The Technology Behind Online Games

2020 has been a big year for online gaming, with people stuck at home with limited options in the ‘real world’. In an economy that is struggling, the industry set new records, growing by an unprecedented 20% worldwide. Playing League of Legends or Call of Duty with friends or strangers dotted around the world is now the standard evening entertainment for many. 

But how is it that we can whip out our mobile phones and connect to games with high-end graphics without a hitch? How is it possible that we can play with people from the other side of the planet? This is a whirlwind summary of the technology that drives online gaming. 

Hardware Requirements

First, let’s talk about hardware requirements. And no, it’s not what you need, but what creators have to put together to enable online gaming. Consoles and PCs rely on what’s called a ‘hardware stack’, which includes powerful graphics cards, next-gen CPUs, and internal storage drives (there’s more, but that’s the simple gist of it). 

But that’s what you’d need whether you’re playing online or offline. What sets online gaming apart is the requirement of a central server, which allows the individual player to connect to the platform. Without this central server, the gaming experience would be kaput. 

This is something that most people don’t think about in-depth. They just think they rely on their own internet connections. As long as they have one, it’s all gravy. However, companies like Rockstar have to spend millions of dollars every single year to ensure their games still work online. 

When they decide to pull the plug on a server for a given title, the reaction from the gaming community can be savage. This is exactly what happened when Rockstar shut down the servers for Last of Us multiplayer in 2019. 

Download vs. No-Download Games

When you play games on your PC or PS4, for example, the bulk of the game is downloaded to your console. It ‘lives’ on the drive and requires the disc to play. This drives both the offline and online versions of the game. The server and data exchange are mostly for the in-play action. 

When it comes to browser games, there’s no room for patience.  Thanks to tech, no-download games, however, don’t require pesky downloads. You can just load up your browser and go. 

For instance, players who play online casinos don’t want to download each and every game that’s available. As we can read at casinos.co.za, many players around the world state the main advantage of no-download casinos is not needing to delete precious memory from their laptop, computer, or mobile phone to be able to play. The same applies to every other online genre out there and there are literally thousands of options. So what gives? 

The answer is relatively simple. Browser games are built with optimization in mind. Developers use every possible trick to give players the impression they’re playing a high-end game. Having a solid internet speed is also essential; there’s no way this would have worked back in 1998, for example. Even just a few years ago, browser games were nearly unplayable or were turn-based behemoths that relied on simple graphics and long pauses between moves.  Now we are able to do just that.

Client-Side Prediction 

This section is essentially about connectivity, which we’ve already covered, but it deserves its own section. Originally, online games often felt a little rickety. You’d always feel the latency between the server and your console or PC. The delay between movements was obvious, hampering the quality of the game. 

These days, however, the client (i.e. you) runs far more code than ever before. You are no longer just sending inputs to a far-away server, but predicting movements locally. What you’re seeing, however, is simply an attempt at duplication of what’s actually happening (sounds a bit like the Matrix, huh?). 

This prevents the player from being able to hack the system and cheat during gameplay; there is one ‘central authority’ (the game server) that determines the true sequence of events. You’ll no doubt recognize this situation: you’ve pressed the ‘fire’ button and you’re absolutely sure you hit it before the other person. But did you? 

What About the Future? 

We’ve given you the rundown of what drives online gaming today. But what about the future? The big-ticket item that most gamers are hoping for is a sophisticated usage of VR. 

Current iterations are interesting, but they don’t quite live up to the billing. They’re also quite expensive, especially compared to the barebones console price. In addition to hardware issues, games haven’t been designed specifically for VR. Just think 3D movies that weren’t really meant to be 3D. They stink. 

But it’s clear that VR is making huge strides and consoles like the PS4 Pro offer several decent titles using the technology. Our call for 2021? Look for VR to be a viable first-choice option for online gamers.

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