The UK is a nation of gamers. According to the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE), we're the sixth-largest market in the world for video games, and more than 37 million people up and down the UK play games. From FIFA to Fortnite, more of the industry is shifting to online gaming, making having a fast, reliable broadband connection a must.
You might think that in order to get the best online gaming experience, simply signing up for the fastest service you can find will do the job. But speed isn't everything. In fact, most online gaming platforms actually have pretty low speed requirements for their services. For instance, Xbox Live recommends a minimum speed of just 3-4 Mbps to work effectively, which is something the vast majority of homes will be able to achieve.
To get the best performance, there are several other factors you need to think about when it comes to broadband for gaming. Here are five of the top factors to consider and why they matter.
Although — as noted above — outright speed isn't a major factor when you're actually playing games, this doesn't mean you should ignore it altogether, particularly if you're expecting to download games to your console or PC.
Some of the latest titles now reach sizes of 100GB or more, and if you're using Xbox Live's minimum recommended connection, it would take more than three days to complete this. By comparison, a 100 Mbps broadband connection can download a 100GB game in under two and a half hours.
An issue that is critically important for online gaming is latency. This refers to the length of time it takes a particular 'packet' of data to travel through the network, and it's not directly related to headline speeds. In gaming, it can often be considered as the delay between the player pressing a button and the effect actually happening.
In fast-paced games like shooters, a delay of even a few milliseconds can be the difference between winning and losing. Any noticeable lag created as a result of this can therefore be immensely frustrating, so the lower the latency a provider is able to offer, the better.
Low packet loss is another key element of good gaming performance. 'Packet loss' refers to data that gets lost when being transferred to or from a server and usually causes games to stutter or freeze briefly. Some packet loss is inevitable, even with the best broadband connection, but this can become a big problem at high levels, making even slower-paced games unplayable.
As is the case with latency, you'll want to look for a broadband service that offers as little packet loss as possible. A 2018 Ofcom report found that while most major broadband providers have packet loss rates of around 0.2 per cent, there was noticeable variation, with some providers performing much better than others.
Traffic management is a set of policies put in place by broadband providers to prioritise certain types of online activity at peak periods. This helps to ensure all users have a similar service and that connections are not slowed by one or two users hogging all the available network. As you can imagine, these policies can particularly affect online gaming, which is one of the heaviest users of networks.
When looking at traffic management policies, there are several factors to consider. Larger providers that have higher network capacity may be more likely to offer packages that promise no management of services, while some suppliers even offer deals that make gaming traffic a top priority to ensure a smoother experience.
In general, faster fibre connections are less likely to have traffic management policies, but it pays to check with your chosen provider before signing up to a contract.
Finally, gamers should keep an eye out for contention ratios. Contention ratio refers to the amount of people sharing your network resources at any given time. The more people using a provider, the slower the experience for everyone.
Ideally, you want a service with a low contention ratio. If you know, for instance, that the majority of people on your street use the same provider, this probably won't be good for your gaming.