Tips to improve online gaming performance

Say Goodbye to Lag (Hopefully)

The constant barrage of gunshots and the sounds of exploding flash bangs and grenades are suddenly punctuated by a long pause of silence, and you find yourself isolated from your team mates and deep in enemy territory. Quickly and instinctively, you seek refuge in a room. Suddenly, the sounds of footsteps are all too clear to you as you lay prone in the room. Gun in hand, you quickly position yourself to face the door as you wait for your enemy to enter. You begin to aim down the gun's sight, and you wait...

And sure enough, an enemy soon peeks into the room to check. "Easy kill," you think to yourself as you squeeze the trigger. After all, you have all the advantage. And yet, inexplicably and perhaps much to your horror, instead of adding yet another kill to your name, you die.

The above scenario should be no stranger to anyone who has played first person shooter games online. And it is deeply, deeply frustrating when it happens. Here are some tips that can hopefully help enhance your online gaming experience, but first it is important to understand what and why lag occurs.

Why am I lagging?

To understand why lag occurs in online gaming, it is first necessary to talk about latency. Latency is measured by ping times and this refers to the time required for you to send a signal to the game server and for the game server to send a reply back. This time varies based on a number of factors, but arguably the most important is the geographical location of the server. Remember that the internet is really a network made up of millions of computers and each computer serves as a node, which can receive and pass data. The further away the server is, the more nodes the data will have to travel; hence, a higher ping time and therefore higher latency.

On top of latency, the game itself also affects how much lag you will experience. This is due to the way the game engine works, but more on this later. In a nutshell, lag can be understood as the sum of your latency (ping time) and system speed. The cure for this lag? Reduce ping times and ensure that your system runs fast.

And here are some ways you can try.

1) Use a wired connection

As we have mentioned in our newbie's guide to networking, a wired connection is almost guaranteed to be quicker than a wireless one, even if you are using the new Wireless-AC standard, as Wi-Fi is usually subjected to a lot of interference. But don't get us wrong: we aren't saying don't do gaming over a wireless connection. For the most part, the additional latency is minimal, and many people (i.e., non-hardcore gamers) are fine with that. But that's also assuming a properly configured wireless connection and strong signal strength. In other words, to get rid of the uncertainties (or when you need to troubleshoot what's causing the flaky Wi-Fi), plugging it in always helps.

2) Close all programs connected to the Internet

Your Internet bandwidth is a finite resource and if you were to run multiple programs that require Internet access at the same time, performance will degrade. You might have experienced this if you tried to download multiple files at once - download speeds will invariably suffer. Likewise, it is highly advisable to close other all unwanted programs that may be connected to the Internet to preserve your bandwidth. You can check what programme is using up your bandwidth by using the Task Manager on Windows PCs and the Activity Monitor on Macs.

Protip: Many a time, the applications sucking up bandwidth are your programs that are automatically downloading updates in the background. Turn them off!

3) Minimize the number of users

Ever tried using Wi-Fi at a cafe only to find that it is excruciatingly slow? That's because there are too many people logged on and using it at the same time. Hence, building on the earlier point, it is also important to reduce the number of users on your network. You can check who is using your network by accessing your router's setup page on your browser. If someone is streaming HD video or using the same network to download large files, performance will inevitably suffer, so get them off your network (for the time being, at least). If this is not possible (e.g., wife demands to watch Korean dramas online), you can alleviate the situation by using QoS (see next tip).

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