About Minecraft Servers
Easily one of the best parts of Minecraft is playing online and without Minecraft servers it just wouldn’t happen. Anyone can run a server at very little cost, but running a popular Minecraft server is a different story.
I’ve ran several highly popular long term servers and I’m going to show you how you can max out your server cap, keep your players and even make money from playing Minecraft
Finding a Host
First thing is first you need to have a host. Now unless you have a pretty high spec computer you can leave on 24/7 as a dedicated host with a big Internet connection (and most people don’t) you’re going to need to rent one. Now this does cost money, but don’t panic you can make this back.
To start with you could look at somewhere like Multiplay. They have virtual servers which are low quality but they are cheap. You can use this as a base and then upgrade when you need to. We had to upgrade to a proper dedicated host after the first week but it’s down to what you have available.
For a dedicated host you have a lot of choice, there are specific Minecraft hosts and well known game server hosts like i3D. I can’t suggest any one in particular because deals and prices change all the time and it might well have changed before you read this. If you search for something like ‘dedicated server’ you’ll see loads. If you can’t decide then i3D is one of the best known game server hosts if you have enough money to start it, and Multiplay is a cheap option if you don’t.
There’s another option which you might want to look at – to get your server hosted free. Everyone knows Amazon for being a giant in terms of online stores but they also have servers and they give free server access (which you can get HERE) for a year. In that time you should be able to easily make up your costs to continue. They’re good quality servers and well worth a look.
Setting Up Your Server
If you go with a host like Multiplay you can configure most of your server from a website. It’s nice an easy but the control you have over it is limited. If you’re going with a dedicated server you’re probably going to need to set it up yourself. When setting up your server you might be tempted to choose windows as an operating system. Remember you don’t play from the host and you want the most resources as possible so choose Linux, CentOS to be specific. Don’t worry; it’s not too hard to run once you get the hang of it.
Again things do change over time, so rather than talk you through installing a server and then have it change I’ll point you to guides that will always work.
Guide to installing the basic server: http://www.minecraftwiki.net/wiki/Tutorials/Setting_up_a_server
Guide to installing Bukkit (which enables mods and further configuration): http://wiki.bukkit.org/Setting_up_a_server
All the basics to configuring the server can be found on those wikis and this guide focuses on running a server in the long run, not setting it up. There are loads of videos which show you how to set up a server and everything you need is there. If you are having problems you can always ask on the Minecraft server forums.
If you don’t want the hastle of this then there are alternatives. Like specific Minecraft hosts like Minecraftserverhost.net who preinstall everything for you.
So your server is setup and ready, but you need a design.
Designing Your Server
Every Minecraft server is different. You don’t just want to install every plugin you think looks fun because that will just make a mess and slow tour server down. You need to find something like a theme you want to go for. A relaxed building server or a competitive PvP server for example. And from there, group PvP or solo? Are the builds protected or public? Can your builders only build certain things or is it whatever they want?
There’s plugins like MCMMO etc… Which give players stats and classes just like World of Warcraft or pretty much any MMO. But keep it simple as you can and keep it on point. Think what kind of server you want, and keep out the rubbish. You might want to copy an existing server you liked, but think you can do it better, or come up with something unique. Minecraft is a big place; you’ll find someone to play anything.
I do want to mention anti cheat mods, of which there are a few. They do certainly help and they’re worth using but never make the mistake of thinking they will completely prevent cheating on your server. They only do so much; really what you need is a moderation team (more on this later).
There’s a lot of freely existing plugins you can download and use from the Bukkit forums but you might not always find what you want in there. If you want something a little extra then you’ll either have to know PHP, know a friend who knows PHP or perhaps ask on the forums if someone would be able to make you such a plugin. There’s a lot to get started with right there on the forums though.
So once you have your server setup and ready with the mods and design you’ll need players. You can have the best server in the world, but if you don’t get players to it then it’s wasted. Luckily, it’s really easy to get your server packed full of players.
Remember that the type of server you design will also affect how easy it is to get players and what kind of players you attract. PvP servers tend to attract an older crowd for example. And if you’re doing unique you might have an easier time of getting people to connect.
Getting Players on Your Server
There’s a few ways to get new players, and some of them are quicker than you might imagine. When starting your server you can literally start seeing your first players within a few minutes of the server going online.
- The Forums
First things first, and from my experience this is going to be the key way to get your server traffic. The Minecraft forums. If you take a look at the server sections of the forums you’ll see for yourself how busy they are, and this is largely players looking to find a server to play on. It may be they’re brand new to Minecraft (it is always growing) or maybe they’re just bored of their server and looking for something new. So you have Minecraft players already looking for a server, you just need to stand out from the others and a reason to join yours. And since most people do this pretty badly, that’s not hard to do.
You’ll need an account, register a new one under the name of your server, and post a new thread. In the thread you want to give a description of your server and give people a reason to click onto your thread and not someone else’s. You obviously can’t describe your entire server, so just give them the main points. You want to show what your server is about; the main features and something which makes it stand out.
