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Next-Generation Broadband & Multiplayer Myths
By: MarkJ - 04 December, 2007 (2:05 PM)

Just to correct the BBC and a few other mainstream media outlets, online multiplayer gaming is unlikely to be one of the driving forces behind the push for next generation broadband networks. Certainly the medium could benefit from higher and more stable ‘upload’ speeds (not download) but it wouldn’t have that much of an impact.

Instead, online games are more dependant upon the latency (response time) of a connection and not how much extra data can be shovelled down the broadband pipe at any one time. To this end online games are designed to move as little information around as possible, minimising the time it takes to update a client and reflect that change on the users screen.

This is why a rock solid but truly ancient 128Kbps ISDN connection is still just as good for multiplayer as a more modern ‘up to’ 8Mbps broadband connection. ISDN may not have the raw speed but its network is very stable, often making multiplayer more reliable than the broadband connections of some modern ISP’s.

None of this is to say that a fibre connection wouldn’t bring some benefits but there are limits to the degree of expected improvement. Even some bog standard LAN (Local Area Network) games can report latency of 5 to 20ms (millisecond response time) while a good broadband ISP may give you 30 to 60ms to most UK servers.

Typically and not unlike the difference between 60Hz and 75hz on an LCD monitor, past a certain point you’re unlikely to notice any visual difference in play. Generally speaking a well coded game engine should feel smooth from 70 to 80ms or lower, while anything over 100ms may be problematic – game dependant.

Ultimately gamers are just as likely to suffer from ISP side congestion problems and service restrictions under next-gen broadband services as they do with existing technology. For gamers, having a fat pipe isn’t as important as having a stable and un-congested ISP that offers lower latency.

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