The Hidden Cost of Online Video Gaming: How Much You Pay, per Hour, to Game Online
Have you ever wonder about how much you are paying to play online gaming in your rural community where the only viable options include point to point wireless, satellite internet (not a viable choice for head-to-head video games) or 3G and 4G LTE wireless? Well, join me for some data driven dollars and sense information about the hidden cost of online video gaming.
Compared to gaming on a fixed-price internet connection like cable, gaming with mobile data can be expensive. A gigabyte (GB) of mobile data typically costs between $4 and $10 from one of the major carriers (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, or Sprint) and, if you exceed your data limit, that number could get as high as $15 per GB.
The Hidden Cost of Online Video Gaming
Compared to other activities, online gaming doesn’t use an excessive amount of data. In fact, the typical online game will consume about 5%* of the data that a standard definition video will consume in the same time period. It is also difficult to estimate how much data any online game will use since data use varies widely based on (1) the gaming platform, (2) the complexity of the game, (3) the settings, and (4) the playing style.
Gaming Platform (most efficient to least)
Mobile Phone: Because engineers assume you’re using mobile broadband when you game on a phone, gaming apps are designed to use less data than console or PC games.
Gaming Console: Because it is a dedicated device engineered for gaming efficiency, gaming on a console, first, is a better experience than gaming on a PC and, second, typically uses less mobile data.
PC: Particularly if you are running other online applications, but, also, all the time, PCs use more data than consoles to run online games.
Game Complexity (most efficient to least)
Turn Taking Games: Turn taking games, like online chess and card games, use little data. They also don’t require a fast internet connection to play effectively. Think around 20 MB per hour.
Single Player Games:Single player puzzles and games that don’t require a fast response time, like Angry Birds, Candy Crush, and Farmville, are data friendly. Think around 30 MB per hour.
Single Player Real-time Games: Single player games, like first person shooters, that require a fast response time use more data. Think around 50 MB per hour.
Multi-Player Real-time Games: Multi-player games, like team first person shooters, that require a fast response time and verbal communication between players use even more data. Think 70 MB per hour and up.
Graphics: If you face constraints on your mobile data, you can reduce your hourly use by adjusting the game and monitor settings to support low-quality graphics (lower screen res, render quality, texture resolution, anti-alias, and anisotropic filtering).
Sound: Turning off the game’s background music or, better, muting sound altogether will preserve data.
Anecdotally, World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor can use anywhere between 25 MB and 160 MB of data per hour. Raids, for example, use approximately 25 MB of data per hour, while a 30v30 standoff in Alterac Valley uses 160 MB of data per hour.
Streaming: Live streaming gameplay uses a huge amount of data. Streaming via Twitch.tv, for example, uses approximately 780 MB of data per hour (best quality, upload only). To save data, stream sparingly.
Downloading: Downloading the game uses much more data than playing it does. To avoid wasting your plan on downloads: (1) seek out public Wi-Fi at, for example, a local library during the download, (2) buy the physical disk, or (3) rent the physical disk, download the game, and then purchase the rights to the game online.
Updating: Like the initial download, a game update or patch uses a lot of data. If you’re using a computer, turn off automatic updates and, instead, download updates manually when you are connected to fixed-cost Wi-Fi.
Because data use varies based on settings, conduct your own test using traffic monitoring software for a more accurate estimate.There are plenty of freeware traffic monitoring applications, like the PRTG Network Monitor and the Netlimiter 4, available online.
Data use estimates for 5 highest-rated games:
By my calculations, the average online game (one that uses 50 MB of data per hour) costs between $0.25 and $0.75 worth of data per hour to play, but let’s break it down further. Based on game complexity, here are my data use estimates for PC Gamer’s 5 highest rated new games of 2016.
1. Dark Souls 3 (94%): This third-person action role playing game with multiplayer capabilities will use around 70 MB of data per hour.
2. XCOM 2 (94%): This fast paced combat game requires a quick response time and will use around 70 MB of data per hour.
3. Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak (90%): This tactical game for up to six players will use about 80 MB of data per hour.
4. Doom (88%): This first person shooter with impressive lineage will use around 60 MB of data per hour.
5. Overwatch (88%): This team-based multiplayer game will use around 70 MB of data per hour.
*My calculation: 1 GB (average for one hour of standard definition video) / 50 MB (average for one hour of online gaming) per hour.
Find out the hidden cost of online video gaming or compare data use for other popular games:
PayDay 2, Call of Duty:Black Ops 4, Deep Rock Galactic, Minecraft, Grand Auto Theft V, Madden NFL, Fortnite