As my side project (code-named METAL) progresses, I found the need to start looking for hosting solutions.  The game will have a server backend and I don’t think the old server in my basement will cut it if the game actually succeeds and I get more than 100 players.  It turns out that hosting companies are starting to realize that many games have servers now even if it’s just to authenticate you bought the game.  Server Beach, for example, offers high-performance, low-latency, game servers.  Are they any different than their normal web hosting servers? Possibly.  They might tune their data center networks to give the game server traffic a bit of a speed boost.  Lag in online games kills more than just your toon!

It is interesting to watch the game industry shifting from server-less to server-required.  It makes sense doesn’t it?  Kyle at 2DBoyestimated that 90% of the people playing their game, World of Goo, was pirated.  Pirates can claim they don’t want to hurt the little guys, and want to stick it to the man, but 2DBoy consists of two guys working at home and coffee shops using cat soap for shampoo because they can’t afford it.  So, that particular pirate rational is incorrect.  They pirate it because they can. Period.

DRM doesn’t work either.  It only hurts the honest players who buy the game.  The pirates don’t have to deal with annoying rules, requiring you to be online, popup reminders, DRM bugs, etc.  I know people who buy the game and then go download the “no CD” cracks so they can remove the DRM annoyances.

To solve this problem? Make the game online-only.  Make “broadband Internet” a requirement on the box just like a CPU and RAM spec.  You can’t play the game unless you are logged into a server that keeps a tight leash around your game client.  Even better, make sure that half of the game logic is done on the server so that unless someone reverse engineers and builds a server, the game client players have is useless.  Eventually, if services like OnLive take off, the entire game will run on a server somewhere in the cloud.  You’ll send input and you’ll receive a video stream of the simulation.

This is one reason so many companies are starting MMOs and online-only games: guaranteed money.  And with the high piracy rates, and used game market eating into new sales profits, who can blame developers and publishers?  Games are expensive to make, companies are small, and if you don’t at least break even on the game you just made, your company is probably finished.  Game developers may work crazy hours for little pay, but they still need to eat and support their families they never see.

As the need for game server hosting rises, it will be interesting to see how hosting companies like Server Beach will compete for the market.
Will they offer more monthly bandwidth at a low cost?  Actually train their employees to provide operations for your game for a fee? Only time will tell.