Telecom provider Cox Communications is launching Elite Gamer, a service that improves the connection between game servers and players across its internet network by as much as 32%.
The service doesn’t actually deliver more internet bandwidth, as measured in megabit-per-second download speeds. Rather, it improves the response time, or latency, which matters more to those who play highly interactive games like online shooters. Cox serves more than 6 million homes in 18 states, and this kind of tech could help it hang onto its hardcore customers who can’t live with subpar internet connections.
I can identify with this, as I always like to blame my own death in games like Call of Duty: Warzone — where another human player gets the drop on me and shoots me before I shoot them — on latency, or interaction delays. And I’m not the only one. “I swear I fired first!” is a common refrain heard over headsets when this happens.
For those who already subscribe to Cox’s premium tier Panoramic Wi-Fi service, Elite Gamer is free for the first computer. For each additional PC in a household, the fee is $5 a month (for up to three additional computers). Cox customers who don’t have Panoramic Wi-Fi can buy the service for $7 a month for the first computer and add $5 a month for each additional computer.
Again, this new service is not boosting speed to your broadband tier. But Ron Lev, executive director of new growth and development at Cox, said in an interview with GamesBeat that if you think upgrading to faster megabits per second alone will get you better response times, you’re wrong.
“Speed is not the only thing that impacts your internet performance,” Lev said. “There is something called latency, or lag, which is the ping time. Even if they give you 10-gigabits-a-second download speed to your house, if the back office or the server or the application server that you’re using is not optimized, it’s not going to really help you.”
Instead, Elite Gamer promises an improved gaming experience across Cox’s markets by automatically finding a faster path to the PC game server, optimizing the user’s gaming connection. The goal is to deliver games with response times under 60 milliseconds, for example.
“This solution solves this problem that we call the ‘middle mile,’ which basically finds a way to reroute your traffic across the public internet in a more efficient way once it exits our network,” Lev said.
He said customers need this kind of service more than ever during the pandemic, when online game engagement is up. According to market researcher the NPD Group, gaming sales reached $977 million in May, a 52% increase over May 2019 and the highest tracked spend for a May month in over a decade.
The company cautions that improvement depends on where the player is, where the game server is located, how heavy the traffic is, and which game is being played. But Cox provides a dashboard and analytics so players can see what kind of improvement they get with each game, and the company is confident players will appreciate the difference.
“It really does enhance the gaming experience and gives greater stability,” Lev said.
Those who don’t live in Cox markets can benefit from similar technology, provided by companies such as WTFast, which offers a subscription for low-ping service. But Cox’s improved service differs from internet solutions like Subspace and Network Next, which help game publishers move their workloads closer to where a customer is, Lev said.
“We took a different approach, coming from the client side,” Lev said. “We enable users to download the software that sits on their PC. And when you start a game, we identify [what] you’re using. We identify the traffic pattern in the client, and we basically do some work to find other routes.”