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Unity [web] Costs of running a web-game

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I wasn't sure where to put this, but here seems appropriate. I'm considering putting together a turn-based web game. I am thinking of a fat-client at some point, but I want it to have a workable browser-based interface as well. I have a loose plan for staged delivery of game functionality and clearly I want to build up a community of people to play the game as it develops. In order to do this, I need to give them access for free, at least until there is something worth even a token payment and I would prefer not to have to charge at all. What I am trying to work out are the costs of hosting and the potential for offsetting those costs. If we consider a game that requires some significant DB processing as well as delivery of DB-driven content, with say 50-100 concurrent users, what sort of hosting is likely to be required and how much is it likely to cost? Considering the same site, what are the realistic opportunities to get some money back via advertising or affiliate deals? I'm sure I'm not giving enough info, so feel free to point out where I need to be more concrete. This is all new to me, so any help is welcome.

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A basic setup:

1x Dedicated server (HTTPD and SQLD):
- Initial setup charge of about $150
- Monthly hosting cost of about $100
(Vary like the weather)
1x Domain name
- .net for two years £20 ~ $35

(Whilst companies that don't charge a setup fee may seem like a better deal, but trust me, they're not. You generally get what you pay for, and if your brand new game is sluggish with page time-outs, database connection problems, and unreasonable unplanned downtime, it won't even start to be popular).

Monthly hosting includes bandwidth charges. If at all possible, look for a company that operates a flexible bandwidth payment system, by charging you per GB, instead of an initial chunk, so if you only transfer 1GB in a month, you only have to pay for 1GB, not the 30GB you've been alotted. Do NOT confuse this with charging per EXTRA GB, this can put you in a pretty bad situation if you happen to go over the transfer limit set.
(Tip: Research pricing plans, get in touch with hosting companies, ask around. You're probably going to be using this host for a while, make sure it's the best you can find)

With regards to advertising or affiliations, you're probably only going to have access to deals like that with a moderately large user base, of a size which would seem financially viable for a business(in terms of hosting payments for advertising deals). Considering that when the user base becomes moderately large, you'll want to roll out a pay to play system anyway, advertising = nah.
Additionally, if you happen to include advert bars in your game, these might decide to sprout pop-ups(not a good thing), so I'd stick to a lightweight Google AdWords advertising system, or none at all.

Also, lets not forget donations, whilst this might seem totally pointless, in reality it does work(for when situations like raising money for server upgrades, etc, come about. Planetia.net raised in excess of £1000 for a seperate database server)

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The main thing you'll pay for is bandwidth.

You can start on a shared server, if that gives you enough control. Dedicated Linux servers are typically available for under £100, Windows for £150 maybe (might vary a bit).

They normally offer you a certain amount of bandwidth (30G maybe), then charge pro rata for extra.

30G is a lot of online gaming, assuming you're not serving them dynamic images, and your HTML is not utterly terribly bloated.

By "Concurrent users", do you mean "Playing the same game" or "Physically on the web site at the same time" ?

There is a LOT of difference; most turn-based games see people only connecting a couple of times a day for short(ish) periods. Not everyone is in the same time zone.

Mark

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Thanks for the great responses.

I was thinking of concurrent as actively using the site, but I was thinking of this as a likely peak (these games seem to attract groups that are local to each other, all in the same school etc.) rather than as a constant. Obviously these numbers are just to get a ball-park figure.

If I were to start with a shared server, what are the issues with that? How would I track CPU load, for example, is that sort of reporting available as standard?

What about non-standard connections? Is it difficult to find hosts that will support proprietary server software and comms?

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I am currently working on turn-based web game project myself (alpha stage at this point).

My team has decided to go for a dedicated server. Not so much because of the work load, but rather because this way we can set it up the way we want to. We developed it on a shared server and we came a long way, but at a certain point we needed to change user access to directories, install certain libraries or extension etc. We worked around it as long as we could, but coming close to the finish line, we had to put it all together and decided to get our own server.

I wouldn't worry too much about bandwidth at this point. I found that you can optimize a great deal during and after development. My motto: if the server can't take the work load, it means that the project is a succes [smile]. Okay, not really, but you can always upgrade.

It depends on what technology your game will be based on what the costs of software licenses will be. Ours is running on a Linux server with lost of free components. Running Windows 2003 server for instance has its price, however when using shared hosting, that shouldn't be much of a problem (per server license).

Look around, compare the costs (how much for crosssing the bandwith limit, setting up extra webs etc.), and see what the options they give you regarding installing your own software, accessing root functionality etc. Try to negotiate, they may be willing to do lower their prizes.

One last advice: try the find a company nearby. I have found it to be an advantage if you can pay them or one of their servers a visit without booking a trip to other site of the world.

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Whatever you do, developing the game will cost many times a year's hosting, so don't change your development platform based on hosting costs.

Plus, even on the most expensive hosting platforms, hosting still isn't that expensive. Suppose you decide you need Windows server 2003 AND MS SQL server, the price is still only a slightly more than a "free software" system.

Your ongoing code maintenance costs (bug fixes, investigation of problems and enhancements) are going to dwarf the hosting cost anyway.

Even if you only spend a couple of days per month on code maintenance, it's still easily going to be more expensive than hosting.

Mark

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If you already have a server, I say go for it. If bandwidth becomes a problem, you can always just shut it down. The biggest thing in web-based games is getting users to join and stay in the community. Having that dynamic environment that keeps users entertained is a big thing.

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Thanks for all the help, guys. I'm sure I'll be back with more questions, but you've given me a good start.

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