A question I often see on these forums is "How do I make a server?". The responses to that question though are usually a link to bukkit/spigot, and a walkthrough tutorial on how to set it up. I do not feel as if that adequately answers the question. A server is more than just opening your game to the world, it is about community. You can have spigot setup but if no one plays on your server, is it really a server? I have been playing Minecraft since the turn of the decade and I have played on hundreds of servers. I have seen what works and I have seen what fails. Throughout this thread I will give you the knowledge you need to make a server a server.
This is one of the most crucial steps of making your server, even more important than portforwarding. Are you looking for an easy buck? If so, server hosting is not for you since most servers will never see profit. Are you looking to go mad with power? Then you will spend hours building a server no one will play on. Server hosting is a selfless act. You will be investing a good deal of time and effort into something that the community will reap. Being a server owner is not an easy job as this guide will point out. Think very carefully about your "why" before committing to server hosting.
If you go on the server listing page, odds are you will will find at least three instances of the following on the front page:
-Minigame Hub Server
-Kit PvP server
Now there is no such thing as a truly original idea. Over one hundred billion people have ever lived, so odds are someone has thought of and attempted your idea before. When I worked at a consulting company my boss told me something I will never forget: "we (my partner and I) are the most uncreative people around. What we are good at though, and how we make money, is by taking the best of other people's ideas and combining them to make our own."
So for example. Take a prebuilt Hyrule Minecraft Map, set the server texture pack to be one of the many Zelda texture packs, use Citizen 2 for NPCs, and create a Minecraft Legend of Zelda experience. (You can use that one on me). What you want is something to seperate yourself from pack and this relates back to Tip #1: why are you making a server? Does your idea present something different for the Minecraft community to engage in? If you just want a plain factions server, then why are you hosting one instead of joining one that already exists?
First time restaurant owners often make a simple mistake: trying to please everyone. They start out with a simple premise, like Italian food. Then they want the business of the Mexican restaurant across the street so they add in tacos, then they decide to maybe add some Greek food because of the whole Greek yogurt buzz going around, then they add in hamburgers and chicken tenders to appeal to the kids and those with bland taste buds. Soon you get a menu six pages long with almost a hundred different foods.You can tell the quality of a restaurant within ten seconds of looking at their menu since there is no way the chef knows how to make a large variety of food from all over the world as well as a chef who specialises in Italian can make Italian food or a chef who specialises in french cuisine can cook some pot-au-feu. The chef can either be a jack of all trades or a master of one.
Now, you all are wondering why I am rambling about food and the culinary business. It is because the same thing applies to a server. When I see a hub server with a dozen minigames, and two dozen worlds I am going to treat that server like I would the diner by my place that has food from eight different regions. Good when you're drunk, but I would rather eat anywhere else. It is the age old debate about quality vs quantity. The more stuff you have on the server, the less time you have to refine it. If I am a guy looking for a factions server, why would I play on your server that has that and a dozen other minigames when I can go on a specialised factions server.
The specialised server will have:
-More people on the minigame. If you have 30 people on and you have 10 minigames, that is 3 people per minigame on average. If the specialised server has 10 people on, then that minigame has 7 more people than you. More people is more fun.
-More uniqueness. If the server is focusing on one thing, then odds are they put more time into it then the person who divides out his/her time.
The worst thing a new player can see when entering your server is no one there, if they see no one there then they will leave and find one with players on. So before you launch your server go talk to some buddies from; school, a server you use to play on, Starbucks, doesn't matter. Just get about seven people who are willing to commit about two or three hours a day on the server until you get your community established. Few people will play on your server if few people are on day in and day out, even less so if your server idea requires a lot of people (roleplay servers, faction servers, minigame hubs, pvp servers... anything but basic vanilla really).
It is paradoxical, yes, but just like you need money to make money you need a community to build a community.
It is important that those seven or so people you recruited in the previous tip to be the normal rank. If seeing an empty server is the worst thing for a new player, then seeing a server filled solely with admins/mods/builders is the second worst. I for one get two impressions from a server when I see more ranked players on that normal players:
1. This server sucks so much that the only way the server owner can get people to stay is by bribing them with powers.
2. The server owner has no idea how to setup a chain of command.
When you are just starting out you do not need head admins or a team of moderators You need players. If 90% of your staff is command rank then who are they suppose to be managing, each-other? Below is a list of potential ranks, what they are used for, and the Player Count Per Each Rank that you should stick by so you do not overcrowd your server with ranks (so if the PCPER is set at 10, then for each 10 unranked players, you can (but don't have to) add in another of the rank)
Co Owner: This is an optional rank for someone who shares the ownership rank with you. This person should be able to match the hours you put into the server and the cost as well. (PCPER: N/A)
Administrator: Too many people use this as an upgraded moderator rank. It is not. Administrators handle the behind the scenes work: Rules, recruitment, what plugins to use, who should be what rank, what server events should be held, and potentially a website. (PCPER: 25)
Head Administrator: Leads your administrators, and is your second in command. Only really needed if you have a giant server and/or no co-owner. More than likely you will end up with just one or two administrators unless you become the next mineplex so you don't need someone else to manage them when you can do so fine on your own.
