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The Lawbringer: Lagpocalypse 2010-2011


Pop law abounds in The Lawbringer, your weekly dose of WoW, the law, video games and the MMO genre. Running parallel to the games we love and enjoy is a world full of rules, regulations, pitfalls and traps. How about you hang out with us as we discuss some of the more esoteric aspects of the games we love to play?

The Lawbringer is taking a little detour today to discuss one of the more esoteric issues (like I try to do here) that many players are facing today dealing with World of Warcraft. It is interesting that one of the biggest hurdles to playing an MMO is present outside the game rather than within. Today, I want to talk about Time Warner/Brighthouse and the intense lag of 2010 and 2011. In fact, we'll visit the past and see how these companies interacted with Blizzard, and then take a stroll into the present and try to understand what's going on right now.

Confused? You might be, especially if you aren't a Time Warner or Brighthouse customer. There are some other ISPs affected by all this mess, but for now, I'm sticking to the most complained-about. Here's a quick little rundown of what's been happening over the last few weeks (and for some people, months) due to issues with Time Warner and Brighthouse internet service.

The rundown

A few weeks ago, the lag started to become unbearable for me in raid instances during peak hours. I tried to fix everything -- and I mean everything -- which eventually led me to the support forums on the WoW community site. When I got to the support forums, it was like showing up to a protest already in full swing. Customers from Time Warner, Brighthouse, and the U.K. provider Virgin Media were up in arms over huge lag issues exactly like the one I was having. So I did what every red-blooded internet denizen would do: I read every single thread.

From what I could gather based on the Blizzard responses and user complaints, something happened after Blizzard changed the traffic patterns of World of Warcraft data. The resulting issues that have come about may have created service interference within certain geographic areas of Time Warner service. (I'll just be typing "Time Warner" from here on out, although your ISP might also be included, for the sake of not writing out all of the affected ISPs every time.) Blizzard seemed to confirm that it was something to do with the new traffic patterns:

Actually, Jjvalour, the issue is not that we changed the content of the packets, it is that we changed our traffic pattern, and this is what is triggering traffic management systems to throttle individual connections.

Our engineers are more than willing to work with the few ISPs affected by this change. A few ISPs have even taken the initiative to fix the issue on their end, already. Please see this post as evidence:

We know this is extremely frustrating to people, and we are actively looking at resolutions from our end, as well. Thank you for your patience while we attack those gremlins from all angles. :)

One of the more interesting things that this post illustrates is the relationship Blizzard support has with ISPs -- it's basically the same relationship we as consumers have. Sometimes I forget that these two companies are intrinsically on the same page.

So about this time in the story, I'm frantically calling my ISP and fighting my way to a senior technician while still browsing the forums, ripping into threads like children looking for a golden ticket in chocolate bars, begging the universe for a blue post that had my answer. Slowly but surely, the data begins to coalesce, and there is a common issue with players connecting to Chicago servers on Time Warner service.

Brianl, my personal hero through all of this, lets us know that there are fixes in the works:

I apologize for the lack of updates recently; I have been exceedingly busy working on these issues behind the scenes. I am in the process of gathering data to provide to our server engineers, as well as working with some of the more technically inclined people exploring further options. We are actively looking at these problems.

And then, two nights ago, things seemed to start getting better.

We have remained in contact with both the ISPs in question and the backbone providers and the issue seemed to disappear last night. I am going to leave this thread stickied for now just to keep an eye on things.

Thank you for your patience with this problem; we know it can be intensely frustrating.

As a quick aside, Blizzard's support on the community site support forums is phenomenal. Blizzard, you guys are really knocking it out of the park by helping people with their issues and being communicative through this invaluable resource.

A past problem?

Time Warner and World of Warcraft have had a shaky relationship in the past, with an eerily similar issue at the time. Alex wrote about this particular issue back in 2008. The same east coast issues seem to be rearing their ugly heads again. The issue was so contentious that it actually made the New York Post. Something was going on between World of Warcraft internet traffic and user's huge pings and latencies. Some people have had that issue rectified since 2008, while others were still feeling the hit. But the common thread was Time Warner internet service, east coast customers, and servers near the Chicago data centers.

Tunneling for solutions

Another interesting development began to surface as we fought during the past few weeks about who, or what, was at fault for the Time Warner east coast peak server time lagfest -- WoW tunneling services were, for the most part, fixing the problem. What is SSH tunneling, you ask? SSH tunneling, or secure shell tunneling, transmits your data through an encrypted tunnel from one point to another. SSH tunneling services like SmoothPing can solve many people's lag issues with World of Warcraft because the connection to Blizzard's servers are made through their data centers, not yours, and the connection between you and the service is through an SSH tunnel.

It was interesting, then, when users began to use tunneling services to hopefully bypass the Time Warner problem and were met with success. Changing the way the packets were dealt with were affecting people's success with lag. Blizzard responded thusly:

I had noticed that and forwarded the same info regarding SSH tunneling. Without pointing fingers, it's a very interesting piece of information that gives us some clues as to possible root causes.

SSH tunneling services will do a few things:

1) raise the priority of traffic
2) encapsulate packets
3) encrypt packets (SSH)
4) force a port (SSH uses port 22)
5) change the route (you're going to the tunneling service instead of straight to Blizzard through your normal route)
6) send smaller data packets due to the technology involved

as well as a few small other changes. Why, exactly, it is having this effect is currently unknown. This is something being actively investigated at Blizzard currently.

Brighthouse has been very forthcoming and helpful. According to the information they passed to us, they do not employ any sort of Deep Packet Inspection traffic shaping services, at all.

There's one issue -- if you use a tunneling service, you could potentially trigger a false-positive for hacking on your account, since the tunnel changes the IP address Blizzard is communicating with when dealing with you. Sometimes Blizzard's systems will hit you with an account lock until you unlock through a password change on your account, so it's one of those use-at-your-own-risk suggestions.

The end of time

I won't really know if my problem is solved until Sunday night, when I hit the raid scene again. For the past three weeks, though, things have been pretty bad. This whole ordeal has been trying for a lot of WoW players, who were doing nothing but playing their game normally, hampered by what looks like preferred treatment to certain packets of information. Even as I write this and make edits, new information is coming to light about AT&T's servers also playing a role, but we still don't have all of the information we need to figure out what is really going on. That's so uncomfortable to me.

What can you do to help if the situation isn't cleared up yet? If you use Time Warner, Brighthouse, or another affected ISP, live on the east coast and are experiencing this issue, you can help. Call up your ISP, politely ask to talk to a senior technician, and explain the problem you're having (World of Warcraft is running slow on the network, and it's not your setup), or let the lower-level technician know that you want your information elevated to the senior guys. They know that there is a problem, and all of the hardworking people over at Time Warner and the other affected ISPs are doing their best to get the situation resolved. Be polite, offer information, and we should be on our way to a solution.

Very nice people

I'll end this Lawbringer on a sappy note. The people in Blizzard's customer service department who I talked to about these issues (and the SSH tunneling stuff) were completely knowledgeable about the issue, and the solutions and incredibly helpful. Thumbs up also to the guys over at @TWCableHelp for their quick responses about whether there was a problem or not. As customers, we like to know there is a problem and that it's being worked on, as opposed to being lied to about whether there is an issue at all. Thank you, guys, for taking us east coasters' complaints seriously and working on a quick fix.

Hopefully, this saga is at an end. I shouldn't have to pay for a tunneling service to raid effectively on the internet I pay a pretty penny for.

This column is for entertainment only; if you need legal advice, contact a lawyer. For comments or general questions about law or for The Lawbringer, contact Mat at

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