Your Guide to Gaming on Satellite Internet

Can you game on satellite internet? Short answer: yes. Long answer: it’s complicated.

Moving to the country and worried you’ll have to say goodbye to League of Legends forever? You might not have to.

Sure, Viasat and HughesNet aren’t the best options for gaming. There’s no getting around that. But when satellite internet is your only option, rest assured you can still game.

Here’s a quick guide to setting yourself up for the best gaming experience with a satellite connection.

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Can you game with satellite internet?

Short answer: yes. Long answer: it depends on the game and your internet speed.

We figure you live in a rural area if satellite internet is your best bet, which likely means fiber or even cable aren’t available for you. Luckily, satellite internet has evolved enough to provide speeds that rival cable. Satellite connections can chug along at 25 Mbps or even a brisk 100 Mbps.

The issues you’ll face while gaming on satellite internet are latency and packet loss. While these won’t make or break your gameplay in most turn-based or roleplay games (RPGs), they could give you grief in first-person shooters (FPS) like Overwatch.

What’s latency?

Latency is how much time it takes for the game server to recognize an action you take and react accordingly.

For example, let’s say you’re racking up the kills as Diablo in Heroes of the Storm. An enemy Raynor comes to farm your lane, so you hit your Shadow Charge ability. Latency is the amount of time it takes for the game server to realize you’ve hit Shadow Charge, then have your Diablo charge Raynor and knock him back.

In this case, low latency means you’ll land that charge no problem. But if you have high latency, you may lag out and miss because Raynor retreated before the game realized you mashed your Shadow Charge button.

What’s ping?

When gamers mention ping, they’re referring to latency. Ping is the measurement of a gamer’s latency in milliseconds (ms). Lower ping means lower latency and less lag.

What’s packet loss?

While latency measures the amount of time it takes data to travel from your computer to the game server, packet loss is what happens when that data never reaches the game server.

Sounds like a nightmare, right? If you’ve gamed a lot, likely you’ve experienced packet loss or heard others complain about “drifting” or “rubberbanding.”

Nothing says “wave goodbye to your chicken dinner” than rubberbanding during a PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) game while the enemy takes potshots at you with the shotgun.

How to Reduce Latency on Satellite Internet

Satellite internet works by bouncing your data to satellites orbiting 22,300 miles above Earth, then to the game server and back. (Whew, what a mouthful.) Because your data has to travel such a great distance, you’re going to experience latency. There’s just no way around it.

But there are a few things you can do to reduce latency and avoid the lag hammer.

Here’s how to reduce latency and fix lag:

  1. Use a wired connection, not Wi-Fi. Plug in that Ethernet cable, friend!
  2. Pause any background downloads.
  3. Close any programs that use an internet connection, like Netflix.
  4. Restart your router—unplug the power cable, wait a minute or two, then plug it back in again.
  5. Connect to game servers closest to your local area. For example, if you live in the Midwest, look for a server located in Chicago.

Which video games can I play with satellite internet?

Some games will run like a charm on satellite internet, while others will make you want to pull your hair out. (Seriously, there’s nothing worse than lagging out and getting steamrolled by an aggro mob.)

Because your data has to travel so far, offline games, turn-based games, and certain RPGs will run best. But we’re not saying you can’t hop on your Norn Mesmer to blast some world bosses in Guild Wars 2.

That said, here are some games we recommend playing on satellite internet and a few you might want to avoid.

Best Games for Satellite Internet

  • Civilization V, PC
  • League of Legends, PC
  • Star Trek Online, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
  • World of Warcraft, PC
  • Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch

Worst Games for Satellite Internet

  • Counter Strike: Global Offensive, PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
  • PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, mobile
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
  • Fortnite, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, mobile

Keep in mind your gameplay experience will depend on what you do. For example, you might be fine questing in the Barrens on World of Warcraft, but things might get laggy if you hop into a twenty-man raid.

You’ll also want to consider how important split-second actions are. In a fast-paced game like Overwatch, dodging enemy players’ ultimates and shooting back has to happen quickly for you to earn that play-of-the-game recognition. There’s no room for high latency here.

