Online multiplayer has been evolving since the days of PC gaming with consoles slowly adding online functionality. Now the three consoles out there all have online communities that have thousands of players battling it out online. Whether it is in a first person shooter, a third person shooter, a puzzle game or a trivia game to name a few genres, the online has been getting larger and larger. With games giving the option to keep playing once the story is finished and it is a great way to add many hours to games that are short in comparison to some of the games that we are used to. Even though each game is different and has different game modes, there is one thing all these games have in common that can take a great game and cause the player to want to throw their controller through the TV, and that is the dreaded LAG.
In the world of gaming this is the word used to describe the delay between the player’s movement and the response to the server. Often times many games and users will not experience sever lag, but when it does occur it can ruin an entire gaming session. In shooting games this could be the difference between staying alive and dying every 30 seconds. The worst part is a lot of this does not have to do with the player but the Internet provider they are with, though there are users who will lag on purpose to gain an advantage. In games where speed matters, a person with a batter connection will usually win out over a person with more skill, it may not seem like much but 50ms (milliseconds) of delay can be the difference between a good score and a lot of profanity.
Some examples of lag are people jumping from one location to another on your screen as you try to shoot them. You are moving around with nothing around you and then BAM!, you are dead from nowhere, and you couldn’t even see the person until it was too late. In games like Gears of War 2, there are still no servers (they are in testing for Gears3 but officially there are no dedicated servers) and the player who is chosen as a host has a significant advantage over everyone in the game, to the point where they are very difficult to hit and their hits always register. This can make a game almost unplayable for some because all the effort put into the match seems wasted to just be killed. Assassins Creed Brotherhood is another game where lag can totally ruin a gaming experience. Since all combat is close range, having people appear out of nowhere does not allow the player to defend themselves properly and it makes items almost useless. One great item is the smoke bomb in Brotherhood but with a little lag on the receiving player’s end and the smoke bomb has no effect. With games that don’t have players directly competing against each other the lag issue isn’t as bad but does get in the way, especially for everyone that isn’t lagging, in the form of indefinite waiting once the timer has expired. The worst culprit has to be fighting games. Where moves have to be executed on a split second basis to gain the advantage even a few moments of lag can cripple the best fighters and make a great match somewhat disappointing. There is nothing worse than inputting a command for a difficult well timed move just to have no response from the game and giving up the advantage.
We all have had lag experience when playing online without a doubt. There is no way to escape the technical limitations of our Internet service providers. All we can really do is put down the controller, take a few deep breaths and decide whether the frustration is worth it or should you move onto the single player aspect of the game. Cursing at the TV will definitely not make the lag any better and often times there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. The only surefire online lag free experience would be to have a LAN game however many games don’t have this option and it’s not easy to get a game like that going because it requires multiple TVs and consoles in one location. So when you have a great lag free game enjoy it because you never know when the next game you are in will be a lag-fest for all or if one person lagging will ruin it for everyone.
This is from a 2009 PC gaming study. Things are better now, but there is much to be done.