GameRail, a startup purporting to optimize latency for gamers, has closed up shop. An announcement posted on the company web site says that: “[T]he market does not appear to be ready to support a standalone network for gaming at this time.”
I never had a chance to check out the service, though early consumer reports were decidedly mixed. Still, GameRail’s death notice suggests a broader reason: There are probably very few gamers out there willing to pay extra to become what’s colloquially called an SLPB, or “super low ping bastard.”
As one GameRail user endorsement reads, “I had hops to Texas causing pings in excess of 150 and 200 [milliseconds]. Decided to start up the Client, within 3 seconds my pings were 45-50ms.” In other words, paying $11.99 a month dropped latency from a fraction of a second to an even smaller sliver.
When I play Halo or Team Fortress 2, I personally get about 125 millisecond latency on my remarkably mediocre AT&T broadband service, which is probably around average; you’d have to be gaming on a professional level to want it much smaller. Maybe if you’re competitive gamer like Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel or you’re planning to go head-to-head with him, you’d pay for that boost. But if you’re just a weekend warrior, how much is it worth to get your Counterstrike crosshairs on your opponent’s head 1/25th of a second quicker?
In any case, the system wouldn’t serve the tens of millions of hardcore gamers who play Xbox 360 or the Sony PS3. Nor would it be of much use to the hundreds of millions who play web-based casual games or online worlds and MMOs where latency isn’t such a crucial issue. (You can still play World of Warcraft with a dial-up modem, for Pete’s sake.) Even for first-person shooter fans, the pickings are going to be slim: A large number of them already use Valve’s Steam download software (it currently boasts 15 million accounts), and are thus disinclined to download another service on top of that, while many of them play in Internet game cafes where they can’t download anything. So in the end, a standalone network is probably fated to going after too few gamers and thus flounder, if not outright fail.