Josh Robinson's WebLog

October 2004 - Posts

Why higher upload speed is needed for broadband gaming

I just had lunch with a friend of mine who works in the broadband group at a large phone company here in Atlanta.  We got into a discussion about the need for greater upload speeds in order to support broadband gaming both now and in the future.  Following is the text of an e-mail that I sent to him.  I am not 100% sure of all my facts and figures, but they are there to make a point.  If it any of them are critically off base, please let me know.  Keep in mind that cable modems already have higher uploads, this is written to someone who works with DSL.  Here is the e-mail that I sent him:

  I am a very happy user of the current 3Mbps x 384Kbps product.  I hope that the download speed continues to grow and I'm sure that it will.  My main request however is that the upload speed be increased, possibly even before download speeds.  The reason for this is broadband gaming.

  Broadband gaming is no longer a fringe activity, but has really started to hit the mainstream.  Currently Xbox Live has over 1M subscribers and growing fast.  This figure should see a bump with the release of the new game Halo 2 on November 9, 2004.  This game will probably prove to be one of the best-selling games of all time, pre-release orders are estimated to already be over 1M units.  For Sony PS2, which I believe has sold somewhere near 70M units, broadband gaming is a big activity as well.  In a study that I read last year I saw the TV network viewership has actually decreased in the 18-35 year old male population and it was directly tied to an increase in online gaming.  Bill Gates recently indicated that Xbox Live was one of the products in which he has taken a personal interest in developing.  The gaming industry is now bigger than the Hollywood movie industry according to Wired magazine.  I think you start to get the idea that broadband gaming is big and getting bigger.

  My main restriction as a DSL gamer is that I am limited in how many other game players I can host on my machine.  The way that these systems work is that one user sets up a game on his/her machine and others can "join" the game.  Most games that are available now support up to 16 players, with some games that are coming out later this year possibly supporting as many as 24 players.  The problem is that the overhead for adding each player to my game is roughly 40Kbps of upload speed.  That means that with my current 384Kbps upload speed, I can only realistically host 8 players on my Xbox.

  If I want to play a game with 10 to 16 or even more players, I am unable to be the host the game because I am limited by my DSL upload speed.  This is one area where cable modems have an advantage.  In fact, DSL has actually gotten a bum rap in the pre-game chat rooms of the Xbox service.  It is a very common scenario for a player to ask the host if he can "bump up the number of players" so that player can bring 2 or more friends in to the game.  The host will say "sorry, I'm on DSL, I can't host more than the 8 players that are already here".  The very next question directed to the room is "Is anyone in here on cable?  If so, can you host the game and set it to 12 players?"  It is a known fact on the Xbox Live service that people with cable modems generally have a higher upload speed and therefore are able to host more players on their Xboxes.  Cable modem users are therefore an elite group and you always want to keep at least one or two of them on your "buddy list" so that you can play a game with more than 4vs.4.

  I guess that ideally a DSL product targeted at this growing segment of gamers would allow for at least 24 players in a game, and still leave room for someone else in the house to surf the internet.  Another common complaint among gamers is that they "experience lag" when their "wife is surfing the internet".  I have one friend whose wife's hobby is to sell things on e-bay, but even her simple browsing impacts the game when he is hosting 8 players since there is no additional capacity on his upload speed.  My point here is that the upload speed would need to be greater than (24 x 40Kbps) + whatever bandwidth wife/kids/roommates still need to surf the web.  I guess that means some number greater than 960Kbps in order to have the room to allow for extra activity.  If you can even do 1024Kbps, I'm sure that would make a lot of people happy however.  The days of customers being satisfied with fat pipes down and thin pipes up are over.

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