Poor network performance when playing mobile games is experienced in a number of ways. To bring this to life, we've created two animations (taken from Opensignal's State of Mobile Games Experience at the Start of the 5G Era report), which show two of the most common visual artefacts gamers see when playing multiplayer games under poor network conditions. With both animations, the bottom panel is an example of a gaming experience without any network issues, while the panel above shows what happens when network performance is impaired.
In the above, the top player appears to have stopped moving, likely because the game server is missing too many data packets. By contrast, the lower player is moving as that player intends.
In this second animation, the top player appears to jump around — likely because too many data packets are arriving significantly out of order or the latency of the connection is poor, or perhaps a combination of both issues to a lesser extent but which together still cause problems. In the bottom animation here, the player is moving smoothly side to side.
To create Opensignal’s unique new mobile Games Experience measure, we use a range of technical characteristics as inputs into our model which characterizes the exact relationship between the various real-world technical measurements and users’ perceived gaming experience. Our inputs include the following, among other network characteristics:
- Packet loss is, in essence, the proportion of data packets that never reach their destination. In a game, in effect this means the player’s actions may never take effect, or that the state of the game stops being communicated back to the player. This hurts a player’s ability to enjoy a game, as well as making it harder to win. Where a game detects small amounts of packet loss, a game may even temporarily take control from the player, without notifying players, to keep the game flowing. Of course, this makes winning harder! For larger amounts of packet loss, this is impossible.
- Latency, which is a measure of the responsiveness of the network connection. For real-time multiplayer gaming, latency needs to be low, and consistently low. Even a few brief seconds of poor latency can cause a player to miss a shot and ruin a game. For mobile Games Experience, Opensignal has focused on measures of User Datagram Protocol (UDP) latency rather than Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), as UDP is the preferred protocol for time-sensitive applications such as mobile gaming. Historically, latencies on mobile networks have been significantly poorer than on fixed broadband connections or on Wifi, but 4G has significantly improved latency, and 5G will reduce latency even further, likely meaning there will be little difference between mobile network latency and other kinds of network in the near future.
- Jitter is a measure of the variability of the arrival time of data packets. All data packets take time to travel between locations — for example between a player and the game server — but often the amount of delay varies between packets. This variability is jitter. In an extreme situation, if some packets have too much delay, the system will have given up by the time they arrive as they are too late to be useful. Higher jitter levels are often a sign of network congestion, caused by routers struggling to pass on data packets.