What's the worst internet connection you've had?

The digital world
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Have you ever had internet that stops working every time it rains? That slows down if you put your foot too close to the router? That takes four hours to finish loading an Evangelion AMV? Maybe you've never had it quite that bad, but most of us have put up with a rubbish internet connection at some point, whether thanks to that one service provider who turned out to be useless, or that one house in a weird data-transfer dead zone.

Eventually you get used to installing games the night before you want to play them, and either endure the lag for the sake of your favorite online games, or give up on them altogether.

What's the worst internet connection you've had? And how did it affect your gaming?

Here are our answers, plus some from our forum.

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Nat Clayton, News Writer: Before university, I spent a few months kicking around northern Europe doing volunteer jobs—one of which involved taking care of 60 sled dogs at an isolated kennel in the fjords of Norway. At the time, I was travelling with an American I knew from the (no, really) Super Monday Night Combat scene which, while already in its death throes, still had a pretty tight-knit community. We'd previously managed to get a few games in while working at a bamboo/Christmas tree farm in The Netherlands, but up here in the cold north we were fighting against ping rates that normalised at a healthy 1000ms. Trying to play a few SMNC customs with pals frequently saw us both teleporting across maps and falling to our deaths. An ill-considered attempt to take part in Guild Wars 2's Lost Shores event left us waiting minutes at a time for a single frame to update. Suffice to say, we pretty quickly abandoned any notion of filling the long nights with online games.

Sarah James, Guides Writer: I adored the original Call of Duty: Black Ops and spent an obscene amount of time in the multiplayer, despite dealing with a ridiculously slow connection at the time. For the majority of the day, I could boast a whopping 3Mb download speed, but that was often throttled to around 500kb in the evenings. What's surprising is that it didn't actually make a huge amount of difference to my gaming. I mean, there were some evenings when Black Ops was unplayable, but most of the time my slow connection wasn't particularly noticeable—either that or I just got used to it. Installing games was a pain though. I think it took over a day to download WoW's Cataclysm expansion.

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Robin Valentine, Print Editor: My internet connection at university was absolutely dreadful, which only served to worsen my already nocturnal sleep schedule, as it was way easier to download and play games when everyone else was asleep. I remember wanting to get games in of BioShock 2's unreasonably good multiplayer mode, but between my dodgy connection and Games for Windows Live's wild instability, only one in 10 matches would have low enough lag for me to actually get a kill.

John Strike, Print Art Director: I played online with a dial-up 56k modem from 2000-2005 because I lived in the middle of nowhere, in a place where sheep outnumbered humans county-wide. Soldier of Fortune 2 and Operation Flashpoint were just about playable on UK servers, but my three-digit ping was so bad I even got booted out of a competitive clan match mid-game, because apparently I was warping around like Leonard Nimoy. People can teach you how to be a better player, and teach you how to play as part of a team, but nobody ever teaches you how to live with the shame of being a laggy assclown. My first day at university was a long time coming, then when it arrived I booted up the game only to realise multiplayer games weren't playable on the uni's proxy server. FFS.

Tim Clark, Brand Director: It was 2002 and my first ever E3—a time when high-speed internet was still in its relative infancy, and screenshots were still handed out on CDs. In a panic, I thought it was a good idea to send everything back to the UK via a 56k hotel connection, I think because the CMS didn't work remotely or something insane. I remember this vividly because 1) I had to plug the cable in via a socket in the lamp, 2) it took an entire night to send back half a dozen screenshots of Toby Gard's Galleon, and 3) on checkout I was presented with a $500+ bill because back then hotels were charging by the MB. My expenses got signed off, but let's just say that the website in question is no longer with us. 

Jarred Walton, Tom's Hardware Senior Editor: Do pre-internet BBSes count? We bought a Commodore C-128 when they were basically brand new — double the memory of the C-64! This was back in 1985. As an add-in bonus, it included a 300 baud modem. I don’t even know how I found the information (11-year-old me was already a nerd), but I got the numbers for some bulletin board systems where you could play some basic text games. The thing that stands out most in my memory is screens of ASCII art appearing at about one 40-character line per second. One BBS had a welcome picture that was about 120 lines tall, even though most computer screens (TVs, really) back then were only 40x25 characters. So it required more than two minutes for the picture to scroll past, and I could only view about one fifth of it at a time. And yet, I still thought it was awesome! When we upgraded to a 2400 baud modem and the welcome page zipped by in about 15 seconds, I was blown away! Those were heady days.

Andy Chalk, News Hammer: I thought I'd be the only one to go back to the 300 baud BBS days—dialing a phone number, waiting for the grating squeal, pushing the button on the modem and watching text scroll by one line at a time. It was primitive but magical, and as Jarred said, the upgrades in speed over the years that followed, to 2400 bps, then 14.4, 28.8, and 56K, weren't about just boosting performance, but enabling basic functionality. It was a glorious day indeed when "high speed" came to my small town in the form of Bell DSL—a 1MB line, as I recall—and every bit as painful when I relocated to the boonies a few years later, which forced a reversion to dialup internet. It was another five years of that nonsense before wireless broadband service came to my area, and even now it sucks compared to "real" broadband access. But on the other hand, it's quiet and I don't have to deal with neighbours. I (usually) consider that a fair trade.

