Latency: A Story That Almost Made Me Give Up Online Gaming

Here is a tale that almost kept me from playing games online ever again.

You have absolutely no idea how many times I used to see that screen. 

"You've been kicked from the game."

"[Insert name here] disconnected you from the server."

"You were kicked from the lobby."

The list goes on.

Many of you are probably wondering why I am writing about something that is so common with online gaming. But, I'm going to say this right out.

I think it is absolutely wrong to kick players from a game based upon latency alone. Pinging is the worst thing that games can allow players to do online.

Odd opinion, huh? I mean, nobody wants lag in their games, especially while playing online, right? Well, I'm going to tell you all a little story that shines some light on to why I think this way. And maybe, just maybe, it can change your view about latency and online-gaming, even just a little.

Alone in the Woods

In a previous article about depression and gaming addiction, I described about my move from California to the middle of Appalachia in North Carolina. So you can understand a little bit more about my seemingly strange opinion about latency, let me to expand a little bit more about growing up in the Boonies. 

In the area where I lived (and where my family still currently lives) did not have Internet access for the longest time. Eventually, around 2004, we were able to gain Internet access through DirecTV through their service called DirecWay via satellite (which eventually became the Devil itself: HughesNet). This was the first time I was able to use speeds that weren't dial-up. You have no idea how excited I was. And, one of the first things I was planning to do was to play games online for the first time.

There was game in particular that I had set my sights on: Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. When my cousin lived in the house at the time, I used to watch him play Warcraft III all the time. I was rather envious (because he would never let me play it, only watch). When I learned that you could play against other people online, I was ecstatic. I was going to play Warcraft III online no matter what. When my cousin moved out, he gave me the game and its Frozen Throne expansion because he didn't want them anymore. I about lost it. I was so happy. 

Now, with our new Internet access, I immediately jumped onto Battle.net to play the game that I had always wanted to play. 

However, things did not turn out how I expected. This was because I saw this screen more than often than any other:

I either saw this or a similar screen (saying "You were kicked from the game." or "You were disconnected. Return to menu." I was shocked. I was not able to play this awesome game in the way I wanted to. I was so confused. But then, I began to pay attention to why this happened to me all the time. And I was pissed when I understood it all.

Get Out Of Our Lobby

Besides having to deal with the maddening policies of DirecWay (later Hughesnet), the reason why I wasn't able to hardly play Warcraft III online was because of two reasons: latency and "pinging". To give a quick lesson, latency is basically the time interval between a stimulation and response. In terms of the Internet, it is basically the time it takes for your computer to download the data you are streaming and your computer's upload response to that downloading. The lower your latency, the quicker your computer is responding, thus making you able to keep up with the data being streamed. The higher your latency, the slower your computer is responding, making your computer run slower and have horrible react times to the stimuli in an online gaming experience. The bad thing about a high latency is that it doesn't just affect you, it affects everyone with horrible lag.

Now that I have said that, you are probably wondering why I think it's bad to kick players from a an online game if they have a high latency. And it's because you have no idea why an individual has a high latency. They could have a bad computer, less-than-optimal hardware, or, if they are like me, they are stuck in a crappy geographic location for Internet access.

But what complicates this situation is "pinging".

What is "pinging" you ask? "Pinging" is a process where an individual can use from their computer to send a signal to another computer to see if it is actually working. For online gaming, "pinging" is used to test another player's latency to see if it is high or low. Many games, such as Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, will already go ahead and list the latency by a player's name without having to have pinging involved. But, back in the early days, many games with online capabilities had a ping program built into them.

Looking at this screenshot as an example, whoever is the host can use the ping program to test the latency of the other players in the lobby. If someone has a high one, they would kick them out.

I hated this so much. I mean, it wasn't my fault that I lived in the area I did. My latency levels were never off-the-charts bad. However, I came to realize that many players had a "baseline" level of latency that they found acceptable before starting a game. Those that don't meet or surpass that baseline were kicked. 