You’ll hold their attention for maybe 30 seconds before they either decide to try your server or just click over to a different thread. Take your time to make the post properly , make that 30 seconds count.
The title is one of the most important parts, it needs to be descriptive and catch attention to even get them looking at the post. For example:
PvPCRAFT [NO whitelist] [Faction Based PvP] The most competitive PvP in Minecraft!
Now for the post itself you can just post nothing but your server IP. And it will work, people will go on it. But most people will just click off your thread without giving your server another look. If you look at some of the other servers they use images and maybe videos, they get the players attention. The servers with a better looking thread will get more players.
So start off with a similar title. Sticking with the PvPCRAFT example I’d go with something like
Get in in the toughest Minecraft PvP – Think you can handle it?
If possible you want a logo or something, even a server screenshot. People like images; we don’t deal well with large blocks of text online. Once you get enough players on the server you want to put a quick YouTube video together (more on this in a bit) and add that to the thread as well.
Put the IP to the server near the top (for the people who don’t want to read the thread) and again at the bottom (for the people that do). It’s also a good idea to use a DNS rather than an IP. For example server.PvPCRAFT.com. Talk to your server host if you don’t know how to do this, some may have already done it for you.
Include the server features (use clear bullet points) and you don’t need to go into too much detail here. Just give them enough so they know what the servers about and they can work out the rest when they’re there.
Now as soon as that thread is posted, you’ll most likely see players start to join. And every time that thread is posted on, it’ll bump to the top of the list and new players will see your thread. Since you can get a lot of new players this way it’s worth your while keeping this thread bumped.
Now you can’t just bump the thread yourself – that’s against the forum rules and can get your server listing removed. Some servers post multiple listings or use bots to bump their threads up, but you don’t even need to go this far.
The way that I keep my threads up (on the rare times my servers are not at cap) is by getting the players to post on the thread. Make a short link for the thread (for example at bit.ly) and have your server post every hour or so about it. You can ask your players to post to support the server or you can give them an incentive for example:
[Server]: Get yourself a free diamond! Post something useful in the server thread once per day! (Insert link)
Then every time your players post the thread gets bumped. After a few minutes when it falls down again you can go and reply to whatever your players posted this will bump it again. This will bring new players in who will post in the thread and the loop continues until you hit cap.
It doesn’t really matter what people post – the vast majority of people don’t read past the first post for a server listing but whenever possible get them to post something useful for the few people that do bother to read that far back. This is something people don’t realise when they leave a bad server a negative review – they’re actually helping them get players.
So you can get your players from the forum, but there are plenty of other places if you want as well.
- Server Review Sites
There’s the server review websites, which get some traffic. You can get your players to vote on them once per day in exchange for a diamond as well for example. I’m not a big fan of these because really it’s just the busier servers that rank, not the better ones, but it’s still worth doing.
There’s a few of them around but THIS one is pretty popular.
- YouTube Videos
A lot of servers use YouTube videos for promotion. This can tie in quite well with the section on getting Minecraft fans but even outside of this you can just record a few scenes from the server and post them on YouTube.
Tag and title it with Minecraft server and try and record some interesting events or builds that will attract new players. Mention the features of the server in the video and/or description. You also need to include the server thread and/or IP. You can upload multiple videos for extra traffic and once they’re up they’ll keep bringing new players to the server.
The one thing many servers do is just a ‘fly through’ of the server or something. Try to actually show something entertaining or interesting that make people not only want to finish watching the video, but want to join in.
Next up is Facebook. There’s a lot of ways you can promote your server here but the easiest way is to create a Facebook fan page for your server and get your players to join (again you can reward them for joining). Minecraft players tend to have Minecraft players on their Facebook list that will see your server when their friends like it. It also gives you a way to keep players updated and get in touch with players who have left the server to get them back.
- Other Servers
You can go to other servers and advertise your own. I wouldn’t suggest spamming chat, that will just annoy people, but you can do it without spamming. For example you could pick a small area in a busy spot and put down a few signs with your server features and URL and/or IP.
Try and go for servers related to yours. There is no point promoting your PvP server on a non-PvP role playing server, for example.
You can also talk to smaller servers about mergers for example, but really I don’t understand why people do this. It doesn’t take a lot of work to drive new players towards your server and if it’s a good design it’s even easier to keep them there.
- Minecraft Websites
There are a lot of Minecraft websites out there and some of them can get a lot of traffic from Minecraft players. Most of them will have a contact page where you can get in touch with the owner. If you can get a review or banner of your server up there you’ll get a lot of easy players.
Some websites might charge for a banner or something but if you offer to write a little article or two in exchange for a link to your server you’d probably get a few takers (website owners are always on the lookout for new content) which would mean a lot of players looking at your server. And you’ll be writing about Minecraft so it’s not like it’s even that hard. These are all optional and you can pick and choose the ones you want to try. The one thing I would suggest you always do is the forum post, with enough bumps you could keep yourself at server capacity purely on that alone.
