Understanding Lag's Impact On Gaming

by Sherry Hart

Online gaming has blossomed into a massive industry, allowing players from around the world to work together, fight each other or socialize via the Internet. In addition to the specific computer requirements needed to play games, online gaming requires a stable Internet connection to get the best play experience. If you computer meets the recommended specifications and you're still having performance issues, consider a few issues related to Internet capacity.

Lag: The Undying Enemy Of Online Gamers

Lag (measured by latency or delay in some games) is a term used to describe when a game slows down at a noticeable pace. The term is often mistakenly used for issues caused by poor computer performance, although both are problems that need immediate troubleshooting.

The main meaning behind lag is slow Internet response. When you play an online game, your computer is basically having a nearly real-time discussion with the game server. The example of a wizard in an online game can help describe the issue.

A player wants the wizard to cast a fireball. The player presses their fireball button, which begins the spell. As the button is pressed, a signal goes to the game server, which acknowledges that a fireball is being sent. A signal returns to the player, which includes information on who the fireball hits, how much it hit for and other changes in the game world. All of the in-game animations and graphics are handled by your computer, but the calculations all occur on the game server--what you see on the screen is basically an interactive movie driven by the server.

The exchange requires both major parts of a consumer Internet connection: the download and upload. A slow download is a lesser problem, as it means you won't be able to download the small information files from the game server. It's possible to have Internet so slow that it can't handle a server file package, but this often means that a modern Internet connection is nearly failing.

Upload is a more likely problem for gamers. The upload on many consumer Internet plans is usually slower than the download speed due to the equipment and business practices of many American Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Network issues are more likely to affect the commands leaving your computer and uploading to the game server.

What Can You Do About Lag Issues?

Troubleshooting for lag issues needs to begin at your computer before contacting the Internet Service Provider. As you look for a cause, ask yourself a few questions.

  • Are you downloading something? If you're downloading a file, you could be taking up a lot of the Internet connection. Although downloading doesn't affect the upload, you could be using your entire Internet capacity, which can stop or slow down all Internet activities--including online gaming. Other people downloading with their own devices can be a download problem.
  • Are you streaming? Streaming is downloading as well, but not all Internet users are familiar with what happens during streaming. Streaming is a download alternative that allows you to watch a video or listen to music as it downloads instead of waiting for the entire video to download. 
  • Is there a virus? Some viruses can download new infecting files and upload vital information from your computer, which can affect your Internet capacity. Run an anti-virus program or ask your ISP for help.

If your computer isn't using up too many resources, there could be issues with your modem or router. The modem brings the Internet into your home and converts it into a signal that your computer can understand, while the router distributes Internet signal to different devices. They can suffer physical damage, so you may need an ISP's help to fix it or get a replacement.

If you're having issues with your current ISP or plan on moving to your own household, contact an Internet Service Provider such as Solarus to discuss connection plans that are safe for gamers.