The benefits of a VPN when using Netflix, Amazon Prime, or any other streaming service are well-known, but the positives a VPN can bring to gaming aren’t as obvious. While a VPN is never going to be able to improve your K/D ratio or help you reach Diamond, there are still some benefits to turning on a VPN before you jump into your favorite game. These benefits can be a bit opaque, so we’ve broken down exactly what you can gain from using a VPN as well as some of the disadvantages.
What is a VPN?
First, let’s take a step back and break down exactly what a VPN is. VPNs, or virtual private networks, offer a secure private connection for you to send and receive data safely. This means you can browse and use the internet without being tracked, whether by websites, applications, or people trying to access your network remotely. Of course, VPNs are largely focused on security, but they’re not typically used by people looking to increase their safety measures. VPNs are most commonly used for entertainment purposes.
VPNs allow people to mask their IP address and trick websites and applications into thinking they’re browsing from a different country. Each region has its own library of content on the vast majority of streaming services, and with a VPN, you aren’t limited by your own country’s selection. For example, if a movie isn’t available on Netflix in the US, a VPN will disguise your real location so that you’re able to watch it, even if you’re not in the country where it’s streaming.
While most people use VPNs for accessing entertainment from around the world, they can also be used for gaming as there are some key advantages that can improve your experience. These advantages are a bit niche, but they’re advantages nonetheless.
Advantages of a VPN for gaming
A VPN won’t be beneficial for every gamer. But for some, the advantages of a VPN for gaming can be quite substantial, especially if you’re interested in games from other countries or peer-to-peer multiplayer games.
Access region-locked games
Similar to how people use VPNs with Netflix, you can use your VPN to access games that haven’t been released in your country. Some platforms, such as Steam, prohibit the use of VPNs to access restricted content, but there are a number of games only available in Asian regions that can be played through the use of a VPN. For example, Phantasy Star Online 2 was only available in Japan for nearly eight years before it was released in the west. Call of Duty Online is another game that’s only available in China and playable through the use of a VPN.
Access game servers in other regions
Accessing games in other regions can be a spotty affair, but VPNs also give you the opportunity to access and join game servers in other regions. This can make it possible for US gamers to play with their friends in the UK, Japan, or any other country. Keep in mind, however, that playing in servers not allocated specifically for your region can result in a less-than-stellar connection.
Can VPNs improve your multiplayer connection?
The answer to this question is a little more complicated than a simple yes or no. VPNs don’t replace your internet provider, so you won’t see much improvement in your connection speed or quality. It can, however, relieve strain on your connection in specific settings, such as online peer-to-peer multiplayer games.
Peer-to-peer (or P2P) is when players connect to each other as opposed to a dedicated server. This results in laggy, unstable experiences if you or other players experience network issues or have poor internet connections. A reliable VPN can help smooth this out, reducing ping and improving your experience overall. One particularly noteworthy game that uses peer-to-peer is Grand Theft Auto Online, though most games these days use a mix of dedicated servers and peer-to-peer technology.
VPNs can help prevent DDoS attacks
DDoS attacks happen when someone identifies a user or server’s IP address and essentially overloads it, bringing it down and rendering it unusable. This is a big problem for any game, and while we wish a VPN could help prevent large-scale DDoS events on some of the more popular servers, a VPN can only protect the person using it. VPNs can prevent any potential attacker from getting your personal IP address.
You may wonder why someone would pick you out of a crowd and try to ruin your fun, but there are a lot of well-documented cases of this happening in Grand Theft Auto Online. Because of its peer-to-peer connection, it’s not unusual to see your bank account flooded with money, be set on fire seemingly randomly, or see any number of hijinks and shenanigans happen on a minute-by-minute basis. Players are capable of causing a whole lot of mischief in Grand Theft Auto Online, and if someone had a grudge against you for any reason (or just wanted to cause trouble for you), they could hit you with a DDoS attack and bring your session to an end.
Disadvantages of a VPN for gaming
While most people only think of the positive benefits to be gained from a VPN, they do have their downsides. For one, despite the fact that VPNs are completely legal, they can violate the terms of service of some websites and applications. For example, Steam’s user agreement is strict about the use of VPNs. It states, “You will not use IP proxying or other methods to disguise the place of your residence, whether to circumvent geographical restrictions on game content, to purchase at pricing not applicable to your geography, or for any other purpose. If you do this, Valve may terminate your access to your account.”
Because of this, you should practice caution when using a VPN. Make sure the games you play, the platforms you use, and anything else you access through your VPN are okay with you doing so. Otherwise, you could lose access to your accounts and services.
Good VPNs also cost money. You can use free VPNs, but we advise against doing so as you can never know what they’re doing with your data or browsing history. They could also be gateways for malicious software entering your network and computer.
Are VPNs worth it for gaming?
Ultimately, that depends on the type of gaming you’re doing and the level of security you like to have. For the vast majority of people, having a VPN for gaming isn’t necessary. However, if you’re playing a lot of peer-to-peer multiplayer games like Grand Theft Auto Online or just want to access region-specific games, a VPN definitely worth considering. Of course, the yearly cost of a good VPN is nothing to sneeze at, so these services are most worth it if you’re interested in their other benefits as well, such as streaming content from other countries or using it for greater web security.
Read more: The best VPNs for streaming region-locked TV shows and movies
Best VPN deals and offers
So what are your options? For our top VPN picks, the best deal is usually to pay in yearly chunks. ExpressVPN offers 12 months for $6.67 per month and gives you three additional months for free. That means you pay about $80 for 15 months of coverage. Another excellent option: You can get 24 months for $60 at Surfshark, one of the best VPNs for speed and features. And for those who need a VPN for a limited time, PureVPN has a 7-day trial for $1, which renews at $70 for 12 months. Any of these VPNs are great choices, and they all have a 30-day money-back guarantee. You can check out more of our top picks below as well as CNET’s 2021 VPN guide for details on specific services.