Falling bandwidth prices and growing broadband penetration are the main drivers behind the rapid growth South Africa’s online gaming space is currently experiencing as gamers increasingly head online to prove their skills and share a social experience with others that share their passion.
That’s the word from Reinhard Rheeder-Kleist, games master and server administrator for Internet service provider (ISP), Web Africa. Rheeder-Kleist is also well known in the South African gaming community as one of the organisers of the Organised Chaos LAN.
He says that faster and cheaper connectivity are spurring widespread interest in what was once a niche hobby. Web Africa, which hosts local servers for most of the popular online games, has hundreds of customers online every night playing the latest Battlefield, Left 4 Dead and Call of Duty games as well as ever-popular classics such as Counter Strike.
Gamers can now choose from a wealth of Internet connectivity packages and options, thanks to more competition in the international cable and national infrastructure markets. The gamer’s first choice for connectivity should be an ADSL line, according to Rheeder-Kleist.
He adds that as popular as uncapped ADSL packages have become over the past few months, they are necessarily not ideal for competitive online gamers. The reason for this is that most uncapped offerings have high contention ratios – in other words, more users competing for a slice of bandwidth from the ISP – than most capped offerings.
In addition, many uncapped services are heavily shaped by the ISPs that offer them. That means certain services such as Web browsing and email are given priority over other networking protocols, such as those that transport gaming traffic.
Aggressive traffic shaping and high contention ratios could lead to lacklustre network performance for gamers during times of the day when the network is busy, says Rheeder-Kleist. Gamers that want to be competitive in ‘twitch’ games such as Call of Duty could be seriously disadvantaged by poor latencies on congested uncapped services.
Uncapped packages are ones that allow users to use as much ADSL data as they want to in a month, compared to capped packages that limit the amount of bandwidth they may use. Capped packages are more expensive, but do usually offer better performance.
"If the speed of your response time matters, as it does in first person shooters, you need a higher performance connection,” he adds. “If you’re concerned about the amount of bandwidth you might go through in a month of online gaming, you could take advantage of offers such as Web Africa’s FreeZone.”
Rheeder-Kleist says that gamers who want to compete on international servers should consider unshaped packages to ensure the lowest possible ping times. Many gaming pros have standard shaped or unshaped accounts for Web browsing and downloads and also buy some of the more expensive unshaped bandwidth for gaming online on international servers.