Following up on Host Havoc’s guest article, we explore the world of game server hosting even further. This time I had a chat with Alex Booth who is the Technical Director of CompareGameHosting (abbreviated as CGH) which is part of Gaming Companions Ltd. CGH is a free comparison site that aims to rank the top game and voice server hosts around the world. With years of experience, Alex Booth will give us some insight in the server industry, how to run a game hosting company, the work, risks involved, money and ofcourse tell us more about CGH and Gaming Companions.
Alex! First of, How are you doing today?
Hi Syff im doing pretty well, it’s warming up nicely in the UK so it isn’t as miserable as it usually is here!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I currently work full time developing and managing CompareGameHosting and spend my spare time visiting my son, playing games and recently i’ve gotten into Kayaking. Before CompareGameHosting took off I worked in a few different marketing companies where I picked up how marketing and the real world works that inspired me to pursue my own projects.
How and when did you start CompareGameHosting.com?
My game server story starts way back in about 2013 I think it was.
I was enjoying Space Engineers and could see it was going to be a big hit and thought “how could I be involved and make money from this :D”. With Minecraft server hosting being an already well established market I thought I would take a gamble and try to combine the 2 ideas. I registered SpaceEngineersHosting.com and filled it with a little content, did some basic link building and then let it sit for over a year (to which it ranked pretty well in Google). In mid 2014 the dedicated server files became available and I started taking orders and putting them on a rented dedicated server to make myself something like $500 a month before selling it on Flippa for $5,000 – which was lucky as the game lost its initial army of players and I would never had made that anyway! I did keep in contact with the guy that bought it on behalf of his company and we both agreed it was just unlucky timing!
It was 6 months later (early 2015) that Joshua (the other half of Gaming Companions Ltd.) said he wanted to work on a project with me and asked if I had any ideas. I suggested we try to do the SpaceEngineersHosting.com idea again but try to target lots more games, so GameHosting.co was born. We put countless numbers of hours into that site and getting everything going. We even bought the first machine to host everything on and put it in a local data centre, exciting times.
After about 4 months of growing orders we found ourselves a bit bored, so I suggested we try to build a comparison site for the industry. It just seemed that the only ones in existence were lacking greatly and were probably owned by other game hosting companies and it showed. We then worked our magic and within about 2 months we found the site really took off and we then climbed the rankings. We then decided that we would focus on CompareGameHosting and put GameHosting.co up for sale.
The comparison site is a much better fit for us than the game hosting provider, its a lot less stress as well!
How did you guys evolve over the last three years?
We added many features, added more content, more data, more languages and also more games (which were then cut back on greatly to ensure we only focus on ones that matter). Every corner of the site has a story to tell about why we have it like it is. The site is crying out for a redesign though as it seems to be falling behind the rest of the online world.
Reviews are subjective and can sometimes attract “bad apples”, how do you guys deal with that over at CGH?
After a month or two of seeing the reviews come into the site and seeing how badly it was getting abused we implemented the Steam authentication system. We found that linking a review to a Steam account seemed to scare off most of the abusers as evidence to link people is strong on Steam. The game hosting industry is full of colorful characters waiting for the perfect chance to rip a competitor apart.
Besides the reviews, where do you get your data from?
When we get reviews we ask the visitor to mark the hosting company out of 5 for support and a few other factors. This is how we work out host scores.
The pricing data is manual, although we have tried to work on automation in the past. We would love to unify the game hosting sites and get them all producing a price feed which we can tap into our system and have live prices. I know LOW.MS has already done this and I hope that other GSP’s follow suit.
Anything new in the works for CompareGameHosting?
I have been taking a look at WebHostingGeeks.com as an example of where I think CompareGameHosting.com should go. The site uses a lot of data to back up their claims which may work well on our site. The problem is trying to persuade the game hosting companies in sharing their server IP addresses which I don’t think they will do!
A redesign is getting close as well, although I don’t think it will be glamorous…. mainly making sure that the layout of the site is as user friendly as possible.
A very plain and simple question that many people would like to know; How does one start a game hosting company?
So for a game hosting company I believe that their is 2 major components that you need to be able to sort out:
- Getting people who want game servers onto your website and then converting them to sales by showing them that you can provide the service they want
- Being able to provide the service and support after the sale
You will find a lot of people who have set up game servers for them and their friends and then managed it while keeping everyone happy. This is typically the kind of person who sets up a game hosting company and then realise they lack the knowledge of finding people to sell their service too.
