I still miss dedicated servers – or at least one

I’ve been a member of many games communities over the years – clans, guilds, forums – but the one I remember most fondly was a server.

In my experience, those other kinds of communities could be great, but they were also more prone to politics, in-fighting, and collapse. This is probably owing to the fact that they are deliberately formed and their founder is normally present. A hierarchy is unavoidable.

The game server I remember best had an owner and operator – I’m pretty sure it was not an emergent growth – but I never knew who it was. I’m not sure if I ever played with them or not. There were moderators, but we were lucky in that they were kind, and concerned only with kicking the occasional cheater, spammer, teamkiller and playing the game with the rest of us.

The game was Counter-Strike. I played it every day, for hours a day, and a good server was important first and foremost because I had a 56k modem. Good pings were hard to come by. Initially I clung to this particular server because it offered low-ish latency and because it tended to have a couple of available slots in the hours when I wanted to play. But soon I was returning for the people. Play at the same time and place enough times in those days and you’d see the same names again and again. Slowly, you’d talk, get to know each other a little, and find a casual camaraderie.

I’ve been thinking about this today after finally going back to play some Rainbow Six Siege. I love the game, for reasons I’ve explained elsewhere, and my matches today were good. Not because I played well – I totally did not – but because the other players were friendly. The higher level players recognised that they’d been paired against a group of relative newcomers, they were encouraging, they told one player off when they gloated at winning, and it was the rare pleasant experience in online gaming.

This didn’t take place on a server I can revisit, however. Like most modern multiplayer shooters, Siege relies on matchmaking rather than dedicated servers. And in most ways, I prefer it like this. Despite one or two great servers that felt like home, much my time in Counter-Strike was spent trying to join servers that were full by the time I clicked them, that lagged more than the server browser had suggested, which were full of cheaters, or which required the download of a dozen annoying custom sounds. Matchmaking fits much more into a life in which I have less time to play games, and less time trying to simply get into a game.

But I miss the ability to make casual acquaintances of those good players I encounter during matches. There is, yes, the option to add them as friends, to reach out and forge some greater social connection. But that’s not what I want. I want to drink alone in a crowded bar of people who recognise me, and who I recognise. I want friendly hellos and silent nods. A friends list is entirely too formal, too much.

There was much hoo-ha when dedicated servers first started to disappear from the feature list for multiplayer games, and some still maintain it as an option, but you can tell it’s a thing of the past. Soon most players won’t remember why the option was desirable, and it’ll likely disappear even more. That’s a real shame.

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46 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    johannsebastianbach says:

    Counter Strike (Global Offensive) still has a server browser with literally hundreds of them almost full 24/7. Anybody can host their own server. So, why don’t you check that out as your next feature piece?

    • keefybabe says:

      KF2 as well, there are a few out there, but the dedicated server really belongs to the survival genre now.

    • pmh says:

      I’m not sure where you are or during what period you played any version of CS, but both the quantity and quality of community servers have dropped off a cliff in the US when compared to CS 1.x or CS:S in their heydays.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Grizzly says:

    As much as I can sympathize with not liking custom sounds, I did once find a HL2: Deathmatch server where a few of the custom sounds where just pink floyd guitar solos. All was well on that server.

    • dethtoll says:

      Hahaha, shit, I don’t even like Pink Floyd and that sounds like a blast.

  3. Premium User Badge

    keithzg says:

    Hear, hear!

  4. jonfitt says:

    Yes! TF2 still has this kind of community, but it’s becoming a rarity.

    • skeletortoise says:

      Yeah, this is about the only game I still get to enjoy this. Unfortunately most of these servers have a handful of regulars who are really irritating and they tend to be one map servers, which is enough to dissuade me from showing up with enough consistency to build that familiarity.

  5. eataTREE says:

    Oh good, it’s time for another game of I’m So Old.

    I’m So Old, I used to run my own Quake 2 server. And pwn the hell out of everyone who connected via 56k modem.
    I’m So Old, I used to run a server for pirated MP3s out of my house. No, it wasn’t Napster and it wasn’t “file sharing”. It was something called FTP. You’ve never heard of it. No, I wasn’t worried about being sued. The Internet wasn’t on anyone’s radar yet.