Running the Server
So now you have your server setup and a good stream of regular players and new people joining. You need to look at running it properly in the long run to get the most out of it and maintain your players.
- Updating and New Content
From time to time Minecraft updates and brings new content to the game but in between that you might want to keep the server exciting for your players with events and new content. Events can be managed manually by yourself or your mod team (more on that later) and content can be added with server plugins.
The thing you need to be careful of is the balance of the server and carefully testing plugins before putting them on your server. A rookie mistake, I see a lot of poorly managed servers do, is test plugins live for the first time on the server. Set a server up on your own computer and test it out there first. And to keep the balance of the server, just think of what you’re adding to the game compared to what’s already there. Don’t just add it for the sake of it – add it if it’s needed or the players will enjoy it.
Get player feedback on new updates but don’t feel that you need to change everything they want. On one of our hard mode survival servers players were having an easy time with the mobs so we changed how they acted. Several players complained but the vast majority of the server loved it. That was why they were playing a hard mode survival after all. So do what right for the server, you can never please everyone.
- Getting Staff
One of the things I don’t understand (although I don’t complain about it) is how people want to be staff members on servers. It’s maybe one of the only places people will actually want to work for free. There are a few tricks to it though; you can’t just take anyone if you want a successful server unless you’re really lucky.
First up – know what you’re looking for and how many. It’s easier to promote mods and reserve admin for only yourself. It limits the abuse they could potentially do. A rogue mod can cause a lot of unhappy players so while having the help on the server is great you want to make sure you pick the right people. And log the mod commands as well to be sure.
Maybe make it a habit of checking the mod command log once every day or two. Just so you can keep track of who’s doing what. Don’t be shy about confronting them about questionable use. If they have a good reason they’ll be able to explain and if they don’t – well they won’t be surprised when you demote them.
First rule I go by is I don’t mod anyone who asks. When you want a mod then get people to apply. I’ve had people tell me if I don’t mod them they’ll quit the server – never would I mod someone like that.
Ideally you want people you at least think you can trust. Look for maturity and ideally the person I go for is someone who is genuinely helping people out – not just the ones that do so when they think you’re looking. It’s also a bonus if they didn’t join the server with friends, means there is a little less likely hood of abuse of power.
Once you’ve chosen suitable candidates get talking to them a bit. When are they available? Do they have Skype, TeamSpeak or vent with access to a microphone? Do they understand what’s required of them? Have they prior mod experience and, if so, why are they no longer there? Ask them anything you want to know before hand, it’s better to let their hopes down early than find out there’s a problem later.
Once I’ve chosen my mods I’ll show them the basic commands of the server but I take it a little further. I’ll take them a remote or locked off area if the map and show them currently existing bugs and cheats. I’ll use custom clients and in some cases I’ll get them to do the same. The main line of defence against cheats is your mod team properly understanding them. If they know what to look for – they’ll do better at catching it. It takes a thief to catch a thief as they say.
Now before I begin this part, there’s actually an entire section on making money from Minecraft and donations is a part of that. In there I actually cover one method of donations which currently no other servers use; it gets you donation money without your players paying a thing.
But for now we’re going to focus on more basic donations.
Donations help support a server and the cast majority of servers have them. Usually servers accept payment through PayPal and if you haven’t already got an account you can sign up with them for free.
Donations can be handled differently depending on how you want to do it. Some just ask the players for donations purely to support the server they play on and help keep it running. Others offer items or sometimes commands (such as /spawn and /home) so donating players can teleport around.
If you want to give your players something for donating you’ll usually find a lot more of them do. But you want to make sure you’re not giving them too much and making it completely impossible for non-donators to play.
Another key point you should remember is that you should appreciate your donations, but your players still need to appreciate you and the rules of the server. If a donator breaks the rules, they’re banned in the exact same way anyone else would be.
You’ll also get a lot of ‘if you make this change I might donate’ and I choose to ignore this kind of thing. Partly because you shouldn’t make server changes for one person and partly because these types of people are (in my experience) unlikely to donate anyway.
Another thing you need to consider when setting up your donations is how you want to do it. Most servers take a single up front donation, some take smaller monthly donations while others give in game currency for donations and players can buy items or use commands in exchange for that currency. It’s a kind of ‘pay as you go’ donation system, and there’s plenty of currency type plugins you can use for this.
A one-time donation usually means a higher upfront payment but if your players stick around (as they should) then you won’t have donations for future. Most servers who do this kind of donations rely on players leaving their server and freeing up room for new donators so they usually don’t have great long term goals.
A monthly or ‘pay as you go’ donation system means a steadier donation stream and a server more suited to e long term, but you do get fewer donations to begin with.
- Continuing the Server
Now your server is up and running, full of players, monitored by your moderator team and taking donations you look at the long term. Keep your players entertained with events and new content, keep your mod team motivated, keep your server files frequently backed up in case anything goes wrong and most of all – enjoy running the server!