What I Learned From Running Minecraft and Minetest Servers

Aug. 1, 2022 [technology] [gaming] [language]

Starting in 2010, I began running my own Minecraft servers haphazardly until about 2015. Between 2015 and 2018, I also dabbled in hosting Minetest servers. It imparted some insights about people as well as the technicalities of running such a service. Things may be different now but I wanted to share some findings. These are in no particular order.

1. Don’t waste your time vetting players

If you put new users through some kind of purity test, it is only going to bottleneck active user growth. Reserve whitelists only for those instances intended for your IRL friend group. If the security model of your server world is so inadequate that you have to trust people not to be malicious, then you really need to reexamine your protection measures. At least borrow this bit of philosophy from the software development field: Always assume that the user is an idiot. And then build around that.

2. Expect players from everywhere

Open servers will see connections from many different countries. Some players do not view >200ms ping as any sort of impediment. You may think “Great, I’ll just machine translate the guide book into Spanish as well” and before you know it, players will be asking questions in languages you have no capacity to understand. A substantial Malaysian population accrued on one of my Minetest servers, so I even went the extra mile and tried to learn some very beginner Malay. It was not a casual endeavor so I had to give up and resign myself to the fact that the server world would have these isolated language barrier communities.

3. Don’t waste your time creating an elaborate spawn town

Players seldom visit spawn and they pretty much never read the rules. Just place some basic amenities and some signage pointing to areas of interest. Literally just a basic shack will even suffice.

4. Never base the economy on any non-scarce material

I once set up a world bank that would take gold in exchange for credits, the standard currency. I felt like giving newer players a fair chance as well by allowing players to receive a very small sum of credits in exchange for beans and soups. We ended up with players who produced and deposited absurd amounts of beans and inflated the entire economy. Actually, this might be a good way to introduce people to Austrian economics.

5. Never start any big projects with anyone but yourself

Others will always lose interest and move on to something else halfway through your collaboration. It doesn’t matter how grand or how modest the scale. People generally have the attention span of a goldfish.

6. Be prepared to clean up the following things

Have administrative tools ready to remove the inevitable defacements; dirt/cobblestone towers, water & lava griefs, giant cobblestone swastikas, giant cobblestone penises, mesecon/redstone “lag machines” & “noise machines”, obsidian blockades and arson. Don’t delude yourself into expecting to do so by hand.

7. Treat it like an ant farm

Don’t try to control what anyone can or cannot do, don’t intervene in anything other than outright defacement. Check in from time to time to see the progress your visitors have made but don’t let yourself become involved.

8. Maintain a “normal” player account secretly in separation from your admin account

Don’t allow players to ever make an association between your privileged account and normal account. This will help to dodge all those needy Dutch/Spanish/Tagalog speakers that always want something from you for some goddamn reason.

9. Phone drones

Minetest allows mobile users to play on the same servers as everyone else, which is good in theory. They will complain about the mods being too strenuous to participate (as if expecting you to turn around and say “Oh, let me fix that right up for you! Right away sir!"). That’s their problem. Their builds generally suck anyway.

I sometimes think about spinning up another Minetest server. But then I remember all the litterbox shoveling it entails. Maybe if I can automate all the routine upkeep. Or maybe just give them an anarchy map and say “Here you go guys, the map resets itself every two weeks. Enjoy.”