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What is the best gaming VPN, and why does ping speed matter?

Are you a casual gamer or Twitch viewer seeking secure and fast ways to enjoy gaming? The best gaming VPNs offer easy-to-use apps, quick connection speeds, and work on multiple platforms.

Look, let's be honest with each other. The laws of physics aren't going to be repealed by any VPN service provider. Bits take time to move across a network, and that movement is slowed down by encryption and the extra connection required to use a VPN.

That means if you're playing a first-person shooter and you perfectly target an enemy, your shot might not score, even if it was perfect. The delay inherent in the VPN might mean that while you saw your target in one location, it might have actually been somewhere slightly different. And that might result in a miss.

In other words, even the best VPNs get in the way of successfully playing games. Any game that requires fast ping speeds won't play well with a VPN. But casual games and games where millisecond responses aren't needed will do well. If you want to use a VPN to watch a game on Twitch, you're golden. 

Fortnight? No. Apple Arcade? Yes. World of Warcraft? Maybe.

Also, keep in mind that performance may differ over time. One night, you might be able to play over VPN and totally dominate. Another night, through no fault of your own, you may miss every shot. So where do VPNs work well for gamers? Game-related video, definitely. Downloading, absolutely. Streaming game services? Well, that depends on the game and the service. Don't expect FPS games to respond well to a VPN. That said, since game consoles are also media streaming devices, many of the media streaming advantages of VPNs will be available to consoles.

We always advocate looking at the money-back guarantee from VPN services, and then seriously putting them to the test during that period. In the case of VPNs for gaming, that's not a recommendation -- it's a necessary requirement.

And with that, let's look at the most popular VPN services we recommend for gaming, including some that are running Black Friday sales.

Also: Which VPN should you use on iPhone and iPad, and is there a free option?

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Great speeds
  • Good sized server network
  • Easy-to-use apps
Cons
  • Only six simultaneous connections
More Details

NordVPN features: Simultaneous connections: 6 | Kill switch: Yes | Platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, Android TV, Chrome, Firefox | Logging: None, except billing data | Countries: 59 | Servers: 5,000+ | Money-back guarantee: 30 days

NordVPN is one of the fastest VPNs ZDNET has tested. In our most recent tests, it only reduced download speeds by 32%, and it maintained fast connection times with solid ping speeds. The speed, performance, and reliability of NordVPN all helped push it to the top of our best VPNs for gaming list.

Read the reviewOur NordVPN review

NordVPN offers a lot beyond just a basic VPN. Not only is it good for gaming, but it supports P2P file sharing, and has a Double VPN feature that adds a second layer of encryption to your connection. There are also additional features available to purchase, including a data breach scanner, password manager, dedicated IP address, and encrypted cloud storage. 

You can try out the service risk-free for 30 days and get a full refund during that time if it's not a good fit for you.

Also: How does NordVPN work? Plus how to set it up and use it 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Fast and reliable connection
  • Works on tons of platforms
  • Transparent privacy policy
Cons
  • Costs more than other VPNs
  • Limited to five simultaneous connections
More Details

ExpressVPN features: Simultaneous connections: 5 | Kill switch: Yes | Platforms: A whole lot (see the full list here) | Logging: No browsing logs, some connection logs | Countries: 94 | Locations: 160 | Money-back guarantee: 30 days

ExpressVPN is an extremely popular VPN with an exceptionally large global network of servers, along with support for a massive list of devices and platforms. ExpressVPN is fast and came in fourth place (just behind NordVPN) out of the 17 VPNs we tested. It only reduced download speeds by 37% and had reliable and fast connections.

Read the reviewOur ExpressVPN review

ExpressVPN's logging policy is clear that it doesn't keep track of a user's browsing history, destinations, or IP addresses. However, it does log some information that it claims is necessary for troubleshooting and technical support. The dates you connected, the amount of data you transfer, and the location of the VPN server are all logged by ExpressVPN. However, according to ExpressVPN, none of this information allows it or "anyone else to match an individual to specific network activity or behavior."

