Gaming with buddies is still a go-to activity for many, and it doesn’t seem the legions of online gamers will thin out anytime soon.
While online gaming has come a long way since its debut, it still has its fair share of technical challenges. Unfortunately, most of them affect the end-users (gamers) and can turn a pleasant experience sour in seconds.
Connectivity problems are often to blame, with high latency, jitter and packet loss hindering a gamer’s ability to score perfect games (or so he might say).
Packet loss seems to be the most frustrating; it frequently has no apparent cause, can be a pain to troubleshoot, and has no guaranteed fix.
What is packet loss?
Network activities such as gaming involve the transfer of data, conveniently split into small units called packets. The entire process is somewhat convoluted, but we’ll simplify it.
When one or more data packets fail to reach their destination, we call it packet loss. This phenomenon mainly occurs due to network congestion, but it can also be triggered by data transmission errors or faulty hardware.
Packet loss is expressed as a percentage of lost packets in relation to sent packets. So, if a device sends 100 packets and only 90 of them reach their destination, we have a 10% packet loss.
Packet loss mainly occurs as a spike and has an ephemeral nature, making it easy to slip by unnoticed. However, in real-time applications such as VoIP, media streaming, and online gaming, even minor packet loss can affect the end user’s quality of experience (QoE).
How to reduce packet loss?
First, you need to determine whether your connectivity issue is indeed packet loss. Unfortunately, packet loss is similar to high latency so it can be easily confused. Fortunately, modern games, including VALORANT, Fortnite, Rocket League, Modern Warfare, PUBG, Apex Legends and Battlefield V, have built-in packet loss indicators.
Therefore, you won’t have to perform extensive testing to determine whether you’re facing packet loss or just a bad latency spike most of the time.
After you establish that packet loss is indeed the issue, you need to isolate the cause. Here’s where it gets tricky, seeing as many vectors can trigger it.
If it’s caused by network congestion or server-side issues, your best course of action is to simply wait it out. If the problem is on your side, though, there are a few ways to counter it effectively.
Use a VPN
In some cases, your ISP can throttle (limit) your connection to avoid network congestion. This essentially means that you’re allocated a bandwidth limit that you can’t bypass. Your ISP can throttle your connection by temporarily interrupting your connection if you exceed a pre-defined quota, or by lowering your connection speed.
Turning to a trustworthy VPN such as Bitdefender VPN can help you counter packet loss caused by ISP connection throttling. A VPN re-routes your connection through a secure tunnel, away from your provider’s default network.
Crucially, VPN lets you dodge network congestion, but only if the issue occurs on your ISP’s side of the connection. If the gaming server is overcrowded, a VPN won’t do much good in this situation.
Let the VPN choose the best location for you; the client will often choose to connect to a server nearby, which should also be the fastest one.
Troubleshoot your connection
Unfortunately, a VPN isn’t a silver bullet against all packet loss, seeing as the issue can have a broad range of potential causes.
Therefore, if a VPN doesn’t immediately fix your issue, try the following troubleshooting suggestions to minimize packet loss on your system:
- Use wired connections (if possible) instead of wireless while playing online games
- Update drivers on your system to their latest version to fend off compatibility issues
- Flush your DNS
- Change your DNS provider
- Check your local connection hardware (cables, routers) and replace any faulty or dated components
- Contact your ISP if you suddenly experience severe packet loss
- Avoid running bandwidth-consuming apps while playing online games
- Switch the game server you’re playing on (if possible)