Video gaming is booming. Globally, over three billion active video gamers immerse themselves in different worlds to interact, battle with characters and meet fellow gamers.
Creating and delivering these virtual worlds requires a huge amount of computer resource. At the core of that resource sit gaming servers.
Not to be confused with game servers, which are the application instances loaded onto the physical, bare metal machine that run the server side of the online game.
Gaming servers are the hardware that powers the ecosystem of infrastructure and software that games rely on.
If in doubt, just remember:
Game server = software
Gaming server = hardware
In this guide to gaming servers, we’ll be looking at:
What is a gaming server,
The different options available and how they work with varying game types,
What you should keep in mind when choosing your own gaming server.
But first, a quick definition.
A gaming server is a dedicated bare metal machine that a game is hosted on. In most instances a gaming server is provisioned and hosted by a third-party which players connect to remotely.
The standard components in a gaming server are:
Disk (storage space)
The CPU is a crucial element of a gaming server as it processes the game data. A faster CPU means more calculations per second (also known as clock speed which is measured in GHz) to handle higher tick rate workloads (the number of times an updated game state is broadcast to players every second).
Network connectivity is also important to support numerous connections from players sending and receiving data to and from the server simultaneously.
There are two multiplayer network models that underpin games. A multiplayer network model is the architecture used to communicate information between the server (the resource provider) and the user requesting that information (the client). In the case of gaming, that can either be between a client (programs/devices that players use to play a game) and a server, or between players. These two architectures are called client-server and peer-to-peer.
Let’s take a look at them in more detail.
In a client-server architecture model, players interact with the world of a game and each other through a dedicated server. The server holds the game state – a single source of truth for everything in the game. Each player’s device or program (the client) communicates with the server to receive and send back information about game play. The server updates the game state periodically and that version is sent back to the client, which is what then appears on the screen for the player.
Client-server architecture lends itself best to games that are real-time, fast-paced, and resource-heavy. It is therefore the model of choice for first person shooter games such as Call of Duty and CSGO, as well as MMOs like World of Warcraft and persistent worlds like Minecraft.
Handling large numbers of players
Delivering a reliable and fair gaming experience
Protecting against cheating
Costs of setting up and maintaining servers
Less control over aspects of game configuration for players
For multiplayer games that require low latency, the client-server model is the standard.
The peer-to-peer gaming model (otherwise known as ‘peer 2 peer’ or ‘p2p’) relies on the players themselves to connect to one another to maintain an online network through which they play, rather than relying on a dedicated server. The players share their public IP addresses with each other and then communicate through those IP addresses.
There are two types of network structures that commonly occur in peer-to-peer gaming. In the first type, a sole player or ‘host’ acts as the server for the rest of the players. Those players connect to the host who relays data to every player that’s connected to them. Or, if it’s a public lobby, the game will automatically choose who will be the host. This is usually the player with the best internet connection.
In the second type of p2p, all players on the connection are needed to maintain the network. Once the connection is established, the network of computers sends messages to one another to disseminate and balance the amount of work necessary to keep the game up and running.
The peer-to-peer model is a great option if your game is slow paced or it’s a single player game with a lobby shooter extension or a multiplayer game based entirely around lobby shooting. Some of the most successful P2P games are the likes of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Red Dead Online, GTA Online and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
Cheaper and easier to set up and free to maintain
No dependency on a single server
Much less secure
A good internet connection is vital (If the host has internet spikes or packet loss, all the players in that game session will also suffer)
The host will always have the competitive advantage (Not good for competitive synchronous/ real time games).
Far easier to cheat
Can only handle up to around 10 players depending on the game
Requires players to be geographically close together for the best experience
The type of server on which your game is hosted can make a massive difference to the experience of your players. Ever missed a crucial shot in a massive multiplayer game because of lag? Lost out on a win due to poor connection? It could just be that your broadband isn’t up to the task, but it’s possible that the game you’re playing isn’t hosted on a server optimized for large workloads.
For more information about other types of game server hosting, check out our blog: Exploring 4 different types of game server hosting [+pros and cons].
The most effective gaming server setup for you and your game depends on a few factors.
If you’re on a tight budget or your game is designed to be played in close proximity with others, then peer-to-peer may be the right choice. It’s often cheaper than it’s dedicated counterpart and can support geographically close play.
Developers looking to mitigate performance issues like lag, slow loading times, mistimed shots, and crashes should opt for a dedicated gaming server model. This reliable infrastructure setup removes stress from complex game launches by offering:
A powerful platform for high performance, scalable game hosting
Consistent low latency wherever your players are in the world
The opportunity to lower infrastructure overheads for your baseline CCU
The ability to scale down as easily as scaling up
If you do opt for dedicated gaming servers, the key is to work with a hosting provider that will work with you to design, provision and launch a server infrastructure set up that meets your specific needs.
