Lagging Out? Here's Why Your Games Are So Slow

Lag is the great equalizer in online gaming, and is a boss that many players can't beat without assistance. From slow or choppy internet connections to problems with computer or game system hardware, lag can slow down or completely stop any kind of fun on the internet, but it's hard to pinpoint the exact cause of lag. Here are a few explanations of lag across different online gaming platforms, along with a few ways to get around the problem or at least know who to contact.

What Is Lag?

The term is often thrown around whenever some part of gaming performance is slowed down or somehow affected, but it has a specific meaning. The gaming term lag comes from the similar networking term, meaning that information going through the network is slower.

There are many networks involved in an online gaming session. Your home network involves your computer or your gaming console (such as an Xbox, Playstation or Wii), and is controlled by your modem or your apartment's modem. Your home network computers with the largest and most popular network--the internet--and goes to the game company's servers. 

Lag at your home network can come from many causes, with the most likely being your internet speed. It could be a problem caused by someone in your home downloading too many things while you're gaming, or your internet speed plan may be too low to play games efficiently. If you're on wireless internet, some of the data is lost and must be re-transmitted in rapid succession as opposed to a dedicated cable that suffers much less interference than wireless internet.

The problem could even be at your Internet Service Provider (ISP). If you can't find the cause of network lag, your best bet would be to call the ISP and report slow performance. Finally, the lag could be at the game's server or their ISP, which you can find out by contacting your game's technical support or asking other players if they're experiencing similar delays.

Hardware Lag

Although hardware lag is technically an incorrect use of the term, it's been around long enough that it's worth knowing what people mean. If your computer's hardware is too weak or overburdened to handle the graphics demand of a game, your game performance will slow down.

A game is an application, and like any other application, it uses some of your computer's resources to operate. This means that your processor, memory, hard drive, and video card must have enough resources to run your game, your operating system (Windows, Macintosh, Linux, etc) and any other application running at the same time.

Every game has minimum and recommended system requirements that can help you understand what you need to play a game. World of Warcraft, for example, suggests 4 gigabytes of Random Access Memory (RAM) and a certain generation of processors with specific minimum speeds to perform. Go below this amount and the game will not play as efficiently. If you run multiple programs while playing games, you'll need more resources.

If you have a virus, these resources can be overtasked without your permission. Viruses are malicious applications and must be cleaned to return to proper gaming speed. If you're confused about your slow performance problems, contact an internet service professional to discuss the symptoms.