How to Set Up a Server for Gaming

Have you ever wondered how to set up a server for gaming? At LockerGnome.net, Hosa writes:

Does a server need a separate router or ISP connection? I am a little fuzzy on this and I’ve never fully understood it. Can my desktop PC be a server at the same time? I want to play multiplayer games with my friends.

How to Set Up a Server for Gaming

Servers, servers everywhere — but do you know how to set one up?

Thanks for writing, Hosa. I think it would be prudent to explain a few things that might additionally help in answering your questions. I have run a few servers and they can be both fun and hard work at times. To answer your first question before we get any further: yes and no. If your server is a stand-alone machine, then yes, you need a separate connection to your router. If your server is your desktop PC, then no, you don’t.

What is a server?

A computer server can be a stand-alone machine integrating hardware and server software, or it can be a program that you can run on, practically, any machine. However, there is a lot more to it than that and to quote the Wikipedia definition:

A server is a computer or program designed to process requests and deliver data to other computers (known as client computers) over a network or the Internet.

There are many different kinds of servers — from Web servers that host your website to game servers, which allow a multiplayer experience with people from all over the world — or in the next room.

Why would I want to set up a server?

You may want to run a server for reasons personal (to play games with your friends) or professional (perhaps as part of a greater community). You may even be the sort of person who wants to run a server because you enjoy the experience of tinkering with the technology involved and the self-education that comes along with it. But even if you’re not, you can run a server through a hosting company that will set up the server for you with minimal fuss and muss. In any case, you must have a reason of your own for running a server, or else you probably wouldn’t have read this far!

How to set up a server for gaming

This section could get a bit complicated, but I’ll try to keep everything in layperson terms. I understand that you want to set up a server for multiplayer game play. Details depend on the game you’re playing, its developer, and the level of “officialness” to which your server will conform.

The other thing to keep in mind is that your ISP may not like you using up its bandwidth and could, potentially, throttle your connection or disconnect you altogether if it senses that you’re using it for services beyond the scope of your contract. Many ISPs in the US and the UK have terms and conditions that say “unlimited” but define a “fair usage policy.” Perusing your ISP’s online forums may be a good way to test the waters of your ISP’s attitude toward other customers’ similar usage.

To start, I would suggest that you have the following things:

  • A powerful computer – Of course, “powerful” is relative to your needs and is a term that changes every few months in the world of technology. But at the time of this writing, something along the lines of a Core i7, 16+ GB RAM, with a 1 TB or more hard drive should suffice. A relatively powerful computer is quite important because your server is processing requests and delivering that data to the other computers. Like an expectant mother, your server is caring for more than the needs of one. Your computer will have to have enough power to run the game itself and to process and send the relevant data to other people using the server.
  • A substantial upload speed – While your Internet speed may be advertised as a blazing 15 Mbps, that’s likely only your down speed. You are looking for an up speed of around 10 Mbps+ (depending on how many people will be using it). Use a website like Speedtest.net to get a general idea of where your upload speed sits. The more upload speed you have, the smoother your server will run and the less lag your users are likely to experience.
  • A static IP address – Most ISPs use a dynamic IP, and you may have to find a way to deal with this by using services like NoIP.com
  • Correctly forwarded ports – Each server will require certain ports of your router to be forwarded. Minecraft, as an example, uses 25565. PortForward.com is an excellent resource for looking up specifics. Services like WhatIsMyIP.org and CanYouSeeMe.org will help confirm if you have been successful at forwarding your ports.

Bear in mind that it may take you two or three hours of playing around with settings, yelling, and swearing before you get your ports forwarded and your server running.

Some games, like Minecraft, Counter Strike: Source, Team Fortress 2, and the like are designed with home servers in mind and the designers try to make the process as simple as possible for casual use.

On the other hand, setting up servers for Steam and Valve-based games are a little more complex. It’s difficult to explain any detailed workarounds in the scope of this post, but SCRDS (for Source dedicated servers) is what you’ll be using to set up any Steam or Valve-based multiplayer game that has a dedicated server program/function, and this forum should help you through the process. The following two YouTube videos should also be beneficial.

Minecraft, Bukkit, and Feed The Beast are completely different and a lot easier to set up.

If you don’t feel comfortable doing any of this, then you can go to a hosting company and pay anywhere between $5-$500 a month for a server that it sets up and you administrate. Remember: knowledge is power and time is money! When you want to set up a server, a little learning can go a long way.

Image: Servers Stock Photo by getButterfly via Flickr

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Chris has consistently expressed his convictions and visions outright, supplying practical information to targeted audiences: media agencies, business owners, technology consumers, software and hardware professionals, et al. He remains a passionate personality in the tech community-at-large. He's a geek.