Downsides of Self Hosting Game Servers

Jun 19, 2024

Why not self-host your multiplayer game server?

There are several solutions available on the market for hosting gaming servers, and they all claim to be able to solve all of your issues and make things easier. With these services, the backend development is all set up, everything is secure, and their promise is that you can achieve hosting that functions with just a few lines of code and a few YouTube videos. The price? A small monthly subscription cost, or pay as you go for billing.

Then you wonder - How difficult can this possibly be? You could save a lot of money and, most importantly, create a unique solution that solves all your specific and unique problems!

Let's explore why self-hosting can be challenging and potentially more troublesome than helpful.

What is Self Hosting?

Before discussing the pros and cons, let's define self-hosting game servers.

Self-hosting involves setting up and managing a server on your own hardware to run multiplayer games. This process includes developing the server for the specific game, customizing server settings to your preference, and ensuring your internet connection can handle the traffic. It also involves managing player permissions, monitoring player behavior, and regularly updating server software to maintain security and efficiency.

Self-hosting offers flexibility and customization but requires significant time, money, and technical knowledge to operate effectively.

The Knowledge Gap & Development Time

Even the most experienced backend developers don't know everything about developing and maintaining a self-hosting solution for a multiplayer game. You'll likely rely on documentation, blogs, or YouTube videos that provide step-by-step instructions.

Then, everything should work correctly, right? If it doesn't, you're in trouble. You have to go back and rework everything you just set up.

There’s the long-term implications to consider too. The repercussions, if you make mistakes, such as discovering a vulnerability overnight, and then you can't fix your servers. There is the risk of hacking, data theft, or complete system failure, even if your game remains under the radar. Finally, there is backups which are crucial; without them, you could lose your entire project if anything goes wrong.

The reality is that, no matter how good you are, eventually, something will break. An update to the operating system or service you're using will arrive, causing issues. You'll spend a lot of time debugging, searching through logs, trying various solutions, and checking online for similar problems or software defects. Sometimes, you'll need to downgrade or wait for the next release, which can cause significant difficulties. As a self-host, you're responsible for security, patching, scaling and updating everything.

Consider the potential repercussions in the event that you make mistakes that a vulnerability is discovered over night, and that you are unable to fix your servers. You run the danger of someone hacking your systems, stealing your or your player’s data, or, at the absolute least, breaking everything you own, even if your game stays largely under the radar and the servers are visible to the public. You should keep backups, but in case you don't, your entire labor of love could be lost.

Time is your most valuable resource as a game developer. Would you rather spend your free time developing new features, enhancing gameplay, or enjoying leisure time with friends and family? Troubleshooting, fixing, or improving your setup will consume your time, especially when new versions of services aren't compatible with your operating system or dependencies. In contrast, using internet services with a monthly fee provides new features as soon as they're available.

Distance & Locations – Introducing Latency

Once everything is set up, what happens next? Global players connect to your self-hosted game servers and experience awful latency. They complain on your Discord server or leave negative reviews on Steam.

Latency is the delay caused by the time it takes for data to travel between players and the game server.

A self-hosting solution from a single location cannot provide low latency to gamers worldwide.

The only solution is access to a global public edge computing infrastructure. Otherwise, players not in the developer's immediate vicinity will have a subpar multiplayer experience.

This also means it requires an optimized automated orchestration is necessary to handle deployments in optimal locations for all players.

Hardware Costs

Backend and game server hosting require hardware, and hardware costs money.

Upfront costs are higher than a monthly fee for an online service provider. You might think this server will save money over a lifetime as a one-time expense. However, what kind of hardware can you afford? You could buy a new high-end server with powerful specs or a second-hand server from eBay or Facebook Marketplace. Something will eventually break, whether you buy new or second-hand.

For example, if your motherboard malfunctions and your disk become corrupted, all your data is lost. Unfortunately, hardware failure is common, and new hard drives can fail within weeks or months. Without regular backups, data loss is inevitable, leading to more costs until warranty is reimbursed, if any if you bough everything brand new.

The risks aren't limited to hardware. Even if your hardware doesn't break, you must be prepared to handle the risks and troubleshoot issues. When something breaks, you face numerous issues. Whereas online services take care of this for you with back ups and automated processes to retrieve them.

Hidden Operating Costs - Electricity

Hardware is expensive upfront, but let’s assume you’re willing to invest. Once it’s purchased, it’s free right?

Hardware is one expense, and power is another. Powerful servers, consume a lot of electricity, which is expensive. If you have several servers, electricity bills will add up, potentially costing as much as an online service provider's monthly fee. As you’ll be paying for that electricity 24/7, whereas new hosting providers allow for pay-per-use only pricing.

Hidden Operating Costs - Physical Space

Even if you manage hardware, software updates, and security, you still need physical space to store the servers.

Even if smaller servers can be more manageable than enterprise grade ones, they still require room. They will occupy space in your home or room, and the stack of servers will undoubtedly annoy anyone else living in your household annoyed as they can be quite noisy, particularly when discussing enterprise-grade servers.

Conclusion

Time is a game developer’s most valuable resource. Don’t spend it on unnecessary tasks. Focus on what you do best to impact your game’s success: improving gameplay, adding features, and enhancing your game’s art.

In most cases, using online resources, including game server hosting, is more reasonable. Fortunately, we’ve provided all the tools to get you started and get your game online easily and quickly.

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