GDC 2006: Bigfoot Networks promises hardware solution to end online game lag

San Jose (CA) - Game lag is a frustrating reality for gamers these days as the effect causes online characters to slow down, freeze or even disconnect from a game. While users have accepted the effect as part of their online gaming experience, Bigfoot Networks promises to reduce lag with network cards that promise a "Lag and Latency Reduction." TG Daily chatted with VP of marketing Bob Grim and CEO Harlan Beverly about the new feature.

There was no card demonstrated in front of us at the meeting, but Grim promised that the first Lag and Latency Reduction (LLR) enabled network cards will be available in the summer. The devices will contain a "gaming network processor," which Bigfoot claims will "get data to the game faster" with less CPU overhead and likely faster frames per second. Bigfoot is also looking at putting the chipset into USB dongles and embedding them into a motherboard. In addition to being installed on home computers, Bigfoot will sell server versions. "When you have cards on both sides, the real magic happens," said Beverly.

According to Grim and Beverly, the new cards are also capable of increasing the frame rate performance, giving competitive gamers a potential advantage over ones that don't have a Bigfoot network card.

Bigfoot will be primarily marketing the cards to hardcore gamers who already spent money on pricey components for their computers. Many gamers buy the fastest hard drives, graphics cards and processors, only to discover - according to Beverly - that their online games still have some lag. The same thing happens to gamers who move from dial-up to DSL or a cable modem: The faster connection theoretically should eliminate lag, but sometimes it simply doesn't.

This is where Bigfoot comes into the game. Users will connect the Ethernet cable from their DSL or Cable service to the Bigfoot cards. The chipset will then analyze the network traffic and extract the game data. Both Beverly and Grim were very vague on how the chipset will work: "It's a lot more than that. But we are not announcing all of our secret sauce."

Will game developers have to alter the code to work with Bigfoot's games? According to Beverly, games won't have to be redesigned, but game servers may want to incorporate a special API to get some of the more advanced features of the chipset. He did not tell us when the API will be released or what those advanced features will be.

Beverly cautions that his company cannot completely eliminate lag. "We are not claiming that we are going to end lag, but you're going to get less lag with our product," he said. He also cautions that the product will not increase available bandwidth, so the lag induced by a dial-up or even some broadband connections will still be a problem. What Beverly does promise, however, is that users will have less lag and possibly be the envy of their fellow gamers.

Until an actual card comes out, we, along with many other people, will remain skeptical. It's unclear how Beverly and Grim will be able to bend Internet backbones to their wills. Sometimes lag is caused by long hops from the home computer to the gaming server, but how can a card on your home computer basically fix routing problems outside of your home network?

We will dig deeper into this question as soon as we get our hands on one of Bigfoot's cards.