Also: How does ExpressVPN work? Plus how to set it up and use it

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Unlimited simultaneous connections
  • Wide range of useful features
  • Available on all major platforms
Cons
  • Average speeds
More Details

Surfshark features: Simultaneous connections: Unlimited | Kill switch: Yes | Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, Fire TV, Firefox, Chrome | Logging: None, except billing data | Money-back guarantee: 30 days

Surfshark VPN is a great deal at just over two bucks a month for a two-year subscription. And you also get unlimited connections, so a single plan can cover every compatible device you have. In our Surfshark VPN review, we found no DNS leaks. It has a no-logs policy and 100% RAM-only servers, so the potential for your information to be stolen is drastically reduced. 

Surfshark is secure, but its performance was middle of the pack in our latest speed tests. Previously, Surfshark was on par with NordVPN and only cut download speeds by 28%. However, in ZDNET's recent tests, it reduced download speeds by 54%. It did have fast connections and reasonable ping speeds, so it's worth trying out for yourself because you may find it has a better performance for your needs.

Surfshark has a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you'll have a month to test it out.

Also: ExpressVPN vs. Surfshark vs. NordVPN: Which is best?

What is the best VPN for gaming?

The best VPN for gaming is NordVPN. A highly trusted VPN service with thousands of servers and the highest security level, NordVPN offers blazing speeds for any console type.

Best VPN for gamingPriceServer locationsDownload speed reductionSimultaneous connections
ExpressVPN$6.67/mo w/1-year plan + 3 free months16037%5
Surfshark$2.05/mo w/2-year plan + 2 free months13754%Unlimited
NordVPN$2.99/mo w/2-year plan + 3 free months80+32%6

Which is the right gaming VPN for you?

Choosing the best gaming VPN for you will involve hands-on testing. All of the VPNs on this list have 30-day money-back guarantees, so you'll be able to test out the service for a month and get a full refund if the performance isn't what you hoped it would be.

Choose this VPN for gaming...If you want...
NordVPNTop-tier speed and reliability
ExpressVPNThe most server locations
SurfsharkThe most affordable option

How did we choose these VPNs for gaming?

A gaming VPN should be secure and have the performance necessary to handle the demands of online gaming. As a baseline, every VPN on our best VPNs for gaming list needs to have a no activity logs policy and no leaks.

On top of security, we also look at performance. Speed and latency are important when you're gaming, so we factored in the results of our VPN speed tests. That said, a VPN's performance is going to have much more variability than its security. That's why it's important for you to have a test run with any VPN you want to use for gaming or other resource intensive activities.

What's the difference between internet speed and ping time?

Internet speed, often called "bandwidth," is the speed that data can be transferred over the internet. If you're downloading or uploading a big file, you want lots of bandwidth. 

Ping time is how fast you can send out a request and receive an answer. It's the round trip response time, and it's very sensitive to distance and hops. When watching a video, you want to get all that video information down to your machine, but once it starts to transmit, it's usually running a good, steady flow. Ping time, however, is how long it takes after you pull the trigger in a game to know you pulled the trigger. If the game thinks you squeezed off a shot half a second after you did, the results could be radically different.

Ping is the travel time between two points, so the ping you might see listed in VPN reviews may not mean much to you. Your two points and the reviewer's two points will always be different. This is one reason why we haven't listed ping speeds for these VPNs. It's more important for you to measure the ping from where you are to where you're connecting.

How does a VPN protect you when you're using a game console?

VPNs protect gaming consoles in the same way they protect your other devices. However, gaming consoles don't support native VPN apps, but you can still get the protections, location spoofing, and anonymity of a VPN. 

The key is running your VPN client on a router or sharing the internet connection of a PC. Most VPN vendors have guides that show you how to set this up.

If a VPN isn't great for when you're playing a game, why should you even care about using one?

VPNs give you a level of security and privacy. They can protect you against distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks which could compromise your connection. And a VPN allows you to connect to servers in different locations, but it's also about more than gaming. 

If you're out and want to use a coffee shop, airport, hotel, or school Wi-Fi, you need to be sure you're protecting all your communication. This includes financial information, personal information, location data, and more.

Are there alternative gaming VPNs worth considering?

The performance of a VPN depends on a lot of different factors, and there is no shortage of quality VPN deals to choose from. If none of the VPNs from this list are getting the job done for you, then you could try out Proton VPN, IPVanish, or Atlas VPN.


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