Game hosting is something that many have considered in some form of another. Often the idea starts as a way of hosting a private server to play a particular game amongst your friends or family. It can sometimes also take the form of hosting a public or community server of sorts, where your server can form part of a community or public group.
Running a gaming server can be a complex beast. There are issues that can crop up that are specific to the game you are wanting to host, and those specifics are a bit much detail for an article such as this. But even before you get to that, there are many choices available to you for how you choose to host a particular game. These choices all have different advantages and disadvantages and can quickly become overwhelming.
I hope to try and make sense of the different hosting options, so that you can make sense of them all and make a decision that makes sense for the game you want to host.
Dedicated Game Hosting
There are many services that dedicate themselves to hosting particular games. An example of this would be Minecraft Realms, where for a modest monthly fee you can spin up your own Minecraft server for you and your friends to join. There are also of course other options available specifically for Minecraft, as well as a plethora of other popular games.
These hosts tend to be the most beginner-friendly options. These providers often go to a considerable effort to provide a user-friendly interface to set everything up. They often manage all the more complex parts of the experience for you, such as server patching, upgrades and other maintenance tasks. This frees up more time for you to go in and play the game.
They do have a few shortcomings though. They can sometimes be inflexible. By this I mean if what you’re wanting to do doesn’t fit neatly into one of their existing configurations, it can make getting exactly what you want a bit more difficult. This can become a problem for those who end up outgrowing what these providers have to offer.
Another difficulty is that they are essentially just providing a game server. If you’re wanting to add additional services to a community server, such as a website, you will need to seek separate hosting for these other services, usually at additional expense.
Having said that, if your needs are simple and you don’t want to get caught up in the more tedious parts of managing a server, they can be a good option. They offer the lowest barrier to entry for those with lower technical skill.
Using a Virtual Private Server
We’ve previously discussing using virtual machines before as a way of experimenting with different operating systems or for testing. A Virtual Private Server is a subtle variation on the same concept.
They are basically the next step up from the hosting mentioned above. You are allocated a certain level of resources that act as a traditional server. You can then add an operating system to this (usually Linux, sometimes Windows). You then run your own services on top of that. This would include the game server, as well as any other services such as a web server you might need.
As I’ve implied, the biggest advantage of this is that it’s somewhat more flexible. You’re not restricted to running just your game server. Within the limits of the server capacity, you can also run a web server to power your community’s website, a voice server to allow everyone to talk to each other in-game, or any other service your community may need. The other advantage is that, particularly if you go for an unmanaged option, they can be very low-cost.
The disadvantage is that the lower-cost options tend to be what are known as “unmanaged” servers. This essentially means that you are expected to be able to install and maintain everything yourself, with usually very limited assistance from the provider. This is great if you have the technical skill to get everything set up exactly how you want it. If you’re not technically inclined, you will need to employ the services of someone to manage all of that for you. This makes it really only a suitable option if you have access to sufficient technical skill to help you manage everything.
Dedicated Full Server
A dedicated full server is essentially the next step up from a virtual private server. They tend to cost quite a bit more than a virtual private server. For the added cost, you can utilise an entire server rather than just a small allocation of resources.
They in most respects have the same advantages and disadvantages as a virtual private server. Because you get more resources, you can run more services off the one machine and also support more users. This sometimes makes them the better choice for those supporting more complex gaming servers or a larger number of users.
Hosting at Home
With the prevalence of high-speed internet going into the home, it is tempting to consider hosting games at home. This can be a low-cost way of running your services if you already have access to hardware that you can use and can be a great way to put old hardware to work.
Where you have the equipment already to hand, the advantage here is cost. You’re essentially only going to pay for the additional electricity required to run the additional equipment.
There are a few disadvantages here though. You still have to be reasonably technical to set this all up. You need to have an understanding of port forwarding to get it working if you want to have services available to the outside world. If your internet provider doesn’t give you a static IP address, you’ll also need to utilise Dynamic DNS to make it easier for everyone to connect. This can sometimes be quirky. There are a few security risks to your internal network, as if your server has a vulnerability, it can potentially be used to attack the rest of the machines on your network. Hosting at home is usually only cost effective if you already have the required hardware at your disposal.
With the low cost of a VPS, many people have turned to using these instead of hosting at home. The cost is usually only marginally more, and they don’t have to worry about maintaining hardware or about the risks of opening up their home network to the outside world. However, it is still a great option if the only people that need access are already living with you.
There are plenty of different options available for you to choose from. This guide should help guide you towards an appropriate option based upon your need and skill level.
Remember that many of these will require a certain amount of technical skill to be able to get the most out of them. If that’s not something you’re comfortable doing yourself, you will need to enlist the help of someone who has that knowledge.
Don’t be scared to go for hosting specific to the game you want to run as the more beginner-friendly option. Just be aware that it can sometimes become a limitation should your needs outgrow the packages that your chosen host can provide. Once you outgrow them, you can use the opportunity to upgrade to a VPS or server and upgrade your technical skill with it.