If you play games online, you're probably familiar with the frustration of lag and connection problems:You'll line up that perfect headshot in a match of Call of Duty and pull the trigger, only to see your opponent walk away unharmed. Or you'll be speeding toward the finish line in a close race of Forza, neck in neck with other cars, when suddenly the gameplay starts stuttering and next thing you know, your vehicle is wrecked in a crash you couldnt even see.
These kinds of problems, caused by a slow or interrupted Internet connection, can ruin a gaming session, especially for more competitive players who pride themselves on maintaining good stats like their win-to-loss ratio. Its impossible to avoid the occasional connection issue altogether, as random glitches will pop up every so often, but persistent trouble may be a sign of a problem you can fix.
Heres a guide for what to look for when a slow Internet connection is affecting your Playstation or Xbox gaming, and what you might be able to do to get things working again:
What Determines A Good Gaming Connection Vs. A Bad Gaming Connection?Determing whether a connection is good or bad can often come down to semantics, but there are a few things that might signal a need to change your Internet service:
Download/Upload SpeedWhen youre shopping around for a new Internet service provider, the features most prominently advertised are usually the speed of downloads and uploads. This refers to how quickly data can be sent to and from your computer or console over the Internet. Depending on the plans offered by ISPs in your region, you could see download speeds ranging from 2-3 Mbits/second on cheaper plans, and up to about 100 Mbits/second for high-end contracts in some areas. Faster is always better, of course, but online gameplay isnt as dependent on sending large amounts data between other consoles or servers, so download and upload speeds arent as important to gaming as you might think.It will, however, affect how quickly you can play new games if you like to download digital copies of your games through Xbox Live Marketplace or the Playstation Store.
LatencyLatency, response time, ormost commonly in gaming communitiesping, all refer to the time it takes for one computer or console to send a message to another computer, and to receive a response back. For playing over the Internet, this is the most important factor in determining how smooth your connection will be. Online gameplay doesnt require large downloads in the middle of gamesyour system runs your copy of the game, while other players run their own copies independently, and the only thing being sent between consoles are small data packets that communicate the changes caused by player actions, matching things up for everyone in the game. Your ping is usually measured in the number of milliseconds it takes to send and receive responses with game servers or other players consoles, so a low ping, like 15-20ms, is ideal for most games. In console games, a players ping is often displayed with a series of reception strength bars rather than the numerical measurement. A fast connection can help ensure a smooth game, but often its how geographically close other players or game servers are that determines ping, since it still takes time for data to physically travel long distances over different networks.
Dedicated Servers Vs. Peer-to-Peer ConnectionsIn online gaming, you will generally encounter two different methods that games use to connect you with other players: dedicated servers and peer-to-peer connections. As mentioned above, online gameplay involves multiple players each running their own instances of a game, and sending to each console data about the changes happening in each instance to create one simultaneous game session. In some cases, a game will make use of a separate computer server running its own instance of the game that is used as the authoritative source of events in a multiplayer match; each players console sends information about their actions to the server, which then handles processing the data and sending responses back to players about how the actions played out on the server. Most gamers view these dedicated game servers, provided either by game developers or a server rental service, as the best method for connecting online games, since they can take advantage of all the reliability and performance benefits provided by professional data centers. Dedicated servers are most common in PC gaming, but games like the Battlefield series makes use of them for its Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 versions. The alternative to dedicated servers, which are often costly to game companies, is a peer-to-peer connection. This type of connection, used by games like the Halo and Call of Duty series, uses no server, instead connecting players directly to other peers and making each console responsible for processing the raw data received from other consoles.Peer-to-peer can work well in games that dont require fast reaction times, like strategy games, but in faster paced action titles, any problem in the connection becomes much more noticeable. Peer-to-peer connections can also limit the number of players that can join a game, and often leave you at the mercy of a games matchmaking service, rather than allowing you to chose your own match.
Types of Connection ProblemsWhen each of these elements of your connection to other players works the way it should, playing online is easy, but when something goes wrong, it can cause major headaches. The most common problem you can run into is lag, which is the noticeable delay between the actions of a games players and the reaction of the server or the actions displayed on the screen. Sometimes the delay is small and not very impactful, but often the problem of a stuttering or freezing game screen can prevent you from playing altogether. For competitive players, where each shot, goal, or lap is the difference between victory and defeat, any delay is unacceptable. Other times you can be disconnected from a game altogether, which in addition to being frustrating can cause you to incur penalties for quitting early in some games if it happens too often. To begin to avoid such problems, it is important to understand what causes them in the first place.
What's Causing Your Bad Connection (And Hurting Your Gaming Experience)
Occasionally, connection problems can be caused by glitches or hardware problems that occur randomly when the stream of data between servers and players consoles is interrupted or slowed down, but most instances of lag or dropped connections are due to problems in the players internet connection itself.
1. Proximity (Ping) Problems
A players latency is determined by how long it takes to communicate with servers and other players consoles, which takes longer the further away each machine is from the other. Often times a high (slow) ping is caused by joining servers or playing with opponents that are physically located far away, thus increasing the distance and time the game data must travel. Joining a server thats far away might just get you kicked out of the session anyway, depending server rules limiting player with high ping. Sometimes the problem is caused by other players as well, since just one player with a high ping can cause lag for everyone else, even when playing on dedicated servers.
2. Improperly Configured Router
For most internet users, once the technician sets up the modem and wireless router, they never touch the hardware or its settings again. For online gaming, ignoring the chance to tweak the way the router handles your web traffic could be holding you back from a smooth experience. Many routers, especially older models, block certain types of connections for security purposes, but this has the unintended consequences of keeping you from connecting to certain servers. If you do your gaming out of your universitys dorm, the network may be set up to block gaming connections as well.
3. Household Bandwidth Overused
Living with siblings or roommates that game as often as you? Maybe someone in your house is scheduling their Netflix marathons at suspiciously the same time you start to experience lag. Sometimes connection problems are just the simple result of too many people trying to use your home internet connection at once, taking up all the bandwidth. Maybe a schedule is what you need.
These common causes for slow connections can be frustrating and sometimes unavoidable, but there are some actions you can take to make things work more smoothly.
Solutions And Fixes For Slow Connections
Test Your ConnectionThe first step in solving your connection issues is to get an idea of just how fast your internet is performing. There are a few different resources for testing the speed of your connection, but one of the most popular is speedtest.net, a tool made by web analytics company Ookla that lets you know your download and upload speeds, as well as your ping in relation to different servers around the world (click around on the map to select different servers). Once you know what your connection is capable of, you can determine if there are problems with the settings on your router, or whether your ISP is delivering speeds close to what they advertised.
Configure Your RouterThere are a number of different methods to set up your router to properly handle online gaming connections for whichever console you use. The most common solution to connection problems is to set up port forwarding in your router menu. Youll have to consult the manual on how to access that feature for your particular brand of router, but once you get into the menu, you can follow instructions from bothMicrosoft and Sony to configure your settings for each console.
SEE ALSO: 5 Best Internet Routers 2014