All about player-owned game servers: In conversation with Shockbyte’s Mitch Smith

Mitch Smith

No matter how tired one is, as soon as a topic close to their heart is brought out, all weariness washes away. That’s precisely what happened when we met Mitch Smith at Gamescom Asia in Singapore. Despite just landing after an exhaustive eight-hour flight from Sydney, Smith’s fatigue evaporated the moment we started talking about player-owned game servers (POGS) – game servers that are owned, operated and controlled by players. It is this enthusiasm for POGS that also eventually led him to start his own company Shockbyte back in 2013.

At the inception of Shockbyte, game-server provision was a nascent concept. However, POGS have now permeated the gaming sphere, gaining traction not only among gamers but also within game development circles. Smith engaged AnimationXpress in discussions about the mechanics of renting game servers, the burgeoning trend of gamers renting servers, and the pivotal role of Shockbyte in this evolving landscape.

Shockbyte’s booth at Gamescom Asia

Changing the game: Understanding POGS

POGS operate under player control rather than being managed by the game’s developers. This autonomy grants players the ability to forge specialised communities, personalise their gaming experiences by incorporating mods and plug-ins, and adjust difficulty levels or gameplay dynamics.

According to Smith, “POGS empower players to shape their gaming experience. They can seamlessly transition between different modes, tweak settings, join a different server and explore entirely new gaming realms.”

The role of Shockbyte

“We provide game-server hosting for player-owned game services,” he explained. In simple terms – instead of selling service to game studios on their official servers, Shockbyte sells servers directly to the players of the game. So if you play Minecraft and want to have your group of friends play with you, you can rent a server and control the game by tweaking the settings for your set of friends.

“We work with game developers to implement the player-and-game-server-model which allows players to run and customise their own server. Our focus is on empowering players while they cover server operation costs.”

Mitch Smith (in Shockbyte tshirt) speaking to visitors at Gamescom

How server rental works

Players can subscribe to Shockbyte’s servers on a monthly basis. Smith broke it down: “You can come to our website and pick the game you want to host the server for. Each game has a list of plans which vary in the number of players you can have. Then you pick what suits you – a private server or a server which helps with your big network of 100s of friends. Once you pay, we handle everything from there.”

Shockbyte offers POGS for multiple games including Minecraft, Valheim, Skyrim Together and CS:GO.

Contrary to the perceived complexity of setting up game servers, Smith disagrees. “Many of our customers are first-time server managers. We aim to simplify the setup process, sparing gamers from scouring through time-consuming YouTube tutorials,” Smith emphasised.

Benefits for game developers 

Game developers benefit from server provider companies like Shockbyte in two ways:

  • Server provider companies transfer server operational costs from game developers to the players, reducing expenses on technicians and customer service agents.
  • Servers help build communities where players want to return. Since every server is a unique experience, players don’t get bored. Gamers who have rented servers want more players. This extends a game’s longevity and encourages word-of-mouth promotion.
Visitors trying out POGS at Gamescom

How POGS contribute to the popularity of a game

“When you start a server, you want your friends to play so you’ll be like – ‘hey, come play with me’, and if they love the game, every single one of them is going to buy it,” Smith said. “Some may even start their own server and invite more friends.” He mentioned that POGS is one of the reasons the popularity of the videogame Valheim skyrocketed the way it did.

Shockbyte’s expansion plan

While Shockbyte has a big presence in the USA and Europe, Smith highlighted the growing gaming market in the Asia Pacific. “It’s a focal point for us. We have data centers in Singapore and Mumbai, reflecting our excitement about the booming gaming scene in India.”

Shockbyte has primarily been English-speaking but there are a lot of countries in Asia Pacific where English is not the first language, so Shockbyte is looking to add more languages for expansion and localisation, Smith revealed.

Mitch Smith (left) and Shockbyte members at their booth in Gamescom

Smith’s thoughts on APAC gaming landscape

In the past one or two years, Smith is seeing more innovation in the gaming ecosystem than in the previous 10 years. “We are starting to see a full ecosystem with user generated content, POGS and monetisation.”

In closing, Smith praised Gamescom Asia, noting its evolution from a learning experience last year to more engaging conversations this year. “It’s been amazing. I absolutely love Singapore!”


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