidth online games require.
One of the simplest and most effective fixes is a wired connection from your console into your modem or router via ethernet.
Make sure you’re connected to the 5G option (if available) and then, again, reset the modem or router. If none of that works, then in this case, your internet speed might be failing you. Contact your provider’s customer service to find out if you’re having signal troubles or if this is a widespread issue in your area at the moment.
Is the Game Server Slow?
Sometimes, game servers just run slow. Overcrowding, poor server structure, or multiple lag players could all contribute to a gimpy server.
Check in with other players to see if they’re having the same problems or check a community chat forum (most games have them). Most company’s are quick to information on downed servers, and most players are even quicker to report.
Server location can also increase ping (e.g. if you are playing in the United States but the server is located in Australia). If you’ve vetted your ISP and game servers, and you still can’t reduce game latency, double check your game’s system specs (especially the graphics card). Unfortunately, in some cases, your console may just be out of date; anything from the WiFi receiver to the RAM capability might be overloaded. There’s not much to do unless you want to take it into your local tech store.
Following these steps should help you understand how to fix high latency, or at least point you in the right direction if you can’t fix it yourself. Get out there, game on, and good luck!
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Paul Williams brings a wide range of experiences to his writing. He worked extensively in technology, as a software engineer, technical writer, and now a technology writer. Known as the leader of one of the top American Spacerock bands, his forward-looking music continues to be heard all over the world.