The network demands of your online game are definitely a factor when deciding the type of gaming server you should opt for. Online games can be split into three categories: single player games, asynchronous multiplayer games and synchronous multiplayer games. Let’s have a quick look at each.
These games are always a solo effort. While they can vary hugely in scale (from killing ten minutes on Candy Crush to settling in for a day of Red Dead Redemption), it’s always just you playing.
While they can include some online connected elements, like leaderboards or in-game purchases, there is little information sent back to a games server infrastructure to process.
Asynchronous (meaning not in sync) multiplayer games involve more than one person, but players do not engage with each other in real time. They’re often turn-taking games, such as chess or Words With Friends.
From an infrastructure perspective, these games require slightly more hosting input than single player. Although actions aren’t as time sensitive as quick-fire shooting games, a gaming server must still, for example, receive an action from one chess player and play it back to their opponent.
This is the real resource-intensive stuff. Multiple players engage in real time action in what are often incredibly latency-sensitive operations, such as the fast action shooting of CS:GO and Fortnite.
Unsurprisingly, synchronous multiplayer games are the most resource intensive of the three gaming types. Unless you want raging gamers coming after you on Reddit, well-specified gaming servers with low latency network connections are needed to deliver acceptable speeds and experience.
So, if your game involves either asynchronous or synchronous play between people, it’s best to opt for a powerful dedicated game server host who can provide the speeds needed to make gameplay excellent.
The type of game you have should influence your hosting choice decision. But there are a couple more considerations you should make while evaluating your game server hosting options, namely:
Are they predominantly in one or two countries? Or spread around the world? Understanding where your players are located is key to choosing the best gaming server hosting option for you. In virtually all computing scenarios, speed is crucial – but none more so than in gaming. Gaming servers are latency-sensitive applications: players experience games at their best when latency is below 60-100ms at the time of everyone playing together.
When it comes to latency, every mile between server and player counts. To ensure a consistently good experience for everyone, players need to be located as close as possible to the setup game hosting server. If your game has a global player base, you’ll want to opt for gaming servers or rent from a hosting company that operates an international network of data centers.
What is the optimal specification of game server infrastructure you need to ensure a speedy, efficient gaming experience for players?
Cloud server providers typically offer high density hardware powered by lower-speed multi-core CPUs. These work fine for general business computing tasks, but as they lack the clock speeds needed to meet the demands of high-performance gaming, they aren’t the ideal game server hosting option.
In order to get maximum value from your gaming servers, consider how you can make the most of the multi-core CPU. In theory you will be able to run multiple instances of the game server application on the same hardware – but you must ensure you specify enough RAM for each core.
It’s incredibly difficult, perhaps even impossible, to predict the number of players that you are going to get at launch. You might get a few thousand or if it’s a huge success, hundreds of thousands of players. And once launched, your game may see player numbers drop off after the initial launch period or during certain times of the year.
Depending on what stage of game development, launch or post-launch you’re at, your scalability requirements are likely to differ. You may already know what your stable CCU (concurrent user) pattern is and the regular periods where you see peaks and troughs in demand. Your scalability requirements therefore are relatively predictable. Or your game may not have launched, and so you don’t yet know how drastically you’re going to need to scale up or down.
It’s important, therefore, that you work with a gaming server hosting provider that can offer you the level of flexibility that you require to scale your gaming servers up and down as required.
Things go wrong with infrastructure, that’s a given. Unfortunately, in gaming, if servers go down it can significantly impact the player experience. So, when evaluating gaming server hosting options, look closely at the level of support those hosting providers offer.
That includes everything from game server security in the form of DDoS protection to how you get in contact with the support team if your infrastructure goes down. You want to feel confident that the people in charge of your gaming servers are as concerned about their performance and uptime as you.
Good hosts that provide gaming servers will help you set up various hosting options to experiment and find the optimal configuration for your game. Your game’s entire performance and user experience is dependent on a solid infrastructure, and even good value options aren’t cheap. We’d even suggest looking elsewhere if your chosen provider is unwilling to assist you when choosing your gaming server specifications.
There’s a lot more to gaming servers than simply plug-and-pay, and there are many considerations to bear in mind if you’re looking for gaming servers. We have years of experience hosting some of the world’s most popular online games.
By using the top carriers and smart routing, our gaming servers provide the super low latency required to ensure excellent game play.
Last Updated: 12 October 2023