Since the earliest days of PC gaming, the private or dedicated game server has been one of the top perks of PC gaming over other platforms. Instead of having to rely on potentially spotty multiplayer service from the developer or publisher, setting up your own dedicated server for compatible games allows you a level of stability, customizability, and control you might not always get with external servers.1
Whether you’re looking to play titles like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive*, ARK: Survival Evolved*, and Team Fortress 2*, or more lighthearted experiences like Minecraft*, running your own gaming server is a great way to have more control over where you and your friends play. Plus, you can still host your own TeamSpeak*, Mumble*, or other VoIP services on your private server, all within the parameters you define.
Why host your own dedicated server?
Public multiplayer uses either client servers or peer-to-peer (P2P) hosting, both of which have shortcomings. Client servers are run by the main host (usually the game publisher or console manufacturer), which manages connections from many individual players. This server configuration works for most people, but there are disadvantages, such as a lack of customizability.
P2P hosting is another popular choice for modern multiplayer gaming. P2P allows one player to dynamically act as a host that facilitates the connections of other players. With this setup, you’re reliant on the connection of whoever gets chosen as host, so a poor host connection means a poor experience for everyone.
But with a dedicated gaming server for compatible games, you can play your favorite multiplayer games with fewer limits on performance and stability. You can experience the game the way you want, with less lag, and fewer dropped connections.
One thing to keep in mind is that, unless you have high upload and download speeds, users connecting to your server over the internet may experience connectivity issues and lag. (You don't have to worry about this if you're setting up a local area network (LAN) that is only being used by friends on the same network.)
Hardware for your server
A dedicated server is also a great way to get extra mileage out of an old PC. Using a separate PC for your gaming server frees up resources on your system, and helps ensure greater stability for both your gaming PC and your server.
Here are some dedicated server hardware requirements that will help ensure you can host the latest games. These specs should be a decent baseline for most 32-player multiplayer games, but you may need even more power for games with 64 or more players. Keep in mind: The more players on your server, the greater the strain on your hardware.
- 64-bit Windows* OS (or Linux*, with compatible games)
- Solid State Drive (SSD) it's best not to run a server on a mechanical hard drive – the constant read-write actions and slower speeds could cause problems
- At least 8GB RAM, with 16 or more being optimal
- Quad-core Intel® CPU, minimum 2.5GHZ clock speed
Setting up a dedicated server with Steam*
Many of the most commonly played PC games use Steam* for their multiplayer architecture, which offers a convenient and centralized way to set up a dedicated gaming server.
Before you start, you’ll need to check out the Dedicated Servers list in the Steam* developer wiki to make sure that the game you’re looking to host is supported. (Don’t worry, almost all of the big non-Valve* games, like Killing Floor 2*, the Arma* series, Rust*, ARK*, and DayZ*, are on that list.) In the wiki above, you’ll also find helpful links to step-by-step setup instructions for some of the most popular titles.
The wiki will also let you know whether you can set up a dedicated server for your game using the Steam* Client, or with SteamCMD*, a command-line-only version of Steam* that you can download for free.
If you want to enable connections via the internet, you’ll likely need to make changes to your network/router setup. This Steam* help article has comprehensive instructions on how to configure your router or home network, as optimal settings will vary depending on your particular setup.
For people who are comfortable working with the command line interface, SteamCMD* allows you to install and set up your dedicated server without having to install the full Steam* client on your server. To use SteamCMD*, you’ll need to know the Steam* App ID number of your game.
If you choose to go this route, the SteamCMD*-GUI tool is a simplified solution for setting up your dedicated server. This program allows you to set up and run servers for most Steam*-compatible games, including Source servers for old-school titles. It’s also considerably more compact than the full Steam* installation.
SteamCMD*-GUI is relatively straightforward, so it’s the preferred way to set up a dedicated gaming server for those who don’t want to load the full Steam* client.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive*
SteamCMD* only (App ID# 740)
For players just looking to get their CS:GO* dedicated server off the ground with minimal fuss, the Pyr0s CS:GO* Server Launcher is a script that can streamline most of the process. As with any third-party content, be sure to use appropriate caution to avoid potential viruses or malware.
After you download the batch (.bat) file linked above, move it to your dedicated server computer’s CS:GO* installation folder and open it. A script will execute, and automatically launch the server setup process, allowing you to run a server for any of CS:GO*’s main game modes.
However, customizing and tweaking your server (like using custom graphics, sound effects, and music), requires a bit more work. Read more on the Valve* Developer wiki.
Team Fortress 2*
SteamCMD* only (App ID# 232250)
A Team Fortress 2* dedicated server is very easy to set up via the SteamCMD*-GUI tool, but you’ll need to modify some files in the game’s directory. The TF2* wiki is a great resource for getting your dedicated server up and running.
ARK: Survival Evolved*
SteamCMD* & Steam* client (App ID# 376030)
ARK* players can use an unofficial free program called the Ark* Server Manager,
which offers a simple and comprehensive way to manage the server-creation process.
If you’d prefer not to use a GUI tool to run your server, there’s an unofficial ARK* wiki with some solid instructions on how to create your server. (Be warned, no matter which you choose, that hosting an ARK* server can be very hardware-intensive.)
Setting up a dedicated server for non-Steam* games
Not every game uses Steam* as the basis for a dedicated server. The most popular example of a game that uses its own server software is Minecraft*, but other games like Warframe* also have a unique setup process.
Minecraft* private server
Minecraft* uses proprietary hosting software, so you’ll need to take a different route than Steam* in order to create a dedicated gaming server on your own hardware. On the linked page, you’ll have the option to install server software for both the Java* and Windows* 10 versions of Minecraft*. Cross-play between the two isn’t supported, so make sure you install the correct version.
Once you download and run the appropriate software server program, it will create file folders for your server wherever you run it. Be sure to install in a separate “Minecraft* Server” folder to keep everything nice and organized.
From there, you’ll just need to make some quick changes to two text files, and you’re good to go. For step-by-step instructions, the unofficial Minecraft* wiki at Gamepedia* has a good tutorial for setting up your first private server.
Simple Server Setup
Setting up a dedicated server is far quicker and easier than it was in the early years of PC gaming. With a surprisingly small amount of work, you and your friends can enjoy a seamless experience with your favorite multiplayer titles.