While you could host a game server on your PC, sometimes it’s more convenient to have a cloud server running 24/7. Game server hosting can be surprisingly cheap, especially if you’re just looking to play with a few friends.
Dedicated vs. Shared Hosting
Dedicated hosting is when you rent out an entire rack of a server—or, often, a portion of that rack’s resources. You’ll often be given detailed specifications about what exactly you’re buying, and you’ll generally be paying a bit extra compared to shared hosting.
Shared hosting runs multiple instances of a game server across multiple server racks, allowing the hosting provider to save money and provide a low price. However, it’s not always clear what specs you’re getting, and you can run into congestion issues if your server suffers heavy load.
If you’re looking to set up a server for you and a couple of friends, we recommend you save some money and get shared hosting. If you’re looking to have a lot of people playing on your server, you should try shared hosting first and upgrade to dedicated hosting if it’s necessary.
Depending on what provider you buy your server from, you may also get managed hosting, which is when the provider builds tools to set up, configure, and manage your server automatically, such as automatic restarts and easy mod installing.
Shared Hosting Options
All of the options listed here are also managed hosting. You won’t have to worry about setup too much, as it should be relatively straightforward or just handled for you completely.
- Gameservers.com: Very cheap servers for small use cases, as you’re charged by the number of player slots you want. A decent control panel, but no DDOS protection.
- Low.ms: A compromise between dedicated and shared hosting, while still providing a managed control panel for most games. You’ll know the specs you’re getting, but you’ll have to pay extra for a dedicated thread. They also put branding in your server title, which costs $2 to remove, but you might be fine with it if you’re trying to save some money.
- Nodecraft: A shared hosting provider that doesn’t charge per slot. They have different tiers, segmented by RAM and the number of instances you can run. In fact, you can host multiple servers on one tier, RAM permitting.
Whatever option you go with, make sure it has a managed control panel and supports the game you want.
Dedicated Hosting Options
Dedicated hosting allows you a lot more freedom and control. You can host multiple game servers off one box, as well multiple different games, and since you have full access to the box, you can even host a web server to run a website off the server, or anything else non-game related.
- OVH: Only two locations, Canada and France, but offering very powerful servers for the price. If you don’t care about having the latest gen hardware, you can rent their old equipment from their sister company SYS. Both will be completely fresh servers, and you’ll have to set everything up yourself.
- Gameservers.com: Though this company focuses on shared hosting, it also offers dedicated servers as an option. You’ll even get the managed control panel, though this is optional and will restrict your access to only the control panel.
- Amazon Web Services: More of a premium, enterprise option. If you’re a game developer looking to host servers, AWS GameLift is worth looking into. If you’re looking for a single, generic server, EC2 will be more suitable. And if you’re a student, you can get $100 in free credit with a .EDU email.
Setting Up a Dedicated Server
Most Steam games will use SteamCMD to download and run the server, although you’ll usually have to configure a .bat file with all the starting instructions. Other games may have their own server program you can download—check the game’s official documentation for more information. We’ll link to a few guides here, but if you’re looking to run something that isn’t on this list, a quick web search for the game’s name plus “dedicated server setup” will usually yield useful results.
After the server is set up and running, you’ll want to ensure that the ports are open on the server, so that people will be able to access it. This step will be different for each host, but if you don’t see anything in the control panel for your provider, you will likely just have to change the Windows Firewall settings and whitelist the server application.
After the ports are open, people should be able to connect to your server with the IP address, or possibly just through the in-game server browser. Depending on the game, you might want to get a domain name for your server, so you can easily remember the IP address.