In my case, there was one player in particular whose username I will never forget on battle.net that, whenever they saw my name, they automatically kicked me from a game (that is public might I add.) I had and still have no idea who the person is in real life. But, on battle.net, they saw my name and they straight kicked me based upon my latency. I literally almost entirely stopped playing games online from that point on because I knew that I was going to be kicked no matter what.

And that's where the problem lies. I felt that few players had way too much power in determining who plays a game or not. Of course, this isn't an issue on a private server or private game. But when you make a game that is open to the public, before you just straight kick someone out of a game, I believe that you should at least ask "Hey, why is your latency high?" For all you know, a collection of clouds may have passed over their house, affecting the signal from their satellite dish to the satellite. Or, their Internet may have a temporary hiccup. It's just wrong to kick players out just because they don't meet your acceptable range of latency.  

Luckily, things changed for me and I eventually got better Internet access. Now, I live in a different city and have pretty darn good access.

While testing for latency has changed with more games testing ping automatically, I still think that automatic kicking is a problem.

I personally believe that you ask a simple question about why their latency is high and see what happens shortly after. Their latency could pick up. You don't know. The other players don't know. The moderators don't know. Even the Internet doesn't know.

Maybe one of you can explain to me why this happens, or whether straight up kicking people out of games is really acceptable. Just because someone has a different living situation or something temporary happens does not mean that it's good for online-gaming to exclude these people. Reacting with something along the lines of "Get out! I wanna play mai gamez NOW!!!" isn't helpful. It doesn't fix the situation, nor does it solve much for the individual who is having online woes. We, as gamers, should be inclusive, helpful, and understanding. 

What do you guys think? Has this happened to you? Are you a big time "pinger"? Let me know in a comment! I definitely would like to learn more about this and I'm sure others do too!

Published Apr. 18th 2016
View Comments
  • Seth Zulinski
    I think there's an issue here where we're conflating it (the high latency) not being your fault with it not being a problem, and that's not fair.

    I get it - not everybody has great internet. Some out in the Boonies are still on connections you could barely *call* internet. That's not their fault - they can't MAKE Comcast or Verizon or Google or whoever your resident internet overlord is come out and give them a connection that can compete. They're not to blame, and it sucks. And I understand completely.

    But if we're playing, say, League, or SMITE, or any teambased game it's still an issue for the rest of us. It isn't your fault that you can't play competitively, but it still changes the game for the rest of us - and it changes it for the worse.

    Now in more free for all titles like WC3 FFA maps, the story is a little different - but still, waiting every 30 seconds while I watch you countdown to the D/C vote isn't exactly 100% fulfilling gameplay. Our collective experience is diminished here.

    I don't kick, really - it isn't a huge deal to me. I can wait the few seconds while you catch back up, I can deal with a little bit of rubberbanding (as long as I'm not an active opponent of yours, anyway). It doesn't bother me overmuch. But I can absolutely see how it IS bothersome, and how someone could come down on the side of just not dealing with it.

    It 100% isn't your fault that your connection isn't great in most cases, if you have high latency - usually you're just a victim of circumstance there. You don't need to be punished for it. But it isn't OUR fault, as the other players in your game, and we shouldn't be punished either.

    I don't advocate kicking, since I at least like to tell myself I'm community driven - but it's reasonable, or at least defensible, in many cases.
  • Moiz Khan
    @Rothalack, been there done that :P
    I have been through that phase too but this generation has ping boosting and gaming vpn apps that help reduce lag and high ping. I am using Kill Ping (http://www.killping.com) and consistently playing on significantly reduced ping.
  • Rothalack
    Master O' Bugs
    For my first year or two of playing WoW, I was on DirectTV satellite internet. Good god was it horrible, 2000-5000ms ping at all times. I was young and naive and just assumed I was terrible at the game. Around 2006 or so, we moved into town and were able to get broadband. Going from 2k+ms to 50ms ping overnight made me feel like a god. Suddenly I was good. I'll never forget that.

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