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Dedicated vs. listen servers — what’s the difference in gaming?

Posted on by Liquid Web
Reading Time: 8 minutes

It happened again, didn't it? You were gaming with your buddies and got booted from the game map at a pivotal moment in the match.

Many gamers who've experienced this frustration think about spinning up their own gaming server. If that sounds like you, then you'll want to read this guide on dedicated vs. listen servers so you can make the right choice for you and your buddies.

Understanding dedicated servers

Dedicated servers consist of hardware and resources belonging to only one group or organization. This server type contrasts with shared or cloud hosting, which pools server resources among many customers and can result in overprovisioning or resource scarcity. While doing this potential new server setup analysis, you should also examine the differences between private cloud vs. dedicated hosting.

Gamers enjoy dedicated servers because of their reliability and security. These servers exist separate from the console or platform powering your gameplay, so resources are not shared between your hosting and resource-intensive operations, like powering visual graphics or gameplay. You can spin up a dedicated server for you and your gaming party, and as long as that server meets the game's minimum requirements, you can play virtually uninterrupted.

Understanding listen servers

Listen servers (sometimes called local servers) exist as a "client" of the gaming platform. They provide their own environment and resources for gameplay but live in a quasi-shared resource architecture. One player hosts and plays the game simultaneously, while the other remote players in the party connect to the host's server. While it does make it easier for all party members to join in this scenario, the downside is that you don't have a static IP and may run into resource or cybersecurity issues.

Pros and cons of dedicated servers

Understanding the difference between a listen server and a dedicated server, first helps to break down the platforms in more detail. After looking at the pros and cons of a listen vs. dedicated server, you'll understand the unique use cases best suited for each and can decide what's right for you.

Pros of dedicated servers

The primary advantages of a dedicated server are the following:

  • Dedicated resources. The server resources in a dedicated environment belong only to you. In a shared or cloud environment, you share pooled resources with many customers. This sharing could leave you with inadequate resources for smooth, reliable gameplay.
  • Isolation and increased security. The more we rely on the cloud, the bigger the attack surface gets for cybercriminals. A dedicated server offers an isolated environment. Since you're not sharing resources, you are the only person accessing your server. This isolation makes cyber threats much less likely than other hosting environments.
  • Reliable scaling. Your control over a dedicated server allows you to scale slowly and reliably to accommodate growth. You'll be able to steadily add new players to your gaming party without sacrificing your gameplay experience.
  • Speed improvements. More available resources mean more speed. Even complex visual elements like high-definition, cinematic storyboard videos will play seamlessly without lagging or downtime.

Cons of dedicated servers

It's only fair for us to call out some of the downsides of dedicated servers in the interest of a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis. The pitfalls of dedicated servers are the following:

  • More expensive than other hosting. Dedicated hosting is the most expensive compared to other hosting architectures like shared or cloud. Purchasing the requisite computer, applications, and resources like RAM or storage to run your gaming server can have a high price tag. If you decide to go this route, be sure the investment is worth it.
  • Steep learning curve. Dedicated servers give you the most control over settings and configurations. But with this control comes some responsibility. Gamers who wish to set up a dedicated server need some technical knowledge to walk through the steps to get your server up and running properly.
  • More maintenance. Running your own server requires constant upkeep and maintenance. You'll need to constantly install patches, update virus protection, and monitor equipment health as time goes on. Fortunately, you can avoid some of this upkeep with fully managed dedicated servers.

Pros and cons of listen servers

Now, let's take a deeper look at listen servers. Understanding their primary features will clarify the difference between a listen and dedicated server.

Pros of listen servers

Here are the primary benefits of listen servers:

  • Low cost compared with dedicated. Since listen servers exist as clients on the primary gaming server, they cost much less than spinning up and configuring a dedicated server.
  • Easy setup. Listen servers don't require additional equipment or infrastructure since they exist as clients. As a result, there's no technical barrier to entry, and you can launch these environments almost instantaneously.

Cons of listen servers

If you're considering a listen server, keep the following disadvantages in mind:

  • Unstable network. The performance of your gaming network relies on the host gamer. If the host's network connection on is slow, inconsistent, or unreliable, it affects the whole gaming party.
  • May experience latency. Since the party's remote players rely on a fraction of the host's connectivity, the host may experience faster gameplay than the remote players. Remote players may also experience more lag than the host.
  • Could create an unfair gaming environment. A listen server relies on the host gamer having access to all of the gaming world's information, which makes an opportunity and the potential for them to cheat the other players.
  • The gameplay often depends on the host player. It could be that as soon as the host gamer leaves, your game is over. Even it this scenario is not always true, if the host disconnects the network or shuts the game off, your gaming experience will terminate abruptly.

Key differences between listen servers and dedicated servers

You now understand the basic concepts with regard to the pros and cons of dedicated vs. listen servers. But what are the significant differences between the two types servers? On the surface, you can think of listen servers as a peer-to-peer (P2P) platform since listen servers rely on one of your peers (the host gamer) to function. As such, our comparison here essentially looks at P2P vs. dedicated environments. There are some key differences in how these two server architectures operate. Let's look at three key areas of comparison to find out more.