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Tyler Colp, Associate Editor: My crappy internet connection killed 25 people once. I was playing World of Warcraft during the Burning Crusade expansion era. I was one undead warlock in a group of 25 raiders taking on a sorcerer boss in Tempest Keep. She had this ability that implanted a bomb on someone random in the group. Our orders were to take it and walk away from where everyone else was standing to minimize the damage. My 2008, 1.5Mbps internet had a better idea and gave me a lag spike as soon as I got marked with the bomb. Everyone in the raid was wiped out. When voice chat fizzled back in I just heard a lot of yelling and scolding. Thankfully everyone forgave me, but that moment still haunts me. Thanks internet!

Shaun Prescott, Australia Editor: I don't have a brilliant internet connection (50mbps max, though it rarely hits that) but I've not encountered any real difficulties, aside from having to pre-plan larger installs—anything larger than 40gb is an all-nighter for me. It does affect my playing habits in a way, though: If I sit down with the urge to play something new, I'll usually opt for a small game that will download in a couple of minutes. It definitely informs impulse purchases: I'm not going to impulsively buy a new blockbuster game because I'll have too long to regret it, but a game that sits around or below the 2gb mark—instantly gratifying. It's why I bought (and ended up loving) Astalon: Tears of the Earth, for example.

From our forum

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Mazer: Being in Australia it'd be harder to name the best internet connection I've ever had, but I'd rather have a whinge about dial-up internet. Sure, it was slow, tied up the phone line, and required you to sit through the sound of a thousand demons receiving recreational tabasco enemas before you could go online, but on the other hand it was also expensive.

However I did like doing a direct dial connection to a friends computer so we could play Street Fighter II on ZSnes, that was fun. Less fun was trying to look at naked ladies, at approximately eight minutes per still image I wouldn't have had the patience if not for the iron grip of puberty.

mainer: Worst ever would have to be back in the days of dialup connections when I first got into PCs & gaming, using AOL. It was completely unreliable. I might be connected for a few hours, or it could just randomly drop the connection at any given time.

Since then it's been Time Warner Cable, which became Spectrum, and while download/upload speeds are reasonable and fairly steady, the customer service is a farce and the monthly costs ($84.99) have been rising to absurd levels.

ZedClampet: My Comcast/Xfinity went out a few months ago, and it was an ongoing problem, so while I was waiting for AT&T to come and install fiber, I had a hotspot activated on my Verizon phone. Unfortunately, there was a data cap on that, and it went by fast. After you had hit the data cap, the hotspot went to 'emergency use', which was 3 KB. That was unusable for anything gaming related, so all online gaming came to a stop (except for the rare occasion when Xfinity was working).

Two days before ATT came out to put in the fiber, Comcast got their crap together and fixed the problem, but I'm really happy to be done with them. They are a nightmare in many different ways. Plus, I have faster Internet now with no data cap and pay $100 less a month. It was pretty dumb that I was still with them in the first place.

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Krud: While it technically wasn't my "worst internet connection" (since that would have been 2400 baud back in the early 90's), I was stuck on 56k dialup for WAY too long, because we were living in a DSL dead zone, though we could move two miles in any direction* and get DSL, and cable internet was too rich for our blood at the time

(* - Except up or down.)

So while everyone else was enjoying broadband and digital downloads, I was swearing under my breath every time I bought a physical disc that had to be updated online. The worst was in 2008, when I bought Portal (yep, still on dial-up then), and found out I had to download almost 2 GIGABYTES from Steam before it would let me play, even though it was single-player and shouldn't have had to be updated. I eventually borrowed someone else's internet to get the files, rather than tie up our phoneline for two or three days straight. (We still talked on a landline back then, too.)

So yeah, I was very much anti "digital download only" games for a while. Then in 2009 we finally got a good deal on high-speed cable internet, and my tune quickly changed. But up to that point, I took it kinda personally even when a game wanted an internet connection or a big patch. (Actually, I still get annoyed when a single-player game insists that I be online I or that I update, just on principle. It's why I keep Steam in Offline Mode whenever possible. Though it seems to still connect and update Steam, which is cheating if you ask me.) Now git offa mah lawn!

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Alm: I'm another with memories of dial-up. It would really annoy my best mate's parents if we took up the phone line to play Doom (luckily for me, my Dad had a fax line so I was a lot less likely to get caught) so we could only play until we were found out. Cs 1.6 on 128k broadband seemed like a dream in comparison.

Zloth: Well, GEnie doesn't really count as 'the internet,' so I suppose the worst I had was dialing up to the university with some VT100 emulation software. It didn't really hurt my gaming much. Empire, Hack, Zork, and DND really don't need much bandwidth and can recover nicely if SOMEBODY picks up the phone.

Jody Macgregor
Weekend/AU Editor

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games. He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun, The Big Issue, GamesRadar, Zam, Glixel, Five Out of Ten Magazine, and Playboy.com, whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was about the audio of Alien Isolation, published in 2015, and since then he's written about why Silent Hill belongs on PC, why Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the best fantasy shopkeeper tycoon game, and how weird Lost Ark can get. Jody edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and he eventually lived up to his promise to play every Warhammer videogame.