The UK is a nation of gamers and today we’ve moved far from the tired cliché of the lone teenage boy locked away in his bedroom. Everyone’s at it – old and young, male and female. So when choosing a broadband provider our gaming needs might well be a significant deciding factor.
The UK is the fifth largest market for video games. Approximately 32.4 million people in the UK play games and last year we spent a record £5.11 billion on the habit. We also spend £117 million on games-related merchandise – amounting to one of our most significant industries and pastimes.
A gamer needs to consider a number of factors when shopping for broadband.
Online multiplayer gaming
Whether as a social activity meeting up with friends or competing against strangers from around the world, online gaming is huge, and outlay does not have to be expensive. For instance experts agree that speed is not as crucial as it would seem. More important they say are the issues of low latency levels, packet loss or jitters.
Ofcom tested all major providers for latency levels and found they are generally the same coming in at 20 milliseconds. But Ofcom found Sky and Virgin have levels coming in at 15 milliseconds, significantly below the average.
With Packet loss, where some data may not reach its destination there are more variables between the providers. BT generally comes top with a low packet loss of just 0.05%. Virgin records the highest but at just 0.2% it is minimal.
Virgin has a superfast option with its VIVID bundles offering excellent graphics, which on the face of it, seems the go-to for gamers but for better overall performance BT and Sky offer good all-round deals.
Maintaining a digital library
As technology advances games are getting bigger and bigger. This means that massive patches and downloadable content is becoming commonplace. If you want to download quickly then speed is a priority.
Both Virgin and BT offer the best deals when it comes to speed. A file download of 10GB would take up to three hours on the quickest standard broadband line, compared to just 20 minutes on 67Mbps and astonishingly, just five minutes with Virgin’s fastest 350Mbps.
Remember you are unlikely to ever really get the advertised speeds but faster performances will make a difference. You’ll also need an unlimited package for all those downloads and most services offer uncapped data as standard. But it is worth checking the details.
Live-streaming on Twitch
Many gamers harbour ambitions to get into the lucrative market of live streaming. There are now superstar gamers who are watched by millions of viewers and in the process making some serious money.
If you are an aspiring streamer you need excellent uploading speeds. The faster the better if you don’t want to suffer stream stuttering or finding yourself struggling when speeds inevitably dip. The basic requirement for a stable 1080p broadcast requires an upload speed of 6Mbps, so to give yourself some leeway it is best to come in higher than that.
Most entry-level fibre packages offer upload speeds of 9-10Mbps. This should meet the bare minimum you required for streaming. But the top-end fibre packages offer upload speeds of 20Mbps making these the best for budding streamers.
With Openreach upload speeds are pretty uniform, so there is not a lot to choose between the various top-end options. All the major providers offer upload speeds that comfortably offer the necessary bandwidth for streaming with plenty of room to spare.
But, be aware Virgin upload-to-download speed ratio is significantly lower than other providers. Which means you’ll need to commit to their most expensive package to get upload speeds of 76Mbps.
Best general online broadband performance
Crucial to a good gamer is the quality of your router but gamers that look to use their own hardware might not be able to do so with some providers. While regarded as one of the best for wireless performance, BT’s Smart Hub has had some problems with gaming devices, especially the Xbox One.
Broadband providers each have compatible hardware for new users, but not all existing routers will be compatible with all services, so do a little research beforehand.
Equally crucial is reliability. Losing connections is not only frustrating but in the online gaming world a disconnection would be punished. Sky offers the best when it came to avoiding interruptions and disconnections, with Plusnet and Virgin the worst.
Every individual case will be different, based on factors such as the quality of your line and the distance from your local cabinet.
Basically, it is almost impossible to conclude which is the best for you and your gaming needs so do a little research if you’re after something specific.
A quick mention of smartphones
Gaming on mobiles has come a long way since the days of Snake. Today’s phones are full-blown gaming consoles with specs good enough to handle the likes of Grand Theft Auto.
If you are a serious mobile gamer, you’ll need a powerful processor that runs games smoothly. A good sized clear display, enough storage space and a decent battery life.
Good speakers are essential for that immersive feeling and even some clever apps to help improve performance are all vital when choosing the phone for you. Most models offer these but do a little research to find exactly what you want.
Across the board with strong performances in most of the fields you’ll need both BT and Sky came out as the best overall providers for general gaming. If it is quick access to content is vital, then Virgin’s faster speeds will get you to your games faster than any of the other providers. But Virgin for most other factors is the weakest of all the providers.