Why You Should Use a VPN for GamingFeb 15, 2022
While online gaming has been around since the earliest days of the Internet, its popularity has exploded in recent years. It's a trend that's expected to continue: data from Fortune Business Insights shows that the global online gaming market is expected to reach a valuation of $545.98 billion by 2028. The massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) market is expected to expand at an annual growth rate of 9.5% from 2020-2025. And on top of that, blockchain-based "GameFi" and play-to-earn (P2E) games are experiencing huge amounts of growth and attention.
In other words, people are playing online games more than ever. But as people continue to enjoy gameplay in a variety of digital settings, many—especially those who are newer to gaming—may be unaware of the privacy risks associated with it. Like other kinds of websites, online applications, and services, video games can increase the vulnerability of personal information on the Internet. And as online gaming increasingly shifts toward augmented and virtual reality —and involves more and more valuable digital assets and wallets—these privacy risks only become more complex.
Because of these dangers, using a virtual private network (VPN) client to protect personal data can be crucial to staying safe when you're gaming online. And not only can VPNs keep your data secure—they can also help gamers access geoblocked content, and may even improve latency.
What is a VPN, and How Does it Protect Personal Information Online?
If you haven't used a VPN before, here's a quick primer on how they work.
When people use any kind of online service, data is sent from their devices to the servers that host whatever they're attempting to access. In other words, anytime you type a web address into a browser's search bar, make a call on Skype, or login to your online gaming console, your data is sent from your device to a remote server.
Usually, the data that gets sent from your device to these remote servers includes multiple pieces of personal information about who is sending the data, as well as requests for new kinds of information from the server. If servers communicated in English, the data might look like this: "user Robert Smith (email@example.com) located in the United States with IP address 184.108.40.206 is requesting graphics data from gaming application XYZ." Without a VPN, all of this data is easily readable by the destination server, as well as any third-party onlookers that may intercept it.
VPNs protect this data by creating an encrypted "tunnel" that both hides data from onlookers and masks identifying information from destination servers. These tunnels are formed by placing an intermediary server between the origin of data and its destination. When you use a VPN, any data that you send online will first be sent through this intermediary server before reaching its destination.
Gaming is Just as Vulnerable as Other Kinds of Online Activity
Many people are unaware that data routed through gaming applications and consoles is just as vulnerable to online privacy threats as that relating to other kinds of online activities, such as shopping, working, or using social media. This includes any information submitted during product registration and payment processes, written and spoken conversations held in online gaming environments, and any behaviors that users engage in during their gaming experiences.
Personal information can be collected by the makers of gaming hardware and related software applications in much the same way that regular websites and online applications collect user data. This information can be sold, analyzed, or otherwise used in ways that people may not be aware of—for example, details like your geographic location can be recorded and used for marketing purposes without your consent.
Employing a VPN client for your gaming activities can greatly reduce the risk of your data being collected and used by third parties. And now that online gaming is expanding into virtual and augmented reality technologies—and rapidly claiming space in the metaverse—protecting personal information is only likely to grow in importance.
Gaming and Privacy in the Metaverse
As immersive gaming experiences continue to expand and take advantage of new technical capabilities, protecting users' privacy in the metaverse will become more and more important.
While most people still experience the Internet in much the same way as they have for the past several years, the development of metaverse tech promises to deliver richer, more immersive online experiences. The metaverse promises virtual environments in which people can play, interact, shop, watch movies, meet with their friends and family, and more—sometimes entirely within the same gaming universe. In other words, experiences in the metaverse will increasingly mirror our real-world existence in fully-digital or hybrid environments. But as exciting as this technology promises to be, these immersive online experiences present new kinds of privacy threats.
The most cutting-edge metaverse experiences that are available to people today often fall into two categories: virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). VR experiences are fully-immersive, and are typically experienced via headsets that completely occupy their wearer's visual field. AR experiences, by contrast, superimpose virtual objects, avatars, and other elements into a user's physical environment. AR can also be experienced through fully-immersive headsets (and other types of eyewear), or through handheld devices like smartphones.
VR and AR Present Complex Privacy Challenges
VR- and AR-enabled experiences may one day require gamers to provide even more kinds of information than they do now. For instance, the virtual reality experiences currently in development by Facebook parent Meta may not just ask people to put on headsets. In the near future, immersive game players could be asked to install sensors in their homes for truly immersive AR and VR experiences. Meta has also patented a smartwatch that contains body temperature sensors, heart rate monitors, motion sensors, and activity recognition sensors—data that will likely be integrated into the platform's AR and VR applications, including games.
It's not hard to imagine that Meta—or any number of other centralized VR and AR developers—could eventually offer "mixed reality" gaming experiences that involve eye, face, body, and hand-tracking devices. It may even be possible for VR and AR platforms to integrate technology that tracks and responds to brainwaves. If this is the case, people who want to have the "full gaming experience" will have to consent to unprecedented levels of surveillance and tracking.
