There’s no disputing the fact that online gaming is a great deal of fun.
It’s also big business nowadays, whether you’re participating in it yourself or simply watching other people take part.
The latter is the astonishingly popular phenomenon of esports, where social media platforms like Twitch broadcast live gameplay, match highlights and competitive tournaments.
The global games market is expected to be worth almost $160 billion in 2020, representing almost a ten per cent increase on last year.
Lockdown has driven people online in huge numbers, while the ready availability of smartphone titles means gaming no longer requires a high-end PC or a games console.
Yet amid all the livestreamed Dota 2 competitions and evenings spent trying to beat your mates at FIFA, it’s important to recognise there are several key drawbacks of online gaming.
Each can be overcome to an extent, as we explain below, but moderation is often the key to maximising enjoyment of this burgeoning form of home entertainment.
Limited bandwidth can hobble online gaming, potentially preventing you from accessing a game environment, let alone competing equally with other people.
However, while home broadband connections are often restricted by the infrastructure outside your home, there are things you can do indoors to free up bandwidth.
Disconnect non-essential web-enabled devices like Hive heating hubs and Alexa smart speakers, which are constantly sending and receiving information.
Unplug smart TVs and set top boxes at the mains. They could draw down several megabytes of data per second even on standby, and reconnect wirelessly if an Ethernet cable is removed.
If you’re performing a time-limited action like a live competition, ask other family members not to simultaneously engage in bandwidth-intensive activities like watching Netflix.
Defined as the delay between an action being instructed and a response being received, latency is among the biggest drawbacks of online gaming.
It’s been demonstrated that latency of more than 45 milliseconds can deter people from persisting with gameplay, though some titles function despite latency of up to 120ms.
If you’re playing a first-person shooter or an online quest game (like Guild Wars or Asheron’s Call), latency of just 30ms may lead to glitches and hiccups in the gameplay.
There’s not much you can do to domestic hardware to minimise latency, though you should always connect to domestic game servers rather than international ones.
Ensure your hardware meets the minimum system requirements, and hardwire machines into your broadband router rather than connecting via WiFi.
Many online games have adopted a freemium model. Titles are free to install and play, but upgrades and assistance have to be paid for.
This can quickly escalate, with four-figure debts being incurred by people determined to complete a game by any means necessary.
This is particularly troublesome with so-called loot boxes, which are effectively a lucky dip. There’s no guarantee of a prize, and rates of return are depressingly low in many cases.
You can restrict spending for children’s accounts, set limits on in-game purchases with some titles, and ensure receipts are sent to a shared email account.
The issue of cost also leads one of the less widely discussed drawbacks of online gaming – its addictive nature…
The phrase ‘too much of a good thing’ could have been coined for computer games, which often start out enjoyable yet become frustrating as you endlessly pursue completion or perfection.
It’s easy to lose track of time when immersed in a fantasy world, while returning to mundane reality could feel depressing and even anxiety-inducing.
Set a limit on how many hours a day you’ll spend gaming, and do the same for kids. Some broadband accounts can disable access on specific machines for certain periods of the day.
Try to schedule regular timeouts, giving your eyes a chance to refocus and avoid headaches or eye strain. Go outside, make a cuppa, check your phone…anything to take a break.
And to borrow an oft-used catchphrase from the gambling industry – when the fun stops, stop.