The Truth About Online Gaming In South Africa

While this blog will mostly be discussing the upcoming Diablo 3 from Blizzard, and some of the controversial choices they have made regarding it’s development, it also serves to highlight the total inadequacy of internet access in South Africa.

 

I’ve been waiting for the release of Diablo 3 since it’s official announcement in 2008, and have followed it’s development with great anticipation. But some months ago, Blizzard Entertainment concluded that TCP/IP LAN Multiplayer does nothing but encourage software piracy and cheating, so they removed it as an option, and made multiplayer available online only.

As much as I was looking forward to the occasional LAN Weekends with my friends playing Diablo 3, and pitting our single player characters against one another in the Arenas, or cooperatively against the minions of hell, Blizzard have recently thrown us a major curveball.

For all forms of play, be it PVP (Player vs. Player) in the Arena, Cooperative Multiplayer or Single Player, a constant internet connection will be required.

Following is a quote by Blizzard Community Manager, Bashiok:

In addition to all the other benefits that we believe ultimately come from having everyone online such as an active, centralized community, a popular arena system, accessible character storage, etc. etc. Diablo III is built on a client/server architecture, which means not all the data for the game or mechanics reside on the client (your computer).

This is not too unlike World of Warcraft where the world itself, the art, the sounds, etc. are on your machine, but all of the NPC’s and enemies are controlled by the server. Diablo III doesn’t function in all of the exact same ways, but things like monster randomization, dungeon randomization, item drops, the outcomes of combat, among others, are all handled and verified by the client talking to the server, and vice versa.

We’ve learned a lot from this type of architecture from World of Warcraft, and the added security and oversight it provides. It allows a great deal of control over the game at all times for all players, so if we know there’s an issue or bug we can usually address it right then and there through a live hotfix. Hotfixes can’t be used for everything, we’re still going to have client patches, but we’re definitely looking forward to being able to deliver a consistently high quality experience to all players simultaneously through processes like hotfixes.

In addition there are some pretty intense security concerns. While there’s never a fool proof solution to stopping hack and cheats, we’ve found that a strict client/server architecture is a huge barrier for their development and use.

Ultimately we made the decision to make the game client/server based because of the security and quality it can provide to those playing, and as a bonus it reinforces a lot of our ideals for a thriving online community.

One can easily understand their motivations for promoting a centralized community, and their arguments of added security and better, more frequent updates do indeed make sense. But one thing struck me as being completely odd.

Bashiok states that Blizzard wants to “deliver a consistently high quality experience to all players”. But by making Diablo 3 an online only game, they are in fact going against their own promises, and are indeed lessening the experience for many thousands of player.

Make no mistake, I do believe that Diablo 3 will be a quality game, and is bound to win several gaming awards the world over.

But there are people out there, like me, who have been waiting for a long time to be able to play this game, but now will no longer be able to do so, because of poor or non-existent internet connectivity.

I ran some tests on SpeedTest.net to determine the adequacy of my 3Mb/s DSL line to determine whether or not I’d be able to play Diablo 3. Here are the results:

  Ping
(ms)
Download
(Mb/s)
Upload
(Mb/s)
London, England 447 0.06 0.25
Los Angeles, USA 358 0.06 0.28
New York, USA 275 0.09 0.38
Sydney, Australia 525 0.09 0.31
Rio De Janeiro, Brazil 925 0.06 0.13
Paris, France 213 0.06 0.37
Auckland, New Zealand 556 0.06 0.32
Cape Town, South Africa 55 0.21 0.38
Durban, South Africa 65 0.19 0.39
1419017276 1419022196
1419206772 1419210320
1419214627 1419219110
1419223238 1419227856
1419230343  

I’m certain you’ll agree to the abysmal results? And the irony of it all is that I performed the tests in the evening, when there is less traffic from corporations and other businesses that could interfere with the results.

That’s right! You heard correctly.

The monopolistic organization that controls the internet in South Africa, Internet Solutions, maintains that my connection is slow because during daytime hours, there are vastly increased numbers of connections, and that they do not have the appropriate infrastructure to cope with the demand. So their solution to the problem is to prioritize during business hours those connections that are deemed critical, such as online banking, government and research facilities. Basically those users for whom money is not an object, and can afford to throw money away for high-speed connections are the ones who get priority.

Simple folk, who use the internet for Instant Messaging, Facebook, YouTube, Online Gaming, and just plain browsing, are left out in the cold.

What, is the money I’m giving them not good enough?

When I first made the move from dial-up internet to DSL about four years ago, the best I could afford was a 384Kb/s line, with a 1GB monthly usage cap. It was only some months ago that I was able to upgrade to a 4096Kb/s line with an uncapped monthly limit, which, I might add, nearly quadrupled my cost!

It does not end there. After the “upgrade” in DSL line speed, I started experiencing a lot of disconnects, reminiscent of my days on 56K Dialup. Ok, no biggie, seeing as I was on uncapped usage, it wouldn’t matter if my line dropped once in awhile. But the problem got so bad eventually, that even normal internet browsing became a chore with as many as 100 or more service disruptions per day.

So I contacted Telkom, the only DSL provider in the country, and had them investigate the problem. After much back and forth explanations and teeth grinding, it was determined that the area in which I live can’t adequately support the 4096Kb/s speeds, and that my line will be reduced to 3072Kb/s in order to maintain service reliability.

Seeing as this was the only option, I accepted their solution, and for a time my line had indeed stabilised to such an extent that it was in fact once again usable. I no longer had to make use of download helpers such as GetRight, or YouTube Downloader.

But it’s started up again. Only now, it’s worse than ever!

My DSL line now drops at much as 40 times per hour, making it impossible to maintain any kind of connection with Windows Live Messenger, YouTube or even Windows Update. Not only is the stability of the line itself an issue, but now it appears as though Internet Solutions, despite my uncapped connection, have been monitoring my bandwidth usage, and have determined that I’m using it too much, and have placed some sort of filter to slow me down in an effort to curb my bandwidth usage.

  • Where I was previously able to download a YouTube video at about 350KB/s, I can now only do so at less than 25KB/s.
  • Checking email has become a chore, because the connection to both my accounts are often lost, and I am required to (where possible) make a phone call to the sender, asking them to resend the message.
  • I can’t upload photos with friends on Windows Live Messenger because it takes as much as 30 minutes to upload a 130Kb JPG file. Assuming, of course, that the connection is not interrupted.
  • I can’t listen to streaming radio on my Mede8er, which is sad, because my Dad often like to listen to Croatian Radio stations, something he has not been able to do since he came to South Africa in 1958.
  • It’s perhaps a good thing that I don’t have a webcam, as I’m guessing that video calls with my friends will be impossible.

And the complete irony of it all is that Telkom support says that they can stabilise my line by once again reducing it’s speed, because the area in which I live can’t properly maintain such high speed connections because of poor infrastructure.

Seriously, instead fixing the problem with a Band-Aid, why don’t they just correct the problem by installing better cables?

And Internet Solutions vehemently deny placing any kind of restrictions on my bandwidth usage. They maintain that my slow speeds are possibly due to the servers from which I am downloading, or some other factors beyond their control.

Yeah, right!

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