The first is peer to peer. Peer to peer is a well established protocol of information sharing between willing computers. In the case of online computer games this is where one computer acts as the host (master computer if you like) and all other players’ computers send their information to the master. This gives the player hosting the game a slight advantage in response time or lower ping and of course once that player leaves the game the server no longer exists as it was dependent on his connection, historically this has been referred to as a ‘listen server’.
Dedicated Servers. Some games companies like Activision and EA provide their own online “official” or “ranked” dedicated servers where they have their own machines in their own data centre hosting official servers that they control and admin. Console games generally also have their own dedicated servers provided by the developers or peer to peer solutions in some cases as with Modern Warfare 2 and 3. But some servers are provided by individuals who like to have personal control over how their game server is setup. These come in two options. Either the individual has a rented or owned machine and hosts the game server themselves. The second option is to rent a dedicated game server from a large list of GSP’s (game server providers) who for a small monthly charge can host your server for you 24 hours a day and have web based graphic user interfaces in order to start, stop, reinstall, edit configuration files, setup scheduled restarts, install mods and much more. This is in large part the most common choice as it is both cost effective and much easier to get started. Only basic knowledge is needed in order to host a server this way. That is why the GSP industry has grown to a 5 million dollar a year industry.
A server is a machine running in a data centre (DC) with a high bandwidth connection to the internet and a redundant power supply to keep things online 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. This allows lots of players to connect to one place to all play together. GSP’s host their game servers on machines in a data centre.
Ping is just an ICMP command that checks the time it takes for a packet of information to travel from one computer to another and back again. Ping is measured in ms or milliseconds which are thousandths of a second. A game server that is hosted within 300 miles of your physical location should provide you with a good latency to your game server.
Full Dedicated Server
You can rent a full dedicated server, this gives you root access to a Windows Server machine via Remote Desktop Connection. This is for advanced users as setting up a game server using steamcmd and configuring the firewall can be a time consuming process but for large communities and clans this is the only option. Full control over your game servers, root access to all of the files, something you will never get with shared game server hosting. It comes with a cost though, around the $100 per month mark so get those donations flowing to pay for the hardware.
Shared Game Server Hosting
Renting through a GSP (game server provider) is the most common and the best bang for your buck way to run a game server. You choose a provider from the many 100’s out there, choosing which provider to go with can be quite a daunting task. Here are the main points to consider.
- Price. Well price is king in most cases and a lot of gamers would have looked for the cheapest company in the top ten of Google and gone with them without even thinking about it. However choosing the lowest price is a haphazard way to choose any service, whether it be a plumber, an electrician or in this case a game server. You can choose the cheapest and take a punt, go for the most expensive and hope that translates into a quality service or if you’re like me go for the middle ground, not too cheap and not too expensive. I use this practice when choosing everything, from toasters to hotel rooms. But price isn’t the only factor to consider.
- Reputation. Reputation has an extremely strong influence in any decision on which service provider to use. There are game server companies that seem to of been around since the dawn of the internet age, and there are new unknown companies that have only formed in the past years. The older companies have seen it all before and maybe can get caught not putting the effort into the control panel functionality that a modern games and gamers demand. New vibrant young companies can be enthusiastic and energetic in their approach to both new game releases and support but they can also make mistakes and show a lack of experience in challenging support matters. The complicated nature of the newer indie games and steam early access games make it very difficult to get a smooth running game server so I would opt for the middle ground again, a company that’s not too long in the tooth but also old enough to have experience where it matters.
There are also some other factors to consider when selecting a GSP:
- Control Panel Interface. This is a Graphic User Interface (GUI) where you control your game server from. Here you can launch the game, change the rules, add server passwords, add bans, allows, add administrators and add mods. This should be fast and easy to use. The industry standard is TCAdmin 2, but many providers have custom created control panels to reduce costs as TCAdmin can be rather pricy for enterprise companies.
- Support staff experience. The support staff has experience to set up the game to make is easier to play as lots of games nowadays have complicated set up procedures. A good GSP will have a configuration editor already configured in the GSP control panel so that you do not need to go and research all the information to edit the file yourself. The key is the better the staff the less problems will go wrong with your server once you have it.
- Mod installers. Some GSPs have mod installers where you can, in one or two clicks, completely install a mod to a game with all the required files without the need to upload via FTP. Again this is a setup that your GSP would/should have made themselves.
- 24 Hour support. I play games into the wee hours of the morning and business hours support is no good to me. I want 24 hour support and I want someone to get back to me pretty quick so I can get on with my gaming. I don’t get a lot of free time and I don’t want it wasted on staring at a broken server, even if I did broke it myself.
- Instant Setup. Most GSP’s should have instant setup, in my experience this is not actually instant, instant start of the setup, not quite instant setup, the files need to download and some of these new games can be 20GB or more.
- Configuration editors. These are necessary for GSPs as many don’t want to give access to the root folders and modify the configurations and .ini files as the player slots are generally directly related to CPU consumption so the more player slots you require the more the server will cost. A good configuration editor will make the setting up of your game server easier. The complicated nature of some of the recent indie games like DayZ and Ark Survival evolved require attention to detail in order to get running smoothly. Make sure to check that the GSP is up to date with all custom configurations as updates for these types of games come quite often and can break an out of date configuration. So making sure the GSP staff are keeping up with games is a good indicator of a good GSP. Any good GSP should be able to answer detailed questions about their games and if they don’t what kind of support can you expect from them.