If you have ever played an online game or an MMO, the chances are that you have experienced the rather bothersome issue of lag (or 'bad ping' or latency) – the sheer frustration of that game-losing moment whereby the action of the player is delayed by the reaction of the game's server, or vice versa.
In-game latency has become even more of an issue of late, following the recent interest in so-called 'cloud gaming' services such as OnLive, Playcast and Dave Perry's Gaikai. Put simply, if there is the slightest noticeable delay in pressing a button on your keyboard, mouse or console control pad and the reaction of your in-game character on-screen, gamers are not going to want to play your games or pay for your subscription services.
Of course, there is always going to be some amount of delay between a client PC (playing World of Warcraft, for example) and a server (and back the other way). But the key, the real holy grail, for online and MMO and cloud gaming companies is to ensure that these delays are unnoticeable to the human eye.
MMO LAG-BEATERS: Blizzard leads the way in providing a quality service
The aforementioned Playcast Media, for example - who are developing a console-quality gaming TV set-top box solution that they are currently touting around numerous TV operators – claims that its system cuts the control time lag to 100 milliseconds or less.
The company reckons that's faster than the human eye can register. However, some hardcore 'quick twitch' first-person-shooter players on the PC may well beg to differ...
Is WoW becoming lag-free?
In the MMO space, Blizzard and WoW continue to lead the way when it comes to providing a (generally) lag-free, high quality gaming experience for their customers.
"Latency is not really a problem for me with WoW," says PC Format Editor and keen WoW-player, Alan Dexter, when quizzed about the issue, "although I don't PvP [player versus player], so it might be more of an issue for gamers that do."
BACK-END SOLUTION: How Blizzard's partner Teliasonera ensures minimal latency
So we asked PC Format's other resident regular Azeroth visitor, Luis Villazon, who concurred with Dexter, agreeing that for him, playing World of Warcraft on a 6Mb ADSL internet connection through BT, "latency is almost a non-issue nowadays, certainly compared to the first couple of years of the game.
"On my high-pop server there is the loading delay for busy cities, obviously, and sometimes lag on patch days but nothing that really impacts my game. In raids and five mans, I will often see players complaining about lag but I think a lot of it is just people using an easy excuse for standing in the fire or terrible dps [damage per second].
"Actual lag, where people get stuck in a casting animation or running on the spot is pretty easy to spot - I don't see very much of that," adds Villazon, although he does also note that, "Loot-lag (where you are left crouching for a long time before the loot window appears) still happens a fair bit though. Again, not as bad as it used to be but maybe a couple of times a week I'll experience a delay of a few seconds while looting.