The Importance of Latency in Online Gaming

When it comes to Internet speed and online gaming, latency is a term that frequently gets thrown around.

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Photo Courtesy Mark Bonica, Flickr.

What is latency in online video games? Latency, measured as ping, refers to the average total time that it takes your gaming device to send data to the game server, and back to your device. Latency is measured in milliseconds (ms) so if your ping is 100ms then it takes 100 milliseconds for your computer to respond to a request from the game server.

Why is Latency Relevant to Gameplay?

Low latency or ping is desirable to achieve smoother gameplay and a user experience without lagging. If the ping is around 1000ms or higher, it’s definitely going to result in players suddenly appearing or disappearing and overall gameplay running incredibly slow. Additionally, games where timing is crucial, like FPS and racing games, suffer a greatly diminished experience with high latency. In short, time lags from high latency make gaming far less enjoyable.

How to Achieve Low Latency

Contrary to popular belief, a fast and responsive Internet connection with fast upload and download speeds isn’t all there is to keeping latency low. You can have a pretty fast connection and even an incredibly fast custom PC designed especially for online gaming but still face horrendous ping values.

So first, you need to run a speed test. Some games will show your ping speed alongside other players but for those that don’t, you definitely need to run a speed test first. A ping value of 20ms or less means you have an excellent latency rate. A rate from 20 to 100ms will still equal enjoyable gameplay, but not give you maximum performance for games where timing is everything. A slower but still workable ping is 100-150ms but anything over 150ms is definitely going to result in a noticeable lag causing a lot of frustration.

Then you need to rule out ISP issues. You need a stable Internet connection above 2Mbps for the best performance in online gaming and a wired connection is imperative. Wireless routers and devices may be fine for routine Internet use but they don’t provide the stability that a perpetually-connected online game requires. If you’re connecting via wire and operating at 2Mbps or greater, first try resetting your modem or router and see if that fixes the lags. Failing that, contact your ISP 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, the game server runs slow. Check in with other players to see if they’re having the same problem regardless of connectivity to determine if the latency issues are being caused at the server level. Server location also increases ping (such as if you are playing in the United States but the server is located in Australia.)

After ruling out ISP and game server issues, you’ll want to make sure there’s nothing else running in the background and see if your computer specs (especially graphics cards) are up to par for the game’s system requirements.

Following these steps helps achieve superior ping rates.