High Speed Games

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How Russian gamers are developing the Internet for a new generation

The popularity of online gaming in Russia is growing steadily. Gamers are actively using smart phones and tablets, therefore they are more and more interested in fast and secure mobile Internet. Lenta.ru delved into how online games are contributing to the development of a new generation of communication.

Tanks and Tablets

There are more than 43 million active gamers in Russia. Every second Russian Internet user plays video games at least once a month. In comparison, 119 million people consider themselves gamers in Japan, but this kind of leisure activity has been there for more than a decade.

Russian gamers, however, have a number of features that make Russia a very special market for gaming companies. First of all, Russians were among the first to disprove the stereotype that most gamers were young people with a small budget. Today, every third Russian gamer is older than 45 and 42% have higher education. Moreover, the share of unemployed gamers is only 8% while 25% are white-collar workers.

This is largely due to the popularisation of online games like the Belarusian game World of Tanks, the first-person shooter Counter Strike:GO and Dota 2, which has already gained a cult status. However, the rapid spread of mobile games on smart phones and tablets also plays an important role. Two of them – Pokemon Go and Hay Day – are now among the top five most popular games in the country. World of Tanks is also actively played on mobile devices.

This has dramatically increased the burden on the telecommunications infrastructure of mobile operators, as many people prefer to spend their free time playing games, meaning they often use 4G. According to MegaFon’s Director for Infrastructure Alexander Bashmakov, the high speed of 4G Internet and the reliability of the company’s networks satisfy gamers’ needs, so their share among MegaFon subscribers is growing steadily.

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The Belarusian-made World of Tanks is one of the most popular games in Russia

More than 80% of gamers play on smart phones and tablets while another 16% use PCs and laptops connected to the Internet via a router or modem. There are still some fans of games for push-button telephones left in Russia but, according to Bashmakov, they are few.

The New Reality

Mobile operators believe that soon they will have to face a new challenge – the soaring popularity of games in augmented and virtual reality. Most users are expected to prefer to play them on their smart phones and tablets, so mobile operators will have to provide gamers with an even higher Internet speed.

They will also have to work on the minimum response time and make it possible to connect hundreds of devices to a network at the same time, Bashmakov says. MegaFon has foreseen such a scenario and has already been working on the new 5G standard, which will be able to meet the needs of future gamers. According Bashmakov, the response time should not exceed 50 milliseconds for a comfortable online game. A longer delay, even with a high-speed connection, makes the game difficult to play since a fraction of a second in online battles can cost the player a “life.”

The problem is that any network delay depends on many factors, such as the characteristics of the mobile device, the game servers’ location, the network’s technical capacities and the number of devices logged in at the same time.

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A young woman plays Pokemon GO on her smart phone in Pervomaisky Park in Novosibirsk

“If a player is in the Far East and the game server is in Moscow, the network delay, regardless of the Internet speed, will be long because the signal has to travel a long way from the server to the client,” explains Bashmakov.

In order to provide gamers with the most optimal conditions, developers of online games often place servers as close to their clients as possible, using CDN platforms that accelerate content delivery to end users. Another option is to organise direct interconnections with the operator’s network. MegaFon actively works with the developers and distributors of games, including Valve, Apple, Google, Twitch, Wargaming and Mail.Ru. Once 5G is introduced, this cooperation will allow for a more effective usage of the mobile network for gamers.

Future Speed

ABI Research analysts say that in just five years the number of gadgets supporting augmented and virtual reality will reach 65 million while the market for VR-games will reach $150 billion.

Analysts recognise smart phones as the most promising platform for the development of virtual and augmented reality games, as manufacturers of VR-devices are constantly striving to lower their price. A typical example is the Google Cardboard glasses that made virtual reality games more accessible for users.

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Visitors at the 3rd annual Comic Con Russia festival and IgroMir 2016 exhibition of interactive entertainments held at the Crocus Expo exhibition center in Moscow

AR-projects also develop rapidly. The most vivid example is Pokemon Go, which was installed by 21 million Americans in less than a week. Although the game was never released in Russia, more than 200,000 subscribers played it on MegaFon’s networks.

By 2020, the requirements for gaming equipment and telecommunications infrastructure will have become significantly more difficult to meet. High-speed connections are needed to download additional information during virtual and augmented reality games. Device manufacturers and telecom operators are working today to solve this problem.

According to MegaFon’s estimate, the connection speed for virtual reality glasses should be about ten gigabits per second. Very few fixed communication operators can make this speed available now and only the new 5G standard can guarantee it on mobile networks.

MegaFon was one of the first telecom operators able to demonstrate speeds beyond 4G + in real-world conditions. Together with Nokia, the operator came close to producing a speed of five gigabytes per second. Smart-phone virtual reality will no longer be science fiction very soon.

Author: Dmitry Sarkisov