Ping, Spikes, Packet Loss and Your Game Connection

wtfast Connection Meter Origin

When we first launched wtfast in December 2009, World of Warcraft (WOW) was the big game, and we had a lot of our customers using wtfast to play WOW with a better connection.  The impact to the game connection was pretty dramatic.  At the time, we had a 20 minute trial, so gamers could use wtfast, and then log into WOW to immediately see the impact on their game connection with the in-game WOW connection meter.  This worked to get us off the ground, but we soon realized that depending on game companies to show our value proposition would not be reliable. 

The challenge with in-game ping meters is that at best they show a snapshot of your game connection.  The only way to truly judge the connection is to keep an eye on the in-game ping meter all the time while you are in the game.  If you are doing this, you are not really playing a game anymore!

We decided that we needed to develop our own connection meter, that not only shows the current in-game ping, but also your historical connection stats, including spikes, packet loss and connection smoothness.  We filed for a patent (now granted), and we created the world's first connection meter that shows connection quality stats to a target over an overlay network (our GPN). 

Can You FEEL the Difference?

One of the key drivers for getting the connection meter done is that we had many gamers who would use wtfast, and see a small improvement to their in-game ping.  Gamers were appreciative of this, but they said that they could "feel" a much bigger difference.  It's really hard to drive a business based on feelings, so we made sure to learn more.

Going back to the in-game ping meters - all they show is a snapshot ping score.  Either it is an actual snapshot, or it is an average over some time.  Imagine driving a car and seeing that you are going 30 kph in a school zone.  That is your speed at that moment in time, but it is going to change when you get on the highway or reach a stop sign.  Your speed changes a lot as you drive across town; both a snapshot and an average speed tell you very little about how the trip through town actually went.  We made it our mission with our connection meter to be able to show gamers exactly how their trip "though town" went while they were playing their favorite game.  Instead of just feeling the difference, with our connection meter, gamers can actually see the difference. 

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Hey!  Stop Bumping my Mousing Elbow!

This section goes over what should be important to gamers when they play online games.

Ping (your average or real-time connection speed):  Every gamer knows what ping is.  For the most part, this is all that the majority of gamers know about.  This is the round trip time it takes for your computer to communicate with the game server.  Ping is pretty easy to understand, the lower the ping, the better.  As described above, your ping is only a snap shot of your connection.  While low ping is good to have, a connection with few ping spikes and packet loss is arguably more important for online gaming.  This is especially true for twitch games that require fast reaction times and lots of stick and move. 

Ping Spikes (elbow bumps):  Imagine playing your favorite online game, and you are making a clutch move.  Your little brother tugs your shirt, distracts you, and you miss.  This is a little ping spike (maybe 50ms to 100ms).  Next your brother is playing with a basketball; he bounces it across the room, hits your mousing elbow, and knocks you right off your mouse!  One of your teammates die while you quickly re-attach your hand to your trusty mouse.  This is a big ping spike (maybe 500ms).  Ping spikes are your enemy, you want your game connection to be as smooth as possible.

Jitter / Flux (annoying to catastrophic):  As described above, the size of ping spikes are a big factor.  If there are a bunch of little ping spikes, it might be something you can live with.  If you are seeing frequent, massive ping spikes, this is going to make it really hard for you to play.  Historically we have called this stat Flux (a new term), but we are considering giving this stat a new name.  (stay tuned)  Flux measures the average size of ping spikes that you see on your connection.  Jitter in comparison typically looks at the change in ping as an average over time.  The challenge with jitter is that because it is an average, it will hide or minimize large ping spikes.  Ping spikes are important to gamers, they shouldn't be hidden or minimized.

Packet Loss (like it never happened):  Packet loss is the worst enemy of gamers.  The impact of lots of packet loss is even worse than ping spikes.  If you are losing lots of packets, it is like what you told the game to do never actually happened, and you have to tell the game to do the same move again.  If packet loss is severe enough, you can lose your connection to the game completely and your team will be really upset when that happens! 

Game Connection Summary

If you want to make sure to kick ass in your favorite game, getting your ping as low as possible is important.  Just as important, if not more important, is having a smooth connection.  You want a connection with very few ping spikes and very little packet loss.  Having a smooth connection is key to ensure that you can make those clutch moves and not let your teammates down!

Fortunately wtfast offers our connection stats tool for free to keep an eye on the health of your game connection and make sure that your connection is both fast and smooth.  You don't have to pay us to use the free stats tool; just run wtfast in "Stats only" mode and you are good to go.  If you notice lots of problems with your connection, we are here to help with our Gamers Private Network (GPN), if you need it. 

https://www.wtfast.com/

 

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