South African online gaming strangled by lack of servers

Online gaming in South Africa is often plagued by high latencies.

The closest servers for many popular games, such as PUBG, Apex: Legends and Fortnite, are often located in Europe. This means the best possible response time is around 160ms.

This might not seem like much, but where lightning-quick reactions often dictate the winners and losers in FPS titles, every millisecond can be invaluable.

The online multiplayer community has grown in South Africa, but local gaming servers are still few and far between.

The reasons

i3D.net specialises in high-performance game hosting and has been running gaming servers from a point of presence in Johannesburg since 2016.

Vice President of Networking of i3D.net Martijn Schmidt told MyBroadband that there are several reasons why regions like South Africa may be under-served.

A big obstacle for publishers is the cost-benefit conundrum.

“On the one hand, do you as a gamer continue to spend money on a product when the gameplay experience is not enjoyable due to extreme latencies? On the other hand, can a company justify the expenses on local infrastructure when they don’t see a sufficiently large player base in that region?”

Another issue is the misconception about the physical location of South Africa.

“We’ve run into potential customers which held the belief that gamers in South Africa could get an acceptable experience by playing on an existing cluster in Brazil,” Schmidt said.

“This was before Angola Cables brought their SACS cable system into production, and nowadays in the most ideal scenario that kind of distance will still push the round-trip latency from South Africa to Brazil well over 100ms.”

Empty lobbies

Small player bases in South Africa have also been problematic for several titles. Major titles that offer dedicated server support in South Africa, such as Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty, are often short on players.

“You have a smaller amount of players queued up in each matchmaker pool every time the player base is further divided by the release of a new competing game, or by adding extra content for an existing game, or through the launch of another platform if the owners of that particular ecosystem prohibit cross-platform matchmaking,” Schmidt said.

“Additional discrete server clusters may for that reason sometimes harm the overall gameplay experience – which is why publishers almost never do single-country server deployments and instead roll out the infrastructure for a wider region: nobody likes long matchmaking queues.”

Numbers, however, are not everything. Schmidt said i3D.net has successfully deployed hosting for small game publishers, which has led to an increase in player numbers.

“It also has a positive effect on the overall gameplay experience for the European or American players if they don’t have to fight against ZA players with greater than 200ms round-trip latency,” Schmidt stated.

What needs to happen

Schmidt believes that through a combination of community and media involvement, dedicated gaming server support can become more commonplace in South Africa.

“Usually, what’s required first is some form of petition combined with social media and press coverage to raise awareness of the problem.”

“We’ve seen this work very well for gamers in the Middle East, resulting in local gaming servers coming to the region as soon as the publishers started to realize that it was actually possible from a technical perspective and that there was sufficient demand,” Schmidt stated.

The next step is to grow and maintain a large presence on the dedicated servers.

It is essential to remain active on local servers and not switch over to those located in Europe or North America if South African servers are available.

“What’s required after the initial rollout is a coherent community that spreads the good news among their peers, resulting in demonstrable growth which can sustain the local infrastructure,” Schmidt said.

In addition, placing the focus on Africa in all campaigning improves prospects for success, as a player base across a continent carries more weight than a single country.

i3D.net said it also offers a free trial period to gaming companies in order for them to measure the level of interest in a new region.

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South African online gaming strangled by lack of servers