Low server tick rate can be a common complaint from dedicated players of online shooters, but Blizzard has explained why some of the criticism is directed at developers needlessly.
In layman’s terms, tick rate is the rate at which the server refreshes in relation to the local game client and subsequently keeps track of players’ actions and movement. A low tick rate can lead to problems commonly associated with latency, such as players being seemingly shot through walls or killed around corners.
In fact, Jeff Kaplan, game director for Overwatch at Blizzard, believes that most players blaming low server tick rates for a negative online experience are instead being struck by conventional latency – or ‘lag’.
“There's so much confusion,” he told Eurogamer. “First of all, most people don't even really understand the way that the network code works. For example, the server does tick at 60Hz, it's the client update rate that is lower. That just shows a general misunderstanding.
“I think players have latched onto server tick rate as being the reason that certain things happen. One of the things that players are upset about is that if they get shot, where they perceive they were behind a wall, that this is a problem with server tick rate. Certainly there are contributions that could happen with both the server and the client update rates that could cause something like that to happen, but usually, in most cases, you're talking about latency.”
Kaplan strengthened his point by explaining that Blizzard had actually introduced a ‘high bandwidth’ option in Overwatch’s custom game modes, allowing those for whom server tick rate matters to play in matches where gameplay is updated at 60Hz.
While server tick rate may seem to matter to a very vocal section of the community online, very few Overwatch users opted to actually make use of the higher tick rate option.
“We wanted to explore what the game would be like at 60Hz, so that way, we could explore if it's possible for us to try other versions of the game with this update rate,” Kaplan recalled. “What we've been trying to do is encourage players to play with it.
“It's kind of ironic that they're demanding it, it's in the game and playable, and right now we're seeing about 0.08 per cent of all matches that take place in Overwatch are actually using the feature.”
Kaplan concluded by stating that while “there's nothing more important to us than the game feeling fast and responsive”, support for a 60Hz server tick rate remains low among Overwatch users, leading Blizzard to cater for the widest audience possible.
“Right now, for example, what we've seen is that it wouldn't work for about 20 per cent of our users,” he revealed. “That's a problem we can solve if we get more testing on it, but we couldn't just put it live. As you know, we announced that number of seven million players last week.
“The last thing we want to do is take 20 per cent of those people and tell them you can't play Overwatch anymore because people were angry on the forums and we flipped the switch and added this thing.”