Online data usage can vary quite a bit depending on what you’re playing.
Every year more people are jumping online to play games on a variety of platforms: from computers to consoles and even mobile devices.
So where exactly does online gaming fall in terms of data usage?
Believe it or not, some of the biggest online games use very little data while you’re playing compared to streaming HD video or even high-fidelity audio.
Where streaming 4K video can use as much as 7 gigabytes (GB) per hour and high-quality audio streaming gets up to around 125 megabytes (MB) per hour, (but usually sits at around half that) certain online games use as little as 10MB per hour.*
There is, of course, a range when it comes to how much data online games use, and it’s based on several variables.
Surprisingly, that 10 megabytes-per-hour (MB/h) game is the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft, but even that comes with a disclaimer.
That data is reflective of playing alone in the online world. When playing with or against other players, the number can jump to around 40MB/h or higher.*
Comparatively, that’s still not a lot of data usage next to streaming video, but it’s just one example.
According to this official help page for online shooter Destiny, developer Bungie claims “the average data usage for Destiny us up to 1 gigabyte per hour for live gameplay”.
This Destiny example is considerably higher than some other popular online games.
Another big-hitting example is Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, which can use up closer to 250MB under certain conditions.*
Even if you discount Destiny’s high data usage as an outlier, a middle-ground between Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and World of Warcraft (solo) would be Battlefield 1 or The Division, both of which can be closer to around 100MB per hour.*
The real data hog when it comes to online games are the updates (also called patches), downloadable content (DLC) or even the games themselves.
Take, for instance, Star Wars Battlefront. This game requires 27GB on PC just for the core game.
If you bought Battlefront digitally, you’ll need to actually download that full 27GB, just to get started. This is before patches, and any DLC that has been released since it came out.
Nowadays, after four rounds of DLC plus multiple updates, the Star Wars Battlefront installation directory (on PC) now weighs in at closer to 54GB, all of which has to be downloaded if you bought a digital copy.
If you bought it on disc, you still need to download all of those patches and DLC.
Because players need to be on the same version of the game to play together online, digital platforms such as Steam, Xbox Live, and the PlayStation Network favour automatic updates over manual patches.
Game updates can range in size from a handful of megabytes to multiple gigabytes, all of which can add up over time.
Single-player games also fall under the banner of receiving both updates and DLC.
Just because a game doesn’t have an online component, doesn’t mean it’s not using data when patches are downloaded.
There are certain games that can be played alone that still use data because of their connected nature.
Diablo III, for instance, can be played alone, but it can still use around 16MB/h when playing. That number shifts to around 26MB/h if you’re playing cooperatively in a group.*
One common variable is voice over internet protocol (VOIP) chat.
This may be included as part of an online game, and will use data whenever a player is transmitting their voice (you or other players that can be heard by you).
There are also external VOIP considerations such as party chat on Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network, and programs such as TeamSpeak, Skype or Discord on PC.
Skype, for instance, can use between 13MB and 45MB per hour for VOIP calls, according to a Skype support page. This figure is just for a call to a single recipient. Once you start adding more people, the numbers go up.
There are internal considerations that crop up on a per-game basis, too.
Battlefield 1, for instance, allows for 64-player servers, but you can also play on smaller 24-player modes, too.
The smaller modes use less data because there are fewer players and, therefore, less information to be transmitted to and from individual players and the dedicated server.
Generally speaking, games that utilise dedicated servers chew up fewer megabytes per hour.
For games that use peer-to-peer hosting, the player who is designated as the host uses up considerably more data compared to the other connecting players because their connection is responsible for sending and receiving all of the necessary updates.
While generally playing games online often doesn’t require a lot of data, downloading digital games, content and DLC can make that data requirement stack up.
Really, how much data your time spent gaming will use up changes from game to game.
If you’re concerned about a specific title, try searching for data usage surrounding that game in particular, paying special attention to any official information given out by the game developers themselves.
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*Where official developer data was not available, figures were recorded using NetWorx bandwidth monitor.