Without the right broadband package, online gaming can be slow or find yourself unable to take advantage of the masses of features that games consoles and PCs provide. We take a look at why your broadband is so important, reveal some technical specs to consider, and list some of the packages we think are best for gamers.
Gaming and the internet have become intertwined like never before. Every day millions of players across the world compete online via games consoles, tablets, smart phones, handheld consoles and others. New technology now delivers entire games to screens via the web, Facebook too has led to an explosion in the popularity of social gaming. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
What do I need broadband for?
These days, broadband touches nearly every part of gaming. Without a reasonably fast connection, you'll miss out on many of the amazing experiences that games consoles and PCs offer. For example:
There are few gaming experiences as thrilling, satisfying and downright fun as playing with others online. Although you don't technically need a particularly fast connection for most games, the faster the speed - the better the experience will be.
Single player gaming
Even single-player games benefit from a web connection. Developers are constantly tinkering with their games, fixing bugs and other issues that come to light after a game has released. These fixes are known as patches, and are typically downloaded automatically if you're online. Sometimes a patch is a few MB, but sometimes they can be hundreds so speed matters.
Increasing numbers of people are downloading their games digitally, rather than buy boxed copies from a shop. With big budget high profile releases coming in at at least 8GB, you'll need a reasonably fast connection if you don't expect to be waiting around a lot. And it's not just the big releases that are going digital - far from it. Many smaller games now release download only via services like Xbox Live Arcade, the Playstation Network and Steam.
Downloadable content (DLC)
Games consoles are about more than games - they've essentially become entertainment hubs. You can watch catch-up TV services like BBC iPlayer and 4OD, download and stream movies via NetFlix and LoveFilm, listen to music via services like Spotify, browse the web, use social media and so much more. All these require a decent internet connection, and without one, you're only scratching the surface of what your machine can do.
Getting the most out of your PC or console's extra
Many games get extra downloadable content after release (or in some cases, even before release). From extra multiplayer maps, to fully-featured expansion packs, these can greatly enhance the game you're playing.
What broadband package do I need to for gaming?
You don't need a particularly fast broadband connection to play games online - 4Mb is enough most titles - but you do need decent speeds to ensure you can take advantage of all that the modern gaming scene offers, from downloading titles, to instantly streaming HD movies.
So for the best gaming experience, we recommend that the provider you're choosing offers:
- Unlimited downloads or a high download allowance
- Fast download speeds
- Fast upload speeds
- A reliable connection
- Low latency and pings
The best providers for online gaming
It's not absolutely necessary, but to get the most out of a broadband connection, a fibre optic package is your safest bet. These offer superfast speeds - as much as 100Mb in some cases - meaning you'll be able to download content quickly, and run games online without problems.
Many providers, including Virgin Media (www.Virginmedia.com), BT Infinity (www.BT.com), and TalkTalk (www.Talktalk.co.uk) offer fibre packages, and they may be cheaper than you expect, as fierce competition in the market is driving down prices.
If a fibre optic package is out of reach, or unavailable in your area, you still have plenty of options. Some providers offer gamer-specific broadband packages, or ones that can be 'personalised' to suit your needs, such as Plusnet Broadband's (www.Plus.net) Pro package, which optimises gaming traffic, reduces latency allowing for quicker ping times - making for smoother gaming.
Sky (www.Sky.com) is the only provider that offers truly unlimited broadband, through its 'Unlimited tariff'. That means you can download games and extra downloadable content, and play as you like, without worrying about things like fair usage policies. In addition, Sky doesn't do any traffic management, which means its speeds of up to 14Mb will never be artificially lowered, even during peak times.
BE Broadband (www.BeThere.co.uk) also allows users to optimise their line for gaming, speed, reliability, or general web surfing. BE's Unlimited and Pro packages are good for gamers as they've been designed for heavy internet users. Both packages offer up to 16Mb broadband, with upload speeds of up to 1.1Mb and unlimited downloads. There's a fair usage policy, but it's pretty generous.
O2 Broadband (www.O2.co.uk), which owns BE Broadband, is also a great option for gamers. It offers download speeds of up to 16Mb broadband and uploads at up to 2Mb on The Works package, giving you an even better gaming experience.
Best broadband for gaming
Monthly cost: £23.00 1st year cost: £276.00
|speed up to 16 Mb|
|Eve & wknd calls inc.|
Is it really worth paying for unlimited broadband?
If you're planning to play a lot of online games, then choosing a provider that offers unlimited broadband is a sensible idea, allowing you to play games, download content, watch TV and movies, listen to music and more, without having to worry about the data you're eating up. It's also worth bearing in mind that if you share a household, you have to factor in the online activity of the other users in the house too.
Bear in mind though that most unlimited packages come with a fair usage policy. This means that your provider may restrict the speed of your connection or cap your downloads if it believes you are using their service excessively.
Can I play games online through mobile broadband?
Most mobile phone operators sell mobile broadband dongles that you can plug into a computer to create a Wi-Fi hotspot. Alternatively, some handsets, such as the iPhone, can also be used to establish a wireless network through 3G.
Which raises the question: can you use mobile broadband to play games like Call of Duty: Black Ops II online? Yes you can. But, then again, you can toast a muffin in the bath or poke a grizzly bear in the eye - just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.
On the surface, mobile 3G internet connections seem like they should be capable of managing online gaming. But players of fast-paced shooters like the Call of Duty are likely to experience some latency issues - lag in other words.
When playing with most home broadband connections, modern games disguise latency very well. They'll adapt and adjust to give the impression of a seamless experience. But with mobile broadband, the issues tend to be more pronounced, potentially breaking the game. There are few things in Call of Duty as frustrating as unloading bullet after bullet into an enemy with no discernable effect - it's what it must feel like to be the bad guy in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.
With 4G, the problem is likely to be less pronounced. Even so, mobile broadband plans often have tighter usage limits than home broadband too. Play for a while, and you'll hit your limit quite soon, and probably face additional charges.