This is why I believe that going in with my friend Joshua onto this journey was a key part of how we made GameHosting.co a success.
If you would like a breakdown of the costs and work involved (as I see varied figures all over the web) here is a basic summary:
- Build a website with the ability to take orders and create game servers automatically (do it yourself and use WordPress, WHMCS and TCAdmin/Multicraft) – $35~ a month
- Rent a dedicated server with a company like OVH and install TCAdmin and link it all up then test it all works with WHMCS ($80~ a month)
- Perform some marketing through Google/Facebook Ads or do SEO ($ varies wildly)
This is just a basic summary of getting a small game hosting company going, unless you want to spend massive money you will have to do a LOT of the work yourself. Also, the information needed to solve problems can be quite hard to find as people don’t want to share the solutions that they worked hard on.
I could ramble on about this subject for hours…
“The game hosting industry is full of colorful characters waiting for the perfect chance to rip a competitor apart”
What are some of the pitfalls that come with starting/running a server hosting company?
The initial work required to get it going can spill over massively and be very hard to work out. You will find yourself looking for solutions online with nothing coming up in search engines so then you have to experiment.
When running a GSP you will learn that your customers don’t typically share the same dream as you. You will quickly learn the different breeds of customers, some great and some not so great. Some examples being:
- Random people trying to talk with you through live chat and the support system saying they are trying to help their friend out with his server and need his username/password to sign in :-/
- The Twitch personalities who are $0.50 short for their game server and won’t leave you alone until you let them off
- The people who sign up for a $5 a month Don’t Starve Together server, then ask you to install 50 different mods which takes you 20 minutes as its all manual. Then 4 days later requests a refund as they are bored of that game now and don’t want to pay for the rest of the month
- Then you have the really interesting customers who ask you to come join their games and then treat you as some sort of god while you are their 😀
How important is the modding scene for game server hosting companies?
I believe that modding was an amazing addition to gaming and especially Minecraft. The games are remaining relevant after many years, even if the developers switch themselves off from the project.
From a GSP point of view, it does add a little more work building the support into the control panels but on a positive note it’s another feature to show off to potential clients.
I see some GSP’s make a name for themselves by developing mods for the community and earn themselves respect. It’s also a great way to get customers (if you know how to develop mods) as you could assign yourself as the official host of the mod.
Does the rise of Discord have an impact on other VOIP platforms such as Teamspeak when looking at the data you have collected?
We rarely see any traffic come through our VOIP pages now. I think that if you have used VOIP in the past and want to use it again you will already have a provider in mind. If you haven’t used VOIP in the past and need a voice based chat solution then you would just go straight to Discord. It is a great app and amazingly its free.
With the news of Battlefield V getting revealed on the 23rd of May, I got reminded of their “Rental Server Program” which allows people to only rent a server from EA itself. Is this a growing trend within the gaming world?
I see more and more games providing the servers in house and imagine that this trend will continue. Imagine if Mojang had seen the money that could have been made in server hosting at the start? He would probably have walked away with another billion dollars!
It’s going to be the Early Access titles that the game server hosting industry relies on in the future it seems
Are you/Gaming Companions currently working on something (new) besides CGH?
We have actually moved away from side projects and back onto CGH recently. We tried moving into areas that we didn’t understand and challenged ourselves to ideas that we weren’t equipped to undertake.
So no we are 100% focussed on staying in gaming and as close to game servers as possible.
Our other big gaming project right now is BestServers.org which we believe works nicely with CGH. We would love for the data on that site to be merged with the data on CGH to show which provider has a happy client base. Much like WebHostingGeeks.com does for web hosting.
Anything else that we start from now on will ideally branch off from these 2 sites.
Looking back, what are some of your fondest memories and achievements over the years?
Watching CGH rise and rise month on month was amazing. Something we built was being used by thousands of gamers to save money and that was cool.
I remember my dad using the site after searching on Google for a game server to rent without even realising that it was anything to do with me. I only realised a few months later when he told me he had searched for a Battlefield 4 (I think) server and then went through a site that listed the prices that came up as one of the top results.
As always, do you have any tips for people out there running a community or looking to start their own (hosting) company?
The key is to just do it. Way too many people I know talk a lot about doing things but never end up doing them. I had no idea on how to run a GSP but through experimenting I worked it out. When we set up GameHosting.co our first 2 sales wanted refunds almost immediately….. it was then that we took what those 2 people said and changed the way parts of the site worked and from then it was 90+% happy customers.
When you become established enough and can send your customers our way to leave reviews about your company you can join CompareGameHosting