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THE HOW-TO GEEK GUIDE TO MINECRAFT / HOW-TO GEEK SCHOOL

How-To Geek

Lesson 15: Exploring Minecraft Multiplayer Servers

Minecraft

You can lead a full and happy Minecraft life just building by yourself or sticking to local multiplayer, but the size and variety of hosted remote Minecraft servers is pretty staggering and they offer all manner of new experiences.

There are Minecraft servers tailored to nearly every experience imaginable: servers focused on players fighting players, entire factions of players fighting other factions, creative plots where players compete to build the coolest structures, mini-games where shovels and snowballs become weapons, and ones where mansions become grounds for Cops ‘n Robbers variants.

The simplest servers are essentially just giant survival/creative maps with some tweaks (necessary for administering the server and keeping order) layered over top. The more sophisticated servers offer everything from mini games to thematic overhauls and server-side modifications to the game that allow server operators to turn Minecraft into a whole new experience like a zombie survival game, a team-versus-team capture the flag experience, or hundreds of other scenarios.

Those server-side modifications are pretty impressive and their utility can’t be overemphasized: joining a good server can give you a brand new Minecraft experience without you needing to modify your local Minecraft installation in the slightest. The server handles everything for you.

Let’s start off by taking a look at how to select a server and what to consider in the process.

Considerations and Selecting a Server

Given that you’ll likely invest a significant amount of time into a server once you’ve selected one, it pays to know what you’re getting into and to do your homework before discovering (too late) that the server you’re playing on is missing features you want, or focused on a type of play you’re not interested in.

Terms to Be Aware Of

Before we proceed, it’s important to emphasize one thing for both parents and adult players alike: if you want to maintain total control over the Minecraft experience you need to stick to playing the single-player game or local multiplayer with friends/family.

Once you start playing on a public remote server, even a well maintained one, you run into the same risks you do when allowing children to play other online games, browse YouTube, and other activities: exposure to inappropriate material and possible harassment. With that said, we’ve found most multiplayer servers to be quite friendly and well maintained, but you should still review servers and keep an eye on any young players using them.

When selecting a server there are several terms and topic to be aware of. Two terms that you’ll see in the listings for lots of servers are “griefing” and “whitelist.”

Griefing is a broad term that can be loosely translated as harassment. This doesn’t mean awful real-world type harassement like racial slurs or what not, even “anarchy” style servers where anything goes rarely if ever, tolerate that kind of behavior.

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In Minecraft, harassment typically takes the form of hurting players, e.g. Player-versus-Player combat both in and outside of sanctioned areas or destroying the things they’ve built. Servers are typically very explicit and upfront about whether or not they allow griefing and most servers are anti-griefing with measures specifically in place to prevent it, e.g. server plugins that protect player-owned plots of land from being manipulated by other players.

Whitelist servers are those servers which require you to formally register and set up an account, typically by visiting the server’s website and signing up, in order to play. Griefing and other issues tend to be at their lowest on whitelist servers because of the barrier to entry and how tightly those servers are policed.

It pays to take a few minutes to read over a server’s website and see what exactly the server is focused on (creative building, competition, player-versus-player combat, outright anarchy and destruction, etc.) before investing the time in joining and exploring the server. An adult player might enjoy the thrill of hiding from enemies and amassing loot on a total “anarchy” style server, where any day might lead to them logging in and finding their base in flames and all their diamonds gone. That kind of experience however, would typically leave a younger player in tears.

Sizing the Server Up

In addition to getting a general sense of the server by reading its listing (is it kid-friendly? does it allow griefing?) there are a few other metrics worth considering. Take the time to read over the server listing, check “seed spotlights” on YouTube, and search the Minecraft forums to get a sense of the server before playing, and especially before considering donating to the server later on.

Uptime

Most server lists online provide additional information about the server worth considering. Look at server uptime, if available. Good Minecraft servers have 95%+ uptime and great servers have more like 98-99% uptime. Flakey servers have lower uptimes. If you get serious