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The Pragmatic Hosting Guide

Confused by all the hosting options? Welcome to our pragmatic hosting guide.
Mirror takes care of your multiplayer game code. However, we still need to talk about hosting!
This guide is for those who want to focus on making games. Hacking commands into ssh terminals may be fun, but life is short. The #1 priority for this guide is ease of use, for we must ship our projects!
With a near infinite amount of providers & hosting technologies, Linux distributions and locations, it's easy to get confused about what's best for you game.
This guide will give you a basic overview. The next chapters serve as in-depth guides for the different hosting methods, depending on which you choose.

The Pragmatic Hosting Guide

Here is a brief overview of different hosting technologies, which games they are for, and which providers you could choose from.

1.) Hosting on your own Computer

After building your game, you could technically host it on your own machine, or let players host it on their machines. However, this comes with several major issues:
  1. 1.
    Uptime: your computer would have to run 24/7.
  2. 2.
    Security: what if someone finds an exploit, and gets access to your private data?
  3. 3.
    Performance: your Computer / Bandwidth / latency may not be good enough.
  4. 4.
    Latency: unlike with professionally hosted servers in data centers, Player to Player connections usually come with quite some latency.
  5. 5.
    Connectivity: other players usually won't find your game behind your router, firewall, etc. player to player connections are always difficult.
This method is not recommended. ... except for LAN parties, if you still remember those.

2.) Player Hosted + Relay / NAT Punchthrough

Still, letting players host their own games can be useful. You will save money on server hosting costs and players will create their servers on demand. We just need to solve the connectivity issue. For that, we can combine two tools:
  • NAT Punchthrough: a hacky technique to 'punch a whole' through your router / firewall so that others can connect to your game. This requires one central server for players to connect to once. After the initial connect to the central server, your router / firewall will most likely allow outside packets from other players directly. This works about 70% of the time.
  • Relay: to avoid headaches, you can offer your own (or rent) a Relay server, which basically forwards traffic between players. Instead of talking to each other, your players all talk through a central Relay. This solves our router + firewall issues 100% of the time. However, you'll usually have to pay for bandwidth.
Note that Uptime, Security and Latency are still not solved here. However, a decent Relay may reduce your latency to be good enough.
While the C# API isn't great, we still recommend Mirror's Epic transport. Epic Games' Relay is free of charge at the moment, thanks to their success with Fortnite.

3.) Dedicated Servers

This is the old school way of hosting, and probably what most people consider at first.
You sign a contract for a physical dedicated server in some datacenter, install your favorite Linux distribution, SSH into it via Terminal, configure it, then launch your server binary and maintain it over time.
Dedicated servers work for all games. However, they aren't ideal for all games.
It's cumbersome to sign & cancel contracts for every extra server. And you still need to pay while you don't use it.
This is best for persistent worlds: Minecraft, MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and so on.
Hetzner is most often recommended. They have great prices and great hardware. Namecheap is good too.

4.) Cloud Hosting

You may have heard about Amazon AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, etc. They offer virtual servers, which you can spin up and remove with just a few clicks without manually signing contracts & canceling them every time.
Usage is generally similar to dedicated servers: you configure your machine, pick your Linux distro, upload your server executable and maintain it yourself.
However, Cloud Hosting is significantly more convenient. You can rent new servers and remove old servers from a UI with just a few clicks. At the end of the month, you are billed for the resources which you have used.
You could even configure your server once, and then spin up additional servers based on the same image with just a few clicks.
Cloud hosting works for all games as well. However, keep in mind that:
  • Virtual CPUs are ~20% slower than dedicated CPUs.
  • Pricing is noticeably higher than for dedicated servers.
You essentially pay more for extra convenience. New servers can be set up with just a few clicks, and once you don't need them anymore you can simply remove them. There's no need to sign contracts & wait for support all the time.
If you value convenience, then Cloud Hosting is a good choice over dedicated servers.
Google Cloud, Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure are the most popular choices. You will find hosting guides for each one in our documentation. At Mirror we use Google Cloud for our CCU tests & Discord Bots.

5.) Orchestration

Orchestration aims to automate hosting for session based games, on demand.
If your game suddenly becomes popular, you may need hundreds or thousands of servers at a time. Setting this up manually with dedicated servers is basically impossible, and even with Cloud Hosting it would still require quite a lot of headaches & time, which is probably better spent on your game itself.
Well, good news: orchestration is the future of multiplayer game hosting. In simple terms:
  1. 1.
    You create a lightweight Docker image: includes the choice of Linux Distribution, setup, open ports, binary, etc. If you aren't familiar with Docker, fear not. It makes your life a lot easier. Just learn it once, you'll wind up using it for all your hosting afterwards. No more manually setting up linux servers, no more apt-get, no more maintenance etc.
  2. 2.
    Upload your image to the Orchestration Service.
  3. 3.
    Configure your orchestration in a web UI. They will ask you how many servers you want to spawn, when to spawn more, when to remove old servers, etc.
This is the new, modern way to host game servers. Docker & Orchestration may sound complicated at first, but I wouldn't mention here if it wouldn't make our life easier.
Again, I don't want to worry about hosting. I want to upload my server image, and let the orchestration service worry about all the scaling, maintenance, etc. Convenience is key.
Multiplay, Edgegap and AWS Gamelift are popular choices. We use EdgeGap because it's the easiest to use with the most advanced network.