I wanted to write an article on this topic because so many people have a false understanding on the subject. I myself used to be one of the people who believed that not having a fast download and upload speed was ruining my gaming experience.
A good friend recently asked me if 10 Mbps upload speed was good for gaming and making video calls or using Discord for a two person household. This got me thinking whether I can find real data online for popular games to be able to give him a definitive answer.
It turns out, there is not much analysis where people actually measure the network utilization of a video game and that got me thinking…
So, in this article, I measure the network utilization while playing Call of Duty Warzone, a large AAA title. The results are surprising. Here’s what I found out.
Online video games require very low amounts of upload and download speeds. For example, playing Call of Duty Warzone for one hour used 182 Kbps upload speed and 506 Kbps download speed at their peak rates. The average utilization was 100 Kbps upload, and 225 Kbps download.
Actually, you do not need high download or upload speeds for gaming. The quality of gameplay is mainly affected by your latency or ping to the game’s servers as well as the quality of your internet connection.
What Is Upload Speed?
When you sign up with an internet provider you typically choose a plan based on the download speed, upload speed and monthly bandwidth. Upload speed refers to the maximum rate at which outbound data can travel from your devices.
By the way, a faster upload speed doesn’t necessarily mean that you can send 1 unit of data out faster. A better analogy is the flow of water in a pipe. Faster internet speed is like having a bigger pipe so that the rate of data transferred per second is higher, not that the data travels any faster. The actual speed of data transfer is a characteristic of the infrastructure itself such as what type of cables are being used by your internet service provider.
That means if you have 1Mbps upload speed or 100 Mbps upload speed, if you send out 100 Kb of data, it will reach the destination at the same time. What actually affects how long it takes to reach the destination is something called ‘latency’, something that we’ll come back to later in the article.
Just keep in mind that when I refer to a faster internet speed, it actually means a larger volume of data in the same amount of time, not the same amount of data in a smaller amount of time.
When Is My Upload Speed Used?
In the majority of use cases, you typically consume data from the internet. How fast you consume this data is limited by your download speed.
However there are many cases when you upload data to the internet as well. This can be any time you communicate with an external server or computer such as sending an email, playing video games, transferring files to online storage, participating in a voice or video call, sharing your desktop screen with others, etc.
Why Is My Upload Speed So Much Lower Than My Download Speed?
Most households consume much more data than they send out on the internet. I personally watch a lot of YouTube videos, Netflix, and Twitch streams as well as surf the internet looking at the news, purchasing items on amazon, etc.
Internet service providers are well aware of this and reflect this in their available plans. It also helps them save money in infrastructure costs.
As such, your upload speed will typically be a fraction of your download speed. An exception to this is optical fiber based internet, where the technology allow for equally high upload speeds as download speeds without much additional infrastructure.
Businesses generally have specialized plans with their service providers that include much higher upload speeds as their daily use involves a lot more outbound communication.
Case Study: Does Upload Speed Affect Gaming?
It’s actually very easy to monitor your inbound and outbound data rates on your computer. For windows, the Task Manager can show your network utilization in the Performance tab. You can further narrow the utilization down based on application using the Resource Manager.
I recorded my internet download and upload usage while playing a popular first person shooter game called Call Of Duty Modern Warfare. Specifically I played the game mode called “Warzone” which is a 200 person battle royal type game mode.
In this type of game, not having the proper amount of upload or download speed can be the difference between life and death. This case study will determine just how much upload and download speed are required to ensure no data packets are missed being received or sent out.
I Recorded Upload and Download Speed While Playing Call Of Duty Warzone For 1 Hour
Here is the typical upload and download speed usage for a 60 second window in my gaming session. As you can see the average upload speed is about 100 Kbps and download speed is 225 Kbps.
Yes, you heard me correctly, the speeds are in the kilobit per second range, that means they are both under 1 Mbps as there is 1000 Kbps in 1 Mbps.
Here is a 60 second window of where I found the peak usage in my gaming session.
