How can I get more players to join my server?
The most important thing to understand when starting a new server is that the Minecraft multiplayer market is dense with competition. To be successful, you will need to find a way to make your server stand apart from the thousands of competitors. There are many, many aspects that need to be considered, balanced and refined. This is not a complete guide, but it will help you on your way to understanding what players are looking for when they join a server, and subsequently how to encourage them to stay.
Set Appropriate Goals and Measure Your Expectations
The first step to success is defining what you consider to be a success. Are you looking to form a close-knit community of ~20 players? Is it a colossal network of multiple game modes and over 1000+ concurrent players? One of those is a lot more achievable than the other, and it is important to set your expectations appropriately to avoid disappointment. It takes a long time to develop an active player base, and years to create enough of a community to become an active multi-server network. Expect to start small and to stay there for a while. Developing the first player-base is a long process of trial and error. Don’t expect a miracle overnight.
Don’t Be Vacant
One of the hardest steps in creating a new community is getting that first handful of players to join and subsequently stay. Players are far more likely to leave your server if they join when it is empty. During this time, don’t be absent. In a perfect world, you should be the most active player. Be online as often as you can. Engage your players via discord, live streams, forum posts, etc, and begin building a sense of community. Advertising and server lists alone won’t make your server popular. You have to be present yourself.
A common pitfall for new server owners is trying to offer too much too quickly. You may be tempted to compete with servers that offer multiple different game modes, but those servers almost certainly started smaller and expanded over time. We recommend finding one idea/concept and then put in the time and effort to make it unique and well polished. If you can create a single piece of content that is unique, well-maintained, and refined then you are already 50% of the way there.
Offer Something Unique
A lot of servers use the same common systems: Towny, Factions, Anarchy, Prison, SMP, Vanilla, and more. There are literally hundreds of competing servers for each game type and if you do not make any attempt to make your server unique, you will just join the screaming masses of like-for-like servers. Minecraft Players can play the game anywhere they want, they don’t need your server for that.
Your unique element doesn’t necessarily need to be a new game mode. A clever spin on a classic is often easier. Take some time to figure out how you can make your server unique and put it into practice. Consider learning to develop your own plugins or hire/recruit somebody who is excited to help you and your project. Your goal is to stand out from the crowd as much as possible.
Don’t Enter For Profit
If the first thing a player sees when they join your server is a discount code for your OP armour shop, you are leaving a really bad first impression on your new players. It is especially bad if you are just starting out.
Monetization of your server isn’t a bad thing. You will likely put in hundreds of hours of work to develop your plugins & community and the cost of servers can get pretty steep if your community continues to grow. Just be mindful of how you chose to do it and avoid overpowered kits/commands/features. Not only are these tactics often against Minecraft’s EULA, but most players can also see right through it and will likely leave due to Pay to Win mechanics.
Player Retention vs Unique Joins
Unique Joins refers to how many new players are joining your server. And while Unique Joins are an important metric in some cases, your Player Retention is ultimately what is most important. Player Retention is how likely you are to have players continue to return to your server. The key to server population growth is giving your players a reason to come back to you every time they want to play Minecraft. You could post your server on every billboard in the country, but if they have no reason to stick around then they won’t.
Getting player’s to return requires a delicate balance between everything else we have written in this post: Offer something unique, Be present in your new community, Avoid red-flags such as extreme monetization and above all, foster a community. Host competitions and events regularly (even if only 3 people show up), meet your players in-game and hang out with them, weed out toxicity and toxic players, encourage and join Discord voice calls, post updates and blog posts via your Discord/Website/Forum. You want to create an engaging space where players can really connect with one another.
You Might Fail
This is probably the hardest pill to swallow when you are making your Minecraft server. Despite how hard you try, your server might not take off as well as you hoped. You might have a fantastic idea that people just don’t want to play. You might not have the knowledge to support your server’s technical requirements. You might not be able to afford your hardware needs. You might just be unlucky.
If you ask any Server Admin, most of them will tell you that they have run many different servers over the years. You have to learn how to be a community leader. You have to learn how to manage a server. Those skills take time and every iteration of owning a server makes you more prepared for the next one. The best part about being a Server Admin is that even when you don’t succeed, you get to learn a lot of valuable lessons along the way.