This has probably happened to you before. You are playing a first-person shooter (FPS) but you find yourself losing terribly because you are a few milliseconds behind everyone else. You might be a great FPS player, but there’s no way you can overcome that monstrous lag time. Your opponents will shoot you before you even see them on your screen.
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According to App Annie’s report published in VentureBeat, playing online game apps will increase 270% by 2020. However, these games are becoming increasingly sophisticated, no longer depending merely on the device's processor. They require fast network connections and quick response times. The more power developers bring to these games, the higher the internet requirements that users need from their operators.
Latency, also known as ping, is a big source of problems for gamers, but slow upload and download speeds can also harm your gaming experience. As a gamer, you need to understand how they can affect gameplay, especially if you are playing competitively. One of the cool features of OpenSignal's latest testing app, Meteor, is that it allows you to test your apps before you use them. This way you always know what you can and can’t play with your current internet connection.
I decided to compare 4 different game apps (Clash Royale, Critical Ops, Mobile Legends and Super Mario Run) each one of them with different internet requirements. To do the tests, I used network tools to restrict download and upload speeds as well as latency at different levels so I could see how they affected gameplay. For every test, I played each game as I would normally do on a real phone, and rated how good the experience was.
- Poor - Weak, lagging experience. Pretty much unplayable.
- OK - Playable with limitations.
- Very Good - Almost flawless experience with occasional connection problems.
- Awesome - It doesn't get better than this.
Now let's take a look at the results, starting with my download tests:
Download Speed Comparison
I set the lower end of our download speed scale at 100 Kbps, which is more than twice the minimum to send a message on WhatsApp, while the upper end was 2 Mbps, which produces a seamless streaming experience from YouTube at 720p resolution.
Critical Ops is the game that requires the fastest download speed, followed by Mobile Legends, because these two games are the ones where users see the richest graphics. As I scaled back speeds to 1 Mbps and 500 Kbps, both games got slower and slower, with both games’ graphics losing fluidity. Regarding Critical Ops, with less than 200 Kbps there was already a lot of lag and the main character got literally “pulled back” in the graphics.
When comparing Mobile Legends to Clash Royale, the two MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) type games, it was easy to see that the speed requirements were much higher for Mobile Legends due to Clash Royale’s more limited graphics. Clash Royale was also faster to load as the arena was smaller. So if your network connection is slow and you want to play one of the two MOBA games, your best bet is Clash Royale.
On the lower side of speed requirements there was Super Mario Run, Nintendo's first real mobile game. It had almost no problems running optimally except when I dropped speeds to 100 kbps and even then the only the problem I experienced was longer loading times.
Upload Speed Comparison
For upload speed, I set the lower end of the scale at 50 Kbps, which is more or less the minimum to send a message on Facebook Messenger, while I set the upper end at 2 Mbps, speeds more than adequate to upload a video to Snapchat.
All four of the games analyzed had lower upload requirements than download requirements. The game that demanded the highest upload speed was Mobile Legends, which makes sense, as the game uploaded a lot more information to the server compared to the others. Outputs like movement, special tricks, chat and acquiring tools all had to be transmitted across the network, so any constriction in upload speed had a direct effect on gameplay.
Critical Ops also has high upload requirements, and although it affected the game, it didn't have a huge impact on play -- at least not as much impact as low download speed or high latency.
On the other hand, both Clash Royale and Super Mario ran smoothly with very low upload speeds, even while in online multiplayer mode. For Super Mario Run, upload speeds were never a problem in any of our four test categories. Only when I dropped speeds below 20Kbps did I encounter any issue. When the upstream connection was that low the game kept notifying me to change my location and look for a better connection, but it never blocked access to the game.
The last category, latency, is critical to online gaming because it determines how quickly data is sent across a network. Games that depend on quick communication between server and device need to have low lag times to function properly. I set the higher end of the latency scale at 800 milliseconds (ms), which is more or less the maximum required to have a clan chat on Clash Royale, and the lower end at 20ms, which is more or less what is required to produce a seamless streaming experience from Twitch.
Latency affects all the games we tested except for Super Mario Run. It was still running with ping times over 900ms probably due to the simplicity of the gameplay: you only need one finger to tap or hold the screen to make Mario jump. Also, even with higher latency, it was possible to do some online racing with other players.
Clash Royale’s latency requirements also weren't that demanding. With a latency below 800ms the game was running either with minor loading times or with a few delays while battling, mainly due to the gaming arena not being very complex in terms of interaction. That makes Clash Royale an ideal game to play when you have low internet speed and high levels of latency.
Latency was the single most important factor that affected my performance when using Critical Ops because it is a first-person shooter game and interaction speed matters more than anything else. Although the game doesn't look too bad at a higher latency level, when I raised ping higher than 200ms, I found myself at a clear disadvantage, unable to keep up with my competitors.
There are different types of games for every type of connection. As a lot of the processing happens on servers, the more interactive is the game the bigger the requirements are. While we tested four common games using Meteor, you're certainly not limited to those four titles. If you want to guarantee a good gaming we encourage you to pre-test internet beforehand.
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