The maximum or peak upload speed during the entire session was 182 Kbps. The peak download speed during the entire session was 506 Kbps. It is clear that playing the game does not use an absurd amount of resources and that you only need a small upload and download speed to be able to play.
The case study summarizes that the reason why many people experience ‘lag’ and bad network connection while playing is usually not related to upload or download speed at all. Most of us at home have more than 1 Mbps download and upload speeds. Call Of Duty Warzone is on the higher usage side as well being a real time shooter game.
The main reason why players experience lag and packet drop is not due to how fast their internet speed is, but how good the quality of their connection is. Things like latency come into effect here and we’ll address these later in the article.
Why Do Online Games Not Require Fast Internet Speeds?
Normally, online multiplayer video games are highly optimized for performance. Put simply, they only communicate the necessary information over the internet and they do this in an efficient way.
All the fancy graphics that you see on the screen are actually created using the actual hardware of your PC or console. For a first person shooter game, the only information that is sent out is information such as your location in the game, what action you are performing, your health information, etc. This information is relatively small and it doesn’t require a crazy fast upload speed.
Even when you play a game with 200 other people, your computer is not necessarily sending the data out 199 times to each other player in the game. Your data is being sent to some centralized server that takes care of propagating the information as needed.
Does Upload Speed Affect Streaming?
When it comes to streaming, upload speed is very important. The reason for this is that you are actually sharing every single pixel on your screen over the internet and this is much more data.
Furthermore, things like your display resolution and frame rate come into picture here because they effect how much data you need to send across. For example, sharing a 1080p screen will require less upload speed than sharing a 1440p screen. Moreover, sharing a 60 Hz screen will require less upload speed than sharing a 144 Hz screen.
This is because these things actually change the ‘volume’ of data you are trying to send in a specific length of time. If you try to send 10 Mb of data every second, but your upload speed is only 5 Mbps, half of your data is going to be delivered late or not delivered at all.
You may have noticed this when you try to watch a really high quality video on a slow download speed and the video starts to lag and buffer.
What Is A Good Upload Speed For Gaming?
Based on the data I have personally collected and applying an ample safety factor, I recommend an upload speed of 1 Mbps for one person for gaming. That is to say that if only one person uses the internet and only plays video games, 1 Mbps upload speed will be more than enough.
If you have multiple people in the house playing games at the same time, then increase the upload speed by 1 Mbps for each person.
Due to the high safety factor, you’ll most likely be fine even if you use voice chat while playing. However, if you are going to be sharing your screen or your webcam, you’d want a slightly higher upload speed.
I’ve got you covered in the next section.
What Is A Good Upload Speed For Streaming?
If you are streaming 1080p content on a platform like Twitch, the recommend upload speed is 5 Mbps. For higher resolutions the recommended speed should be higher.
PlayStation Share Play, which allows your friends to watch you play games on the PS4 or PS5, control your character, or play multiplayer modes with you requires a minimum upload speed of 2 Mbps. However, the recommended speed is 5 Mbps.
As mentioned before, if you will be doing other upload tasks while streaming, or if multiple people using the same internet will be streaming at the same time, you will need to increase the recommended amount appropriately.
Is Upload Speed Most Important For Gaming?
From the case study, we have found out that having a fast upload speed is not at all important for gaming. You only really need 1 Mbps upload speed if all you are doing is playing a game. This was definitely news to me and may be as well to some of you reading this.
Let’s also take a look at some other internet related things and whether they are important for playing video games online. If you are in the market for an internet plan and want to know what things to look out for for gaming, you need to read this section.
While games need higher download speeds than upload speeds, the amount required is fairly small compared to what most of us get from our ISPs. Needless to say, if you have about 2 Mbps download speed (for only gaming), you won’t be limited by it for the majority of games.
One important thing to consider is the time to download. While playing the game doesn’t use much download speed, actually downloading the game to install on your device does.
In this scenario, the more speed you through at it the faster you game will generally download (applies to downloading other things as well). A game like Call of Duty Warzone which is has a download size larger than 200 Gb will take more than a day on a 2 Mbps download speed.