    • rocketman71 says:

      You’re not that old, lad.

    • purex. says:

      FTP is still very much a thing.

      • April March says:

        I’m 31 and I used FTP. I don’t remember why. I think it was when I set up a webcomic based on my Internet friends, as was mandatory for a 19-year-old in 2005?

    • darkside says:

      Ah the good ol’ days of 0day warez FTP shenanigans. We’ve come a long way.

    • dskzero says:

      >FTP. You’ve never heard of it.

      Unless, of course, you work on IT, information services, or any kind of computing related thing, where you use FTP nearly every single day.

  6. rocketman71 says:

    “There was much hoo-ha when dedicated servers first started to disappear from the feature list for multiplayer games, and some still maintain it as an option, but you can tell it’s a thing of the past. Soon most players won’t remember why the option was desirable, and it’ll likely disappear even more. That’s a real shame.”

    It IS a fucking shame. And also, the disappearance of LAN support everywhere except for a few games. The stupid distributors killed it in the altar of piracy, just when finally it looks like Steam is curbing piracy, leaving us, their customers, holding the bag like idiots.

    • Sugga999 says:

      LOL, you were all idiots. Game/software industry has always wanted to take control of software away from users and lock it down. you idiots fell for it with mmo and believed gabe newell of valve that steams drm was good. As soon as people paid for mmo’s and steam games the rest was inevitable.

      Gamers are morons they single handedly gave away their freedom to have the game run entirely on their computer because they are feeble minded entertainment addicts.

  7. Tomo says:

    I have so many memories from playing Quake 2, Urban Terror and even CS on dedicated servers. They are FAR superior to match-making imo. Match-making barely ever works properly in its attempts to pitch you against similarly skilled players. What you’re left with is a bunch of anonymous people and a lack of atmosphere. And, I’d argue, more abuse. People don’t care what they say/do because they’ll likely never see most of the other players again. I guess reporting shitty players is a thing, but I’m not sure how much it actually works. Policing your own server is more effective. Plus you know in advance whether your ping was going to be decent.

    The days of Barrysworld, Jolt et al. were joyous.

  8. PseudoKnight says:

    Fan-run dedicated servers don’t disappear when the company decides to stop supporting the game. They allow variations of gameplay through mods and/or particular configuration. And yes, they make the formation of communities far easier.

    Even if match-making is more convenient for players, dedicated servers tend to make for more meaningful experiences. It’s perhaps a quality over quantity argument. (not to say there aren’t crappy dedicated servers out there, but you decide where you want to spend your time)

  9. colw00t says:

    Oh my goodness this takes me back. I had a favorite CounterStrike server (from Beta 1.1 onwards, as I recall) that I had selected purely based on its excellent ping.

    I later met the owner/operator of said server at a party hosted by a mutual friend. He was running it under his desk at the ISP my friend and he both worked at. He gave me the admin password. Played there for a long, long time. I still remember the server address and the admin password.

  10. Frank says:

    Same. Exactly the same, though TF2 instead of CS (since I resisted online multiplayer games for decades and so missed the early stuff).

  11. Yglorba says:

    I have fond memories of the community in Enemy Territory and Zombie Master servers I used to frequent. That said, I can understand why the feature is dying off – it usually took a lot of work to find a good server, and the pick-up-and-play experience suffered. Worse, the market is now glutted with online multiplayer games, so people are less likely to devote that amount of time to just one.

  12. Premium User Badge

    Ross Turner says:

    Drippys 2fort. Unf.

  13. April March says:

    Downloading quake_2_multikill.wav…

  14. Sciencebot says:

    8-Ball clan server and then Motel California were my CS stomping grounds for so many good years.

  15. Monggerel says:

    ‘member Jedi Outcast? ‘member UT? ‘member BF 2? ‘member TF 2?

    Nostalgia is a drug for sure.