These new forms of monitoring provide the opportunity for large, centralized third parties to collect even more of our personal data. And because these companies may not be transparent or responsible with how user data is handled, people should take steps to protect their privacy when participating in games that are increasingly complex and/or AR- or VR-enabled. Using a VPN for any form of online gaming is an important part of any solution.
Can People Install VPNs on VR- and AR- Gaming Devices?
In some cases, it may be possible to install a VPN directly onto your metaverse gaming console, including VR/AR gear. If you are using a smartphone or iPad for online gaming—including AR gaming - this process is fairly straightforward.
If you are using a device that is specifically designed for AR and VR experiences, it may take some investigation to discover whether or not your gear is capable of supporting a VPN client. Installing a VPN on your VR or AR gaming equipment may also require a bit of technical know-how: for instance, the Oculus Quest VR headset can support any VPN client compatible with Android devices, but requires users to enable developer mode to complete the installation process.
However, if it's not possible to install a VPN directly onto your VR or AR device, you can still protect your privacy by installing one on your router. The process will depend somewhat on which kind of router you have. Consult the manufacturer of your device for specific instructions on how to install a VPN on it.
Use a Gaming VPN to Disguise Your Location
VPNs also have practical use in online gaming beyond protecting user privacy. For instance, you may have had the experience of discovering a great new game that you want to try, only to find that it's unavailable in the region where you live. Or perhaps you wanted to play your favorite game on a trip abroad, but your plans were thwarted when you realized that it wasn't available in your vacation spot. This phenomenon—called "geoblocking"—happens when game developers intentionally make their platforms unavailable in certain areas of the world.
Geoblocking can happen for multiple reasons. For instance, some countries may have regulations that impose limits on certain types of content, including copyrighted material. Another possibility is that translating a game from one language to another costs more than the publisher expects to earn in the region where the language is spoken.
Regardless of the reason for it, geoblocking can be a nuisance for gamers. But there is a solution. If you're trying to find a way to play a game that isn't normally available in your region, VPNs are your friend.
Because VPNs route the traffic that's coming to and from your devices through external servers, the game's servers cannot accurately determine the origin point of the activity. Imagine a U.S.-based game that can only be accessed by players in North America. If a gamer located elsewhere uses a VPN with servers in Canada, the game's receiving servers will believe that the gamer's traffic is originating from there. When the gaming servers send outgoing data to the gamer's device, it will first be sent through the VPN, ensuring that the gamer's true location won't be detected.
Can VPNs Reduce Latency in Online Gaming?
Some gamers also use VPNs to reduce latency (also known as "lag" or "ping")—the period between user actions and server responses. Latency is a nuisance in any online context. But in a gaming environment, it can seriously impact the player experience: just a few milliseconds of latency can mean the difference between winning or losing. And when lag is really bad, it can cause games to freeze, or prevent players from effectively communicating with one another in real-time.
VPNs don't always reduce latency. In fact, they can sometimes make it worse. However, VPNs can make gameplay smoother in certain circumstances—specifically, if a gamer's internet service provider (ISP) has made the decision to artificially slow down, or "throttle," gaming activities that take up high amounts of bandwidth.
Using a VPN obscures your activities from your ISP, so that it cannot throttle bandwidth based on certain kinds of behaviors. However, if your ISP is throttling your service solely based on the amount of bandwidth you're using—without knowing what it is you're doing—a VPN will not reduce latency in your gaming experience.
Which VPN Should I Use for Gaming?
There are many different reputable VPN providers on the market today, each of which may have certain features that make it more desirable for your specific purposes. Using a decentralized VPN service like Orchid provides a series of benefits that could be ideal for online gaming.
Orchid's decentralized VPN marketplace is powered by a system of incentives designed to ensure that ample bandwidth is always available to users. This minimizes the possibility of VPN lag on Orchid. And service on Orchid is pay-as-you-go, so users never pay for bandwidth they don't use --- there are no monthly fees or subscriptions. So if you decide to take time away from gaming, you won't incur any VPN-related costs during your break.
Orchid's app is flexible enough to provide Internet privacy for all your online experiences. After you've created and funded an account on Orchid, you can easily use it on multiple devices at the same time, including gaming consoles that support VPNs. Additionally, for activities that require higher levels of security, users can easily configure multiple hops to combine the services of leading VPN providers like Wireguard and OpenVPN. It's easy to start using Orchid with nothing more than an ordinary credit card. And thanks to Orchid's multi-chain capabilities, you can get started for as little as $1.
Orchid's mission is to restore the Internet as a place of freedom and self-expression. Providing access to affordable Internet privacy for all kinds of online activities—including online gaming—is an important part of this goal.
Download Orchid today to start exploring the Internet freely.