Moderator: These are your community managers. They keep the peace, run community events like drop parties, and some recruitment. (PCPER: 10)
Head Moderator: Leads your moderators. When you have about five moderators you can pick out a head moderator.
Another important note is to make sure your staff is qualified to do the job you assigned them. Sounds like a no-brainer but I see it all the time on the forums: "Help me do such-and-such and you can be an admin on my server." They might need help for anything from setting permissions to massive building projects, but the promised reward is an official position. The problem with that is that the skillset for being a server admin is nothing like the skillset for being, say, a builder.
When you choose admins for their building skills, you get the same kind of problems, just in different ways, that you would get if you picked builders for their admin skills. You wouldn't want your server to have nothing but 7x7x4 cobblestone buildings and a lopsided castle, right? People would laugh at you. The same thing is true of the way all too many people choose their server staff. They get people who play favorites, people who abuse their power, or people who simply aren't really capable of, or interested in, the behind-the-scenes work of managing users. They may be very skilled in their specialty, but it's the wrong specialty for that job.
If you want to run a good server, then choose people for official positions because they are skilled at doing what those positions require. Don't pick people for that because they're good at something totally unrelated. Having power over other people isn't a reward; it's a responsibility. It's not a prize, it's a job.
It will take about a few months for your community to grow the beard and come into its own. During that time the odds you getting a donation are about zero. Few people want to take the risk donating on a server that might not be there tomorrow so during the initial startup of your server have the money set aside to fund it for at least three months. I would take it a step further and prepare to not break even 90% of the months even with an established community. Donating is a rare occurrence on servers. Most Minecraft players are young and don't have money of their own to donate; especially when they will not get something out of it.
Think of your server host subscription as a World of Warcraft subscription. You do not pay the $15/mo to Blizzard thinking you will make it back, you pay that $15/mo because you enjoy what it gives you. The same I say holds true to Minecraft server hosting.
If this is not an option for you, you can try hosting off a computer. I would not recommend hosting a server off a computer that is actively being used as Minecraft can be quite the cpu hog when you have an active server, however if you have a spare computer or willing to buy a used computer then it can be a great alternative. With a dedicated computer, you could possible recoup some money by renting it out to your neighbours as well to make some money back depending on how powerful it is.
The absolute most important step. If you do not follow the EULA then you cannot advertise your server on these forums (which cuts down your potential player base severely) and you open yourself up to Microsoft's legal arm. It is not worth it. If you are to take anything from this thread, follow the EULA. It is tempting to break, especially when your doors have been open for six months and you only received $20 in that time, but best case scenario Microsoft sends a cease and desist shutting you down and all that work you did for half a year was for naught. It also turns your game into a Pay2Win that few people besides whales (though with the funds to over power themselves) enjoy.
The thread will be most people's first introduction to your server so you want to make it eye catching. Make sure you describe your server and it's purpose in sufficient detail and what separates you from the pack-- Why should I, Steve Minecrafter, pick your server over all the others? Consider putting in a status indicator as well so that your thread won't become clogged with posts stating it's not online (While you should try for 24/7 uptime, sometimes server maintenance is required and sometimes acts of God causes problems). A few images can help to draw in players; not only are they bright and colourful, but it makes it seem like you put a lot more effort into your forum post. If a player sees you put effort into the thread, then they assume that you put effort in the server as well.
Being active on your server accomplishes many tasks. It allows you to help new players out with any questions they have, provides an extra person online so that people do not play alone, and finally it shows people you care about the server. After all: If the server is not fun for you to play on, then why are you asking us to play on it?
Now I can not guarantee you success. You are at a disadvantage as a server owner since there are more servers than there are people who are looking for new servers. It is a fact of life that the world runs on supply and demand. Right now, supply is higher than the demand so the players can be as picky as they want to be when it comes to choosing a server. I can say though, if you follow these steps then you will have the best chance of becoming successful.
Thank you for reading the thread and I wish you the best of luck when it comes to your future server. Be sure to post in the thread if you like what I wrote as posting keeps the thread on the first page where others can read it too.