VTTs Feel the Strain

Gamers are increasingly turning to virtual tabletops (VTT) to network with other players around the globe. Thanks to the pandemic, virtual gaming platforms are experiencing an unexpected surge that is stressing servers and causing lag. How are VTTs holding up?


Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

With the pandemic pushing more and more people to shelter in place, gamers are using online tools to role-play with others when they can't game in person. The video game industry is already experiencing this surge, with Steam reaching 20 million concurrent online users, with 6.2 million in-game at the time. D&D Beyond's usage is up too: doubling its active users in the past few weeks with a threefold increase on its Discord server.

They're not the only ones experiencing increased interest. Ed Diana, owner of NBOS Software, which produces the free online gaming tool, Skwyre, noticed a change:
"There has been a slight uptick in sales of our mapping and notes applications, which I assume is due to people having some more free time to work on their campaigns. Hopefully people are finding world building to be a great way to keep their minds focused on something creative during this stressful time."
Joe Lesko, creator of Fabletop, saw a sharp increase:
"The number of new users has roughly tripled so far, but the system can handle much more than that, so we should be fine. With extra time at home, I've been working on some new features that players have been asking for."
Tobias Drewry, CEO at Mesa Mundi and the lead developer for D20PRO, definitely noticed an uptick in activity.
"D20PRO is not a web based application so resources used to create a game in D20PRO are retained on the GM/Host's computer. Additionally, D20PRO is only being impacted by networking issues related to ISP's rather than commercial server infrastructures. There is a learning curve to setting up D20PRO for remote play as it can suffer from aggressive firewall rules and the like, however, with a short amount of work to create an exception, our customers are nearly all up and running with a few odd-case exceptions. To help folks, our team is spending a lot more time watching and responding to our discord and forum support channels. A little one-on-one support is almost always appreciated!"
Like D20PRO, EpicTable has experienced an increase in interest but since it runs on the user's computer the load isn't a problem, according to John Lammers, the creator of EpicTable:
"Yes, there's been a noticeable uptick in EpicTable downloads, new customers, and active games. Handling the load is not a problem. EpicTable is a Windows app (though some play on Macs under Parallels or on Linux via Wine), so really, most of the work is done on the GM's and players' computers. The services that must be in the middle, like messaging and sharing of resources like maps, are minimally used; plus, they're cloud-based and scale automatically with the load."
Tom Lackemann, founder of AstralTabletop, saw tremendous growth in activity over the past weeks.
"This recent growth has been remarkable for our 3-person team to handle but we're going strong! We've been fueled by user feedback since the beginning and it's been great hearing from new users who are just starting to dip their toes into the online world of tabletop roleplaying."
Fantasy Grounds has seen a tenfold spike in users and Roll20 has seen an increase as well. Roll20 saw this coming, according to Amber Cook, Director of Business Development at Roll20:
"We have seen an increase in traffic as a result of people staying inside, and moving their in-person games online. We noticed a significant spike in traffic from Italy, Spain & other European countries and shortly thereafter in North America. Roll20 has seen a lot of growth in recent years, so we were already working on improving our efficiency & planning new features but the recent increase in traffic has caused us to speed up some of that work to accommodate new users. Our ever growing development team has dramatically reduced the speed at which our servers respond and our capacity to scale."
Whatever platform you choose, VTTs have been preparing for this moment. They're ready.

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

Jimmy Dick

I have been using Roll20 since 2016 to play Pathfinder Society games. It works great. I just wish that it would sell Pathfinder Society scenarios ready to play. They keep focusing on 5e instead. I know 5e has a lot of players, but they're missing out on expanding their markets.

We're finding the gaming ability of Roll20 to be solid but the video/voice not. We're using Zoom for our videoconferencing and leveraging Roll20 for the mapping, mechanics, and rolls.

That's more or less what we've been doing too. I'm not a fan of Zoom as it's insecure but one of us has a full account and it's extremely reliable at keeping everyone online and working with all devices, which Roll20 absolutely is not (and Discord seems to be suffering, too, we had big problems with that on a couple of nights). Using Beyond20 browser add-in and D&D Beyond for our characters, you just click on the right thing on the character sheet and it rolls an attack, or a save or a check or whatever, or dumps the description of a spell or the like into chat (saves us from having to buy everything we already bought on Beyond again on Roll20, too).

Dire Bare

This pandemic is not a good thing, of course. But some industries are definitely seeing a "silver lining".

I'm a teacher, and the online systems we're using are also experiencing greater strain and lag than usual, as most schools across the nation have moved to online schooling for the rest of the school year. My students are frustrated with the lag "at school" and also when they are trying to relax playing online games!


Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I'm not a fan of Zoom as it's insecure but one of us has a full account and it's extremely reliable at keeping everyone online and working with all devices, which Roll20 absolutely is not (and Discord seems to be suffering, too, we had big problems with that on a couple of nights).

One of the good thing about all the scrutiny on Zoom is that they've had to address a bunch of them recently. They no longer share with FB. They default to requiring passwords so someone can't just guess your meeting number to either be disruptive or send hacking commands via chat hoping someone clicks on them. A few other as well. They have had to clean themselves up aggressively with all the scrutiny on them.


Although I know it feels a bit dated compared to the others I'll reiterate that in these times is when a program like Maptools excels because it is hosted on a machine you or a player owns, not dependent on a server somewhere else. This cuts down on the reliance of a swamped server and makes it ideal in trying times like these. Yeah it's got a learning curve, but most of it is pretty familiar to anyone using these other services.

Best part? It's not only hosted on your computer but also 100% free, no ads, no blocked features.

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