  16. meepmeep says:

    Christ it’s like a Jason Manford gig in here

  17. BlitzThose says:

    I spent far too much of my youth on barrysworld’s 56k cs server. Also smurfing is not a new phenomenon it just went by a different name and that name was Uk2 noob servers :p those were fun to troll. I also ran a science and industry server for a number of years but that mod had the whole single server community spread over all the servers as there were so few of them.

  18. mollemannen says:

    I remember idling in irc, something about needing a “bouncer” but mainly in the pracc channels to get games against low, mid, high skilled players either on your or their server. if you mismatched skill you either got kicked or the opponents left but then there were that one rare game that was a “good fight”. now it’s all “i’m rank 1455 and i got beat by a 1452 so i lost two ranks” i miss the personality in actually having to talk to your opponents and agreeing on something rather then make due.

  19. Zanglang says:

    * Q3A: Q3DM17 Hook’n’rail – wish I remembered the servername, it had the settings for the grappling-hook cranked right up, allowing crazy zipping around. Surpassed even spiderman2 and tribes2 for the sheer glory of moving around, ricocheting off the environment.
    * RTCW: The Beach – demo map, and utterly glorious. Endlessly replayable.

    Good related threads at reddit and slashdot

  20. scatterbrainless says:

    This is one of the reasons I really enjoyed Planetside 2: the fact that all players in your location were sharing a single, giant server really created that powerful sense of community. Seeing the same faces, developing rivalries, making friends, making enemies who you would taunt and abuse, it really made every time you logged in a feeling of going to an actual place.

  21. tanith says:

    When I was a teenager I’ve played a couple thousand hours of Natural Selection. That was 10, 15 years ago. Servers were changing but some servers were permanent and they just stuck. It was fun going on the same server and get to know the people that usually frequented that server. It was awesome.
    In Jedi Knight 2 Jedi Outcast Multiplayer there was a server, United Coruscant. I KNEW that if I wanted to have a good old round of vanilla CTF in JK2 I could fire up that game, go to favourites, select that server and enjoy.

    I hope times like these will come back at some point.

    • Williz says:

      Fucking yes, loved NS… I miss the fact that there are no siege maps for NS:2, Siege was my favourite game mode. Specially with some of the quirks you could find on the maps.

    • Premium User Badge

      MajorLag says:

      I too have fond memories of NS. One server in particular, but I can’t recall the name of it. I remember having to be sponsored by a member to get some kind of extra access to it, and that the player who sponsored me was later exiled for cheating, but that’s about it.

      After v2 and v3 kinda ruined the game for me, Siege was really the only thing I was into, and then that died away too. Bounced off NS2 hard. Oh well. Spending several dozen hours a week playing one game and losing horribly to everybody because you’re shit is fine when you’re in college, but it wouldn’t be a great life choice anymore.

    • WJP says:

      Oh, the hours I’ve spend on the Voogru and Fox servers.. But I also realise that I’ve gotten older and do not have the same free time to spend on online gaming… Well that’s life ;)

  22. Thats no moon says:

    “I want to drink alone in a crowded bar of people who recognise me, and who I recognise. I want friendly hellos and silent nods. A friends list is entirely too formal, too much.”

    Absolutely, 100% this.

    I attended more geekmeets with “server acquaintances” during my time playing CS than anyone on my formal Steam/Live/etc Friends list since.

    • Zorgulon says:

      I think the issue is that online game friendships, like real-world friendships, take time to grow organically.

      The best times I had in TF2 were on the dedicated servers run by and frequented by members of the Ubercharged community. Once that site died, the servers dwindled, and the game itself moved away from community servers, first through quick play, and now through matchmaking, my experience is a lot more solitary and loses something for it.

      At the moment I’m mostly playing Overwatch, and while I mostly play with people I know IRL, my friends list has a handful of strangers with whom I had a positive matchmaking experience, and thus we decided to add each other. However, in the absence of a constant dedicated server to go back to, it feels like too much to ever group up with these barest of acquaintances in order to play together again and actually form a relationship.

      If you went to the same pub every week, and slowly got to know the regulars, that’s one thing. But to have one good night out, exchange phone numbers, and arrange a second night out in a completely different pub, is much less organic and prone to awkwardness.

