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Shaving Ping
Squeezing More Out of Hosted Game Servers with Optimized Game Server Code

Expectation: More Go for Less Dough

The gaming user community is always changing. As new DSL, fiber, and cable modem solutions are bringing lower cost, higher bandwidth connectivity the home user, expectations rise among casual and die hard on-line gamers alike: more, better, faster! And their personal measure of connection success is ping. The perception remains: "good ping" means "good play". The game hosting companies, game publishers, and individuals who host network game servers are on the hook to deliver the goods. A rented server with a T1 connection for 32 players hosting a Half-Life Counterstrike server might have gone for $150 per month a couple of years back. Now they can be had for $25. So how is a game server hosting company supposed to make money?

One way hosting companies have managed to make this happen is with higher performance hardware. Newer P4-generation and recent dual-core machines, running server class flavors of Windows or Linux, are able to host multiple game engines on the same system.

Another cost management development for gaming hosts is the "self-managed" game server. In the same way that tools like Webmin 1) have enabled web server hosting companies to offer $5 per month web hosting to thousands by lowering their own administrative costs, a refined set of public domain and cheap game administration remote admin tools have made it relatively easy for the game server hosting companies to pass on routine maintenance issues for their rented servers to even mildly technical customers, whether it be uploading of new game maps and player files to stopping and starting different configurations of game server processes.

Server Squeeze: How to Get More

So the network and the server hardware are in place. There are as many customers as the infrastructure can bear. What else can be done to improve the performance, and possibly the capacity, without adding more hardware? One approach that remains is to get the server software itself to run better.

This means working to "adjust" the server binaries to improve their performance. This assumes, of course, that you have access to the source code for the game server programs. If you are a game developer or part of the mod community for your favorite game, you may already have access to the game source. If you are a big enough customer of the game (for example a large gamer café owner), or a big sales enabler (by virtue of the large number of servers you host for Company X's latest release), you may be able to negotiate access to the source or convince the vendor to make some performance improvements of their own on your behalf.

Assuming you have access to the source, you can take several steps down the optimizing path, including application of processor-agnostic general optimization and optimization targeted to your server hardware's specific processor type, including 64-bit architectures.

General Optimization

  Expectation: More Go for Less Dough
  General Optimization
  Test Results

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