In this article I’m going to cover the bare basics you should be looking into before starting your own game server rental business.
In this day and age renting game servers has become very competitive as more and more people are getting into the industry. 5-10 years ago it would’ve costed you a huge investment in buying server hardware and having software created to automate your job a bit. Now the times have changed (or have they?), you can now rent servers rather than buying outright and software that can manage your whole business.
Being a game server provider is a niche market, you’re targeting a type of customer who wants their own game server on a specific gaming platform (PC generally). It’s a very specific market that is currently idling as many gamers can’t decide which platform to go with for the next generation (PC or console).
This article assumes you have IT knowledge of the inner workings of IP networking and computer hardware.
The question you’ll need to ask yourself right up is that do you understand what it takes to run a successful business? let alone one that requires attention 24/7. If not get your reading glasses on now and follow through.
First off the bat is the major thing that will determine if you will be successful or not.. Servers. This is what gamers will judge your whole business on regardless if you have a fancy website or cool staff, if they’re overloaded, crash or slow you might as well quit while you’re ahead as word travels fast and customers will hop like there’s no tomorrow. To overcome this problem you must have a deep understanding on how a server works and what to do if something goes wrong. Issues do arise to everybody including the big players but how you handle under pressure will determine what the internet thinks of your business.
Before I go any further into the requirements here are some more questions you need to ask yourself.
- What audience are you trying to target with your services?
- Is there even enough customers to make it profitable?
- Can you price your services to be competitive?
- Who’s your competition?
- Where will you source your hardware?
- What will you do if there’s a hardware failure?
- Redundancy.. where will yours be?
- Will you be able to provide 24×7 support to your customers?
- What will you do if there’s a massive influx of customers?
You need to have a realistic view of what you need to for this kind of start up, I see it time and time again people getting into the game server industry and very quickly become in over their heads. Companies come and go on a monthly basis due to some of the things outlined above.
Lets presume you’re okay with the above so lets move on.
Back to servers
Servers are the most costly and important part of the whole business, if you have a low start up budget I would not recommend attempting starting your own game server business. I cannot tell you what an ideal budget is but the following will give a rough estimate. Buying your dedicated servers outright from day go will save a lot of money in the long run as it might seem cheap to rent a box but the long term costs of that will certainly be more however, if you’re unable to find cheap colocation you may need to rent. If you were to buy the servers outright you can assemble them yourself and set them up ready for co-location at your datacentre of choice rather than setting up the box using SSH or remote desktop.
A common dedicated server design I see regularly are as follows
- CPU: Single/Dual core Xeon
- Memory: 8/16GB ECC
- HD: 500/1000GB Sata2
The problem I see with this that it provides no redundancy for failures and uses cheap slow-ish hardware, there’s not enough RAM in the machine for starters nor is the hard drive quick enough for my liking. You do not need a massive storage array, you’d need a maximum 5-10GB per customer on the box. 20-25GB for the OS and your control panel software. So overall round 200-250GB per box which means you can get away using solid state drives but I would still recommend having a large disk in the box for local backups. The web hosting industry has been hard at work putting SSDs through countless benchmarks and overall decided to deploy them in their servers. SSDs offer almost zero latency on file access reads which means faster load times for applications loading maps and mods, which in the scheme of things is exactly what you need. The current generation of SSDs are faultless and most (if any) issues can be resolved by firmware updates.
Most major title releases mostly only support Microsoft Windows based operating systems which is a real let down but don’t feel disheartened as the best software lives on Windows for managing your game servers. TCadmin offers a great range of features that you will need such as integrated FTP server for clients, resource usage reports and probably the most important is player slot control. TCadmin is currently in beta for linux based machines, so keep an eye out for that if you’re hardcore. Other software for that deserve a mention on linux and windows platforms includes GameCP. Both of TCadmin and GameCP offer WHMCS support so you can tie everything in together.
Starting out I recommend using Microsoft Windows Server as your operation system over linux as it requires much more knowledge than Windows to get going. You can almost deploy a windows box that is completely up to date and have no real issues making it secure providing you’re not a complete idiot. I won’t dive into hardening a box but I recommend spending a few days reading into hardening servers, you can hire a professional to manage this for you.
You may of read in other guides this “box” is for good “xxx” amount of game servers, these kind of guides are very misleading when it comes to determining server capacity. The only real way to learn what the capacity of your box is to slowly add more to it, it’s also a good idea to try and have unique games running on the box as some don’t play nice if there’s multiple instances of it sharing the same CPU threads (eg not 10 source based servers at once). You will want to plan the design of the server to be able to pay for itself, if you run “8” game servers at roughly $40 per month that is $320 then take out your running costs for it (bandwidth, colo+power usage) then you have your profit or loss.
In the terms costs it’s a good idea to plan a few months ahead with your budget, ideally try to have your running costs atleast 3 months paid advanced. When starting out make sure you’ve got enough funds to run at complete loss for 6 months as that’s what I would do, if it’s looking like your investment isn’t going to work get out now.
Websites are up to you how they look, try and make them less bloaty and straight to the point.
Advertising your company
Now to get your company out into the world. There’s a bucket load of ways of advertising your newly formed business and Game Server Host offers the free index listing which places you instantly in front of thousands of customers wanting to hire rental servers. GSH also offers actual advertising services through the use of banner and I recommend contacting clans and gaming communities offering to supply some free servers for a competition in return for advertising.