TalkTalk’s P2P Throttling Kills OnLive Games

The popular cloud gaming service OnLive has been active in the U.S. for more than a year, and last week it launched in the U.K. OnLive works by rendering and storing games on remote servers, which are then streamed to users' computers or TVs. It appears though, that not all ISPs were prepared for the launch as P2P throttling systems also make it impossible to play OnLive games.

When OnLive finally launched in the UK last week, thousands of people were eager to give it a try. The proposition of playing high-end games wherever you are, and on any machine, appeals to a wide audience. Unfortunately, however, the launch turned out to be a huge disappointment for many new OnLive subscribers.

As soon as the new service went live TalkTalk subscribers were noticing some strange behavior. During the day they were able to play games just fine, but after 6 in the evening, they were all of a sudden unable to connect. Then, after midnight the connection problems suddenly disappeared and games were loading just fine.

Initially some thought it could be that OnLive couldn’t keep up with the demand, but when the same pattern repeated during the following days it became apparent that something was seriously wrong. This was confirmed by OnLive’s support desk, who observed that the users with problems were facing excessive packet loss on their connections.

So what’s going on here?


OnLive the unintended victim of throttling

onlive talktalk

Based on the systematic problems between 6 PM and 12 AM, it appears that TalkTalk’s P2P throttling application is also cutting off OnLive. TalkTalk are very open about their traffic management practices, and they do indeed limit P2P traffic during the exact times OnLive users are facing problems.

OnLive uses UDP connections to transfer game data, and it seems that TalkTalk’s traffic shaping equipment mistakes this for P2P traffic.

TorrentFreak reached out to TalkTalk to find out more about the issue, as users in the ISP’s support forums were unable to find out more. Yesterday we got a response and TalkTalk acknowledged the problem, but a fix is yet to be found.

“This has been raised with our network team and we are currently investigating,” a TalkTalk spokesperson informed us. Meanwhile, TalkTalk subscribers are growing impatient as they feel that they are being ignored.

“I basically feel that my money spent on OnLive is being wasted. Working from 8:00 till 16.30 I have no use for this service as I would have wait until midnight to have access. Which is unrealistic, people need to have a good sleep, right?” OnLive user and TalkTalk subscriber Dawid told TorrentFreak.

And somehow we feel that OnLive is not very happy with the issue either, as they may lose customers who think that the cloud gaming platform is simply offering a bad service. A few users of other ISPs have been reporting issues as well, but only at TalkTalk are they still persisting more than a week after OnLive launched.

While we understand that problems can always occur, the above clearly illustrates the dangers of traffic shaping. There’s always going to be collateral damage. In the case of OnLive it is significant enough to be noticed and (hopefully) fixed, but what happens if a smaller company is affected? Hopefully TalkTalk will come forward with an official apology and more details on their UDP throttling, so this debacle can be prevented in the future.

Update (October 3, 2011): TalkTalk gave the following comment to TorrentFreak

“Unfortunately the recently launched OnLive gaming service was incorrectly identified as a peer-to-peer application. We’ve changed this and are currently testing with customers. We apologise for the inconvenience this has caused.”

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