VPN for Internet gaming: is it a good idea?
Why does the latency of games increase when using a VPN?
When we connect to a VPN service, we use one of the main VPN protocols such as IPsec, OpenVPN, or WireGuard to connect to the different servers that the contracted VPN service allows. The best VPN in terms of connection latency is WireGuard, this new VPN technology makes use of the UDP protocol and has a really efficient design that makes the connection latency almost not increase, in addition, the performance and the connection are really fast. However, the VPN protocol used to connect to the VPN service is not everything, the latency that we can obtain when using a VPN can be caused by the following:
- VPN protocol used. Currently, WireGuard is the VPN protocol that incorporates the least latency in the connections, in addition, the establishment of the connection and the performance in terms of speed is outstanding. If you are going to use a VPN service to play games, make sure you use this VPN protocol, otherwise, the latency will increase.
- Where is the VPN server physically? One of the most important aspects in terms of latency has to do with where the VPN server is physical. If it is geographically close to us, the latency will increase by about 5ms, however, if it is in another country like France or Portugal, the added latency is about 40-50ms more than we had until the game server. Therefore, if you are going to use a VPN service for your online games, be sure to connect to a VPN server that is geographically very close to your location.
- Does the VPN server have a lot of traffic and simultaneous connections from other clients? Even if you have connected to a VPN server with WireGuard and it is geographically close to you, you do not know at any time if that server is handling a lot of network traffic and many simultaneous connections, this could produce not only a higher latency but a very high jitter. In some moments we will have low latency, but in other moments a very high latency and we could even have packet loss in an extreme situation.
- Is your operator's peering to the VPN server good? Another aspect that greatly affects the latency of the connection is the peering that our operator has with the servers of the VPN to which we are going to connect, it is possible that there is no direct peering and it is necessary to go through many more routers than needed to reach it, adding latency to the connection and increased jitter.
We must remember that if you are going to play with a VPN, the packets must go from your home connection to the VPN server, to later go to the game servers wherever you are. The latency of the connection is related to the different delays that exist throughout the entire link, these delays are the signal propagation delays, transmission delay, processing delay, and queue delay, having a total delay of Tproc + Tcola + Ttrans + Tprop. Therefore, due to this "jump", if we use a VPN, we will have higher latency than if we go directly to the game servers.
Is it a good idea to use a VPN if we play online?
In our opinion, we believe that it is not a good idea to use a VPN if we play online, the latency will be higher than if the connection is direct from our connection to the game server because we will not have to go through a VPN server. In addition, we must take into account the VPN protocol used, if the VPN server has a lot of traffic or many simultaneous connections, and even if the peering of our operator is good with the location of the chosen VPN server.
Another negative aspect that we must take into account is jitter, that is, the variation in latency. It is possible that at a certain moment the VPN does work correctly because there are no other clients using this same server, however, it is also possible that we have "lapses" due to the connection of new clients to the same VPN server, therefore, we must have it very much in mind.
We only recommend using this type of VPN service when playing online if you have no other option, for example, if you want to connect to a game server in another country, and there is some type of regional block in your country. In this case, you will have no other option but to use a VPN service. Another reason is to want to be anonymous in terms of the IP address used, but taking into account that you will always have to register in the online services of your console or PC, it will not be very anonymous.
There are router manufacturers such as ASUS that incorporate a technology called "Fusion VPN". This function allows us to carry out all network traffic through a VPN service, except for online games, in order to achieve the best possible latency. Precisely for all these reasons this technology exists, to "separate" the traffic of web browsing or downloads from that of online games.