Pro Tip: Buy a physical copy.

Digital game downloads are all the rage now, but downloading 50 gigs of game content will take at least a few hours on satellite internet. That’s time you could be gaming.

Instead, buy a physical copy of your game so you’re ready to go. (Except for those patches we know are coming.)

Which satellite internet provider is best for gaming?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recommends speeds of at least 4 Mbps for gaming, but as with all things, more is better.

Luckily, both satellite internet providers in the US offer faster speeds than that. HughesNet connects you at 25 Mbps, no matter what plan you choose. Viasat (formerly Exede) goes up to 100 Mbps—a speed that rivals cable internet.

Viasat (formerly Exede)
viasat satellite internet
Price: $50.00–$150.00/mo.*
Speed: 12–100 Mbps
HughesNet
hughesnet satellite internet
Price: $59.99–$129.99/mo.†
Speed: 25 Mbps

Data effective 12/10/18. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
* For the first three months.
† Requires a 24-month agreement.

HughesNet vs. Viasat: Data Caps

When it comes to data caps, both Viasat and HughesNet advertise “unlimited” data. But the reality is that both ISPs will slow your speed after you use a certain amount of data each month.

Viasat will slow your speed during times of high network traffic once you hit 40 to 100 GB of data. The amount of data you get before your internet starts crawling along depends on the plan you purchase—the more expensive the plan, the more unthrottled data you get.

HughesNet, on the other hand, caps your data at 10 GB to 50 GB each month. Again, how much data you get depends on which plan you pay for. If you go over that data cap, your speeds will slow to about 1 to 3 Mbps until the billing cycle ends. No thanks.

You can buy extra data from both Viasat and HughesNet, so don’t throw either option completely out the window.

We should also mention HughesNet’s two-year price lock guarantee is great if you’re looking to save money, especially compared to Viasat, which jacks up your price after three months. That might be enough to turn the tide in HughesNet’s favor.

Viasat vs. HughesNet: Speed

If you have multiple gamers in your household (or even if some housemates stream while you game), Viasat’s speeds may be a better deal. With its new Viasat-2 satellite system, it ramps up to 100 Mbps, while HughesNet tops out at 25 Mbps.

If it’s just you gaming, HughesNet’s 25 Mbps speeds are more than enough. And don’t forget about its two-year price guarantee that blows Viasat’s prices out of the water.

One thing to note is that your internet speed won’t affect your lag since latency is based on distance and not speed.

Even so, data caps and speed are still worth considering while you decide on a satellite internet plan.

Here’s why: Imagine you ordered a chocolate shake, but there were no big straws, and you had to suck all that chocolatey goodness through a normal-sized soda straw. Talk about frustrating.

That’s what internet is like with a lower speed—you’re trying to download information through a narrow straw. But if you up your speed, you’ve upgraded to the jumbo-sized milkshake straw that allows you to download more information at the same time.

Big or small, your straw is always the same length, so your milkshake (or internet data) always travels the same distance to get to you. That’s why latency is an inescapable factor with satellite internet, no matter how fast your connection is. But getting more data at once with a higher speed will help downloads go faster and graphics look better. That’s why speed still matters.

Which gaming consoles work best with satellite internet?

Whether you’re a PlayStation, Xbox, or Switch fan, they all run about the same on satellite internet.

They do fall prey to the same issues you’ll experience playing PC games, so we still recommend games that don’t rely on split-second decisions. (We’re looking at you, PUBG.)

Here’s a quick list of some console games we recommend for satellite internet.

Best Console Games for Satellite Internet

  • Smite: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
  • Battlefield V: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
  • Star Trek Online: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
  • Elder Scrolls Online: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Satellite internet is like looting a rare item: it’s not the best, but it’s still an upgrade.

We don’t recommend satellite internet for gaming if you have other options. But we understand some gamers don’t have a choice.

The good news is you can still rack up those kills, grind those levels, and earn those in-game achievements even with satellite internet. You just have to jump through a few hoops to do it. GG.

Find out if you can upgrade your internet to legendary status—enter your address.
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