  23. Williz says:

    I miss the Popeii CS:S gun game server, fucking best maps rotation and gungame that is rounds based rather than instant re-spawn is so much better. Arms race in GO is shit compared to it.

  24. AbyssUK says:

    I ran just about the only Codename Eagle server for a year while i was at uni on a T1 connection, was a blast… but I really should have been studying/drinking :)

  25. Sim-Deck says:

    I spent a massive chunk of my life playing q3 Urban Terror on the Barrysworld servers. A few of the lads I played with are now good friends and meet up to go wild camping, kayaking and whatever we fancy doing every few months. I’m off to Scotland with them in a few weeks. Some have completely binned playing any games as it was seriously taking over their lives.

  26. immaletufinishbut says:

    So is it just me, or is the traditional server system far superior to the current trend of matchmaking? Every recent game I’ve played has with MM has left me longing for the traditional way.

    Graham states that MM suits his current life be taking up less time, but is that actually true for anybody else? I feel that if anything, MM takes up significantly more time.

    Maybe a bit OT, but I challenge anybody to come up with a single valid reason MM is a better than server browser.

    TLDR: I miss server browsers greatly, modern MP games are literally unplayable due to MM….

    • Premium User Badge

      MajorLag says:

      I suspect it would be true for me if I played games with Match Making. I don’t have the time or desire to invest the time to git gud at competitive games anymore so it doesn’t really come up.

    • haldolium says:

      Neither one is bad or good and in fact, they aren’t even mutually exclusive (see Left 4 Dead, or other games that offer matchmaking that still are not executed locally but on dedicated servers, even if you dont’ chose them)

      It depends on how well it is implemented, as well as the game itself (f.e. for 4 player PvE/coop matchmaking is more suiting as for 32v32 PvP combat games) and its playercount in your region.

      While dedicated servers offer a lot more control and choice how you may want to play, matchmaking isn’t “bad” in general and since the early days a decade ago, people have learned to implement those systems in a better way for a quick game.

      The only thing here, and that is where I agree upon the general article, is that servers can or could create communities of their own which doesn’t happen over matchmaking.

  27. Premium User Badge

    Schmouddle says:

    Yeah, being a bunch of silly WWII aviation buffs, my clan hosted an IL-2 Sturmovik server, me being the server admin. Got pretty well known, at least in Czech community I guess, maybe some of you still remember – WT_Dedicated :)
    Funny thing is, when people start to recognize you abroad. Got a bloke in Hendon RAF Museum to recognize our nicknames and spending a positive word or two on account of our server.
    As time went by, I actually spent more time setting up maps and scenarions than playing them…and then there were those pesky little things in IRL getting more of my attention, like imminent Girlfriend 5.2 uprgrade to Wife 1.0 and those little loud Trojans immediately spawning:)
    However, still got the hardware in the basement and a copy of the last dedicated server on the NAS.
    Since the home connection now is better than the original hosting in 2005, I might fire it up sometime, just for fun.
    Anyone interested?

  28. pH101 says:

    This piece makes me super nostalgic for my old cs 1.5, 1.6 cs:s days. Logging in and casually playing with a group of people with the odd ‘pld’ and the occasional break out of chat was a big draw to CS back then before I got into the more serious clan stuff – I don’t play now, how does it even work (on publics). Shout out to the old suck[ma] clan server, various enemydown and yes those old jolt and uk2 servers, fun times. Wonder what Brendan’s server was?

  29. skyturnedred says:

    Action Half-Life was never as big as other HL mods, but that just meant I more often than not played with people I knew. I still remember some of those nicks. (The Specialists was great fun too, and in some ways superior to AHL.)

    Honestly, I might miss good multiplayer mods even more than dedicated servers.

    • DirtyCanuck says:

      ACTION Quake 2 and AHL were something that really hasn’t been achieved yet on a mainstream Mp level. Kind of crazy how missed an opportunity it is.

      Other mods I miss include GLOOM, RA2 and all the usual.

      I remember PlanetQuake/Halflife.com had a MOTW (Mod of the Week) that’s how strong the mod community was.

      Now they piss in our mouths with paid DLC. The Community used to give us maps for free.