← Return to Blog
 What is Ping

What's My Ping Again? Outfox Ping Vs. In-Game Ping

By: Keegan Landolt, Outfox Product Manager 

Here at Outfox HQ, it's not uncommon for us to field questions about "ping" because, well, that's what we're all about (along with other measures of network performance, of course). In our previous post, we wanted to describe what ping is and what the impact of ping can mean for online gaming. But many Outfoxers still notice a difference in the ping that they see in the Outfox application and what they see in-game, which leads them to ask, "Why is my Outfox ping different than my ping in-game?"

As it turns out, ping in online games is different than ping in typical networking scenarios -- and we are here to explain why.

Why Ping Is Different In Gaming

Ping itself is an important metric for any serious online gamer to understand. A high ping value equates to a high latency, which can result in a frustrating in-game experience - de-sync, rubber-banding, teleportation, getting shot through a wall, dying immediately after re-spawn - the list goes on. A low ping typically provides a smoother, more predictable in-game experience, and many people strive to get the lowest ping possible in their favorite online games for this reason.

In traditional networking scenarios, ping values are obtained by using ICMP (Internet Control Message Protocol) packets sent from a source host to a destination host. When you ping an address, you are the source host and the website, game server, etc., is the destination host. The ICMP packets that are sent from the source host are the "echo," which, once being received by the destination host, send back an "echo reply." Together, this calculates the round-trip time represented as ping in milliseconds.

Many (but not all!) games will allow you to see your in-game ping as a means of troubleshooting or bragging rights, and some companies such as Blizzard and Riot offer gamers even more advanced tools to analyze their connection. The in-game ping that games show, however, is generally not what is considered typical ping. Instead of using ICMP, it's common to use another protocol's (UDP) packet headers that are associated with the gaming traffic itself. This allows for them to apply server processing overhead to the network ping, which gives a modified "in-game" ping that's more representative of the time it takes for you to take an action and the game server to recognize and apply that action. It also allows them to de-prioritize or block ICMP messages to the game servers, to prevent outside impact on the server's performance (such as distributed attacks or ICMP spam). 

How Outfox Pings Game Servers

With Outfox we use ping information to determine if the Outfox network is faster than your standard connection, and we also display this information in the application. To get the ping to the game server, we first ping our Outfox servers and then attempt to ping the destination game server. We add the value between the two to determine what the "Outfox latency" is from your computer to the game server. As mentioned above, we learned that game servers as destination hosts don't like to be bothered with ICMP ping, since most game servers either de-prioritize or block ICMP packets. However, individual game server instances (where the actual "match" is played out) are usually directly behind another "management"-type server the game company owns, and those servers commonly respond to ICMP.

Being unable to reliably ping game servers directly to calculate ping, we had to find another method of analyzing ping from a "raw" network perspective. We developed an API that uses ICMP packets with a TTL value (time-to-live) that increases incrementally after each "hop" (router) it hits along the way. In other words, sometimes we can ping the game server directly, and if we're unable to reach the game server, we hit the next closest server that the game company uses. This ping value is usually very close to what it would be if we were actually hitting the game server. That's the reason why your Outfox ping may be close to your in-game ping (for example, Outfox shows 36 ms against an in-game ping of 38 ms). If you see a larger difference in the Outfox ping and the in-game ping, it means we're still using the same network measurement technique to determine those values while the game is using a different, more game-specific method.

As an optimized gaming network, we chose to use real-world networking scenarios to calculate ping because we believe it's the most accurate measure of latency, outside of how each individual game company measures their ping in-game. We are, of course, constantly researching ways to improve these measurements.

In Conclusion - No Smoke & Mirrors

Outfox strives to be as transparent as possible with the ping values we show in-app, and it's no surprise that users are concerned about the differences they see in Outfox versus what they see in-game. We want to emphasize that we use real-world networking information in how we communicate ping in the application to make the best decisions possible for your connection.