Ok, this is the one. The biggest, baddest, #1 reason you experience lag, packet drop, and disconnects while gaming. If you have the recommended download and upload speeds and still feel like your internet is a potato while gaming, bad latency is most likely a culprit.
Latency measures the time it takes for data to be transferred from a source node to a destination node in milliseconds. Generally it is measured as a round trip time. So the latency from your computer to your game’s server will be the time it takes for data to travel to the server and then come back to your computer.
Many games have a setting that displays your latency while you play. This is often referred to as your ping which is used interchangeably with latency in games, although to ping generally refers to the act of measuring the latency to a node whereas latency is the actual measure value.
As your latency gets higher, you start to experience lag, packet loss and even disconnects from the game. Very good latency values are usually under 50ms while latencies under 100ms are generally playable.
What Factors Effect Latency
Latency is impacted by a few different factors including:
- The physical distance between you and the game’s server
- The number of internet devices your data passes through
- The type of connections your data passes through
The internet is a connection of nodes where a node can be a router, a network switch, or any internet capable device in your house including a PC or gaming console. Your gaming device is connected to the game’s server (two nodes in the internet) by a network of these nodes (nodes outside your household are typically routers only).
As you can imagine, if the path that your data takes through the network goes through a lot of routers, or through slow connections, or travels a very long distance, your latency will increase.
At the end of this article, I give you a list of way you can use to improve your latency and get a better gaming experience.
In internet plan lingo, bandwidth is the amount of data you can send and receive in a month. Many ISPs nowadays, have unlimited bandwidth plans and if you don’t want the headache of having to control your internet usage, I highly recommend you get one of these plans.
Generally, your gaming will not be affected by your bandwidth unless you exceed the quota. Sometimes when you exceed the quota your ISP will throttle you connection (explained later). In this scenario your gaming quality can get effected.
Other times, ISPs don’t throttle your usage, but charge you hefty amounts for how much extra you end up using. This may effect your ability to play the game altogether.
Reliability of the internet connection refers to whether your connection is live all the time or disconnects sporadically. This is one of the most important considerations when choosing an ISP. Not only will this effect your gaming session, but also your work as well.
Generally you want to get a plan from an ISP that has a stable and reliable internet connection in your area. It doesn’t do you much good if you lose your internet once a day or even once a week.
You’ll need to look at the internet service provider’s ratings and reviews for your area and may also need to ask your neighbors about their experiences.
Throttling is common for some mobile data plans as well as internet plans when the user exceeds the bandwidth quota allocated to them. When you are being throttled, the ISP significantly reduces your download and upload speeds often times to the point where your internet is basically unusable.
How Can I Improve My Upload Speed?
- Do a speed test to make sure you are getting the upload speed you are paying for. Make sure other people using the internet are not uploading anything while you do this to get the most accurate results. Contact you internet service provider for troubleshooting steps if you are getting significantly lower speeds.
- If you are getting the amount you paid for and it’s not enough, you need to upgrade your internet plan to get more upload speed by contacting your internet service provider.
How Can I Improve My Latency?
- Use a wired connection to your router – while your wireless connection may support a fast download speed, it most certainly will not give you as fast a ping as a wired connection, which will be more reliable anyways.
- Choose the closest server in game – games have many servers to accommodate players from around the world. Choosing the closest server will reduce the distance your data has to travel and improve your ping.
- Switch to optical fiber – If it’s supported in your neighborhood, upgrading your internet connection to fiber may improve your ping. Ask you ISP for the best options for reduced latency.
- Change your router settings – Some routers provide a quality of service (QoS) setting which prioritizes gaming over things like streaming video.
Hamid Tahir is a Mechatronics Engineer and founder of WFH Overload. He is currently working from home and is dedicated to the continuous improvement of his home office setup. Hamid has extensive experience setting up workspaces and dealing with the related tech. He hopes to share his knowledge to help you create the most productive and comfortable work from home setup. Read More