Lagging Behind: Broadband Speed and the New Digital Divide for Gamers
Whisper it quietly, but there’s a creeping chasm developing within the whole gaming community. A new race to the top, a new hierarchy or leaderboard… a fresh frontier for separating the winners and losers.
For modern players, this edge they increasingly covet is bandwidth. The need for speed has transcended processing power or pixel pushes to make the broadband connection almost all-conquering. Flow too slow and the competition could leave you for dust!
In the age of the MMORPG, MOBA, battle royale, and online-only experiences, home console manufacturers are now fully embracing such paradigms. Digital editions for the new PS5 and Xbox Series X and Series S systems could mark the beginning of the end for physical discs, thus placing further importance on the download.
In this article from Broadband Genie, we examine how this could affect players globally, why inequality of service exists and where those problems manifest.
So games, and the community platforms around gaming, are unquestionably becoming more reliant on broadband. It follows therefore that this is requiring gamers to have adequate enough connections to participate.
Across an international market that relies on the consistency of experience, an immediate concern is whether territorial service can meet market demand.
According to figures from Newzoo’s 2023 Global Games Market Report, the top countries by estimated gaming revenues are China, USA and Japan. These countries boast 63-85% internet populations, with South Korea, Germany, UK, France, Canada, Italy and Spain completing the top 10.
The UK’s web population is 91% of total people, with a gaming market worth a projected $5.5bn.
Out of the top 20 countries for gaming revenues, only half find themselves within the top 50 for global broadband speeds. Top gaming country China has the worst-ranked broadband infrastructure, clocking in a mean rate of just 2.09Mbps download.
For comparison, the USA can boast 71.30Mbps with Japan weighing in with a credible 54.62Mbps average. The UK, 6th in the gaming stakes, can claim a global broadband rank of 47 thanks to a mean rate of 37.82Mbps.
So if Britain only sneaks into the bandwidth top half-ton, who are the notable gaming powers missing the cut? Italy is in fact the only other country besides China that occupies gaming’s top 10 (9th) while failing to make the world’s 50 fastest networks. The notable likes of Australia, Brazil, India, Mexico, Russia and Turkey languishing awkwardly behind.
As far as the UK goes, poorer competitive performance here is often attributed to rural coverage. Often limited broadband service choices or a total lack of service at all in these communities is an embarrassing slight on national average speeds.
According to Ofcom’s Connected Nations Update (Summer 2023) the number of UK properties unable to receive a “decent” broadband service of 10Mbps from a fixed-line is at least 590,000.
Although the report also asserts that full-fibre broadband “continues to improve” rapidly, however coverage here still only amounts to 14% of properties, which pales in comparison to countries such as Spain and Portugal, and while other countries like Sweden have lofty plans to connect the whole country to full-fibre broadband, the UK has no doesn’t have such a strategy and could be left behind.
In a world where downloading and streaming digital content is so taken for granted – broadband speed inequality and inadequacy is problematic.
Gaming is also at an interesting crossroads too, with the major console manufacturers embracing wholly “digital editions” of new hardware such as Microsofts Xbox series s and Sony’s PS5 digital edition. What this really means, of course, is no optical drives for installing release titles via disc.
This sales model, favouring downloads exclusively, is doubtlessly preferable to the main stakeholders with the majority of sales coming through the online portal and holding more control over ownership, which consumers lose out on. This could certainly pave the way to a next next-gen without physical media at all.
So if the delivery of games goes disc-less then download times for transferring that content become pertinent. As commercial games grow more complex and higher in fidelity, the installation files become pretty eye-wateringly large data packets. Add to this the inevitable updates and patches and well, enjoy the wait!
This year’s much-anticipated title Cyberpunk 2077 weighs in at a flat 64GB as a PS4 download via Sony’s PlayStation Store. With its initial launch update patch added, this was publicised to exceed a whopping 100GB in total.
As an illustration, attempting to download just the game at an average bandwidth of just 2.09Mbps would take 70.4 hours. At almost 3 days, this is possibly slower than mail delivery of the physical plastic disc.
It isn’t all about downloading games in one lump either. Streamed gaming services like Google’s Stadia and Amazon’s Luna may well represent the online distribution of the future, if and when fast broadband is universal.
White research found that while initial interest was high for game streaming platforms, shared concerns were the quality of the final product. Stadia officially recommends a minimum bandwidth of at least 10Mbps but realistically demands faster rates for resolutions exceeding 720p. Given that high fidelity gaming of 1080p, 4K and feasibly beyond is already expected this seems pretty conservative.
Much like streaming HD movies, gamers here won’t look too fondly on the kind of laggy, latent and buffer-rife performance that takes them out of the action. While these platforms promised so much, Stadia that was released last year has struggled to gain much traction in the market. It passed the mark of 1 million but compare this to the 90 million users on Xbox live and those 1 million users split across Stadia titles (there’s not many) and it makes a lonely place for online gaming. Politics notwithstanding, it’s probably for the better that Stadia is, as it stands, unavailable to Chinese players.
For more information about gaming broadband, read Broadband Genie’s guide.