Infrastructure and resources

Regarding infrastructure and resources, dedicated servers require much more than listen servers. If you wish to spin up a dedicated server for your gaming, you'll need to purchase a separate hosting setup. Since dedicated servers can't exist on the same machine as your gaming platform, you need a completely different PC complete with RAM, storage, CPU, and operating system.

A listen server acts a clients within the gaming platform. The host player only needs to be playing the game to launch the listen server and allow their fellow remote players to join them in a gaming party. Therefore, these servers require very little in the way of infrastructure or resources and can launch in no time.

Performance and stability

Dedicated wins out in performance and stability. A dedicated environment provides you with your own set of isolated resources. There are no neighboring users to consume unnecessary resources or jeopardize your internet connectivity. You and your entire gaming party will experience virtually zero latency and exceptional stability.

Looking at listen vs. dedicated servers, listen servers don't offer as much in terms of stability and performance. Your network quality is dependent upon the host gamer's internet connection. If their connection suffers, so does the connection of the remote members of the party.

Also, since the host gamer shares their connection with their remote partners, there is an unfair latency advantage. The remote players may experience more latency than the host, leading to frustration and less-than-ideal gameplay.

Customization and control

Dedicated servers provide the most customization and control. However, you need to have the technical knowledge to make those changes. You can add resources, adjust settings, and install administrative tools as you see fit.

The same doesn't apply to listen servers. What you see is what you get, and there's very little opportunity for video game modding. The settings and administrative tools are predetermined since the server is created within the game itself. Some games offer community support to adjust your listen server, but you can't make many changes.

Factors to consider when choosing a server type

As you start to research launching your own gaming server, the amount of information can be overwhelming. Weighing these critical factors of dedicated vs. listen servers will help you make a decision you won't regret later.

Game requirements and scale

While setting up a listen server is easier and less cost-intensive, you may need more resources for proper gameplay. The game will launch, but having to share memory and bandwidth capacity with other remote players and the host may cause latency and connectivity issues.

This lack of resources also makes it hard to scale with a listen server. Generally, these servers are best for gaming parties of 12 players or less. Implementing persistent-state worlds (PSW) games on listen servers can be challenging due to their shared nature and dependency on the host keeping the server online indefinitely. Therefore, oftentimes, listen servers also can't accommodate PSW games where these gaming worlds continue to update and change after players log off.

In contrast, you can adapt and scale dedicated servers to meet any size gaming party. You'll also experience fewer gameplay issues since resources are devoted solely to your party. As long as the computer you purchase or build to host your server meets the game's minimum requirements (which you can easily find on the game’s website or community forums), you should be good to go.

Budget and cost considerations

If you're looking for a more budget-friendly option, listen servers are your answer. It costs almost nothing to launch one since they exist within the gaming platform itself.

While more expensive, a dedicated server is better if you and your gaming party plan to do some serious long-term gaming. You may pay more upfront, but think of it as investing in a worry-free gameplay experience with unlimited growth potential as you invite more friends to join.

Technical expertise and resources

You'll need some technical expertise to launch your own dedicated server. You'll have to manually adjust the configurations and connect your server to the gaming platform's hosting environment to be able to play. Typically, the gaming company itself or user communities will provide instructions on how to do this, but it still can be tricky.

The upside of navigating this technical learning curve is that you'll have more resources to use. However, you'll also be burning more resources. The costs of building or purchasing a server computer are high, but you also must factor in the utility costs of powering that server.

Conversely, listen servers are much less knowledge- and resource-intensive. The host player only needs to navigate the game's menu, find the “Create Server” option; the steps are relatively straightforward from there. You may have to make some minor adjustments to your residential internet setup, for example optimizing connectivity and port settings. Still, it's a far cry from the knowledge and expertise necessary to create and run a dedicated server.

Player experience and expectations

You can expect a better gaming experience with a dedicated server. Your own set of system resources and an isolated environment mean less chance of connectivity or latency issues. It's a heftier investment, but it may be worthwhile if you and your party are serious about gaming.

Gaming on listen servers can be unstable. There's no guarantee that the gaming experience will be poor, but there's no guarantee that it will be great, either, since the entire experience hinges on the residential internet connection of the host player. Players should expect some latency and connectivity issues, especially if they sign on to play during peak gaming times.

Get improved gaming with Liquid Web

Running your own gaming server can significantly enhance your gaming experience as long as you choose the right one. Deciding between a dedicated vs. listen server may seem tough, but use the information in this guide, and you can't go wrong.

Think about how you and your party currently play and how you plan to game in the future. Also, consider your budget, the quality of your internet connection, and whether you plan to add more players down the road. Analysis of these decision points will aide you on your gaming journey and lead you to the best outcome. We want you to have long days of happy gaming.

Of course, Liquid Web is always here to help. Our dedicated server hosting packages are reasonably priced and backed by the best customer support in the industry.

And, with decades of experience, our team is no stranger to what you need for today’s top gaming titles. Contact the Liquid Web team today and discover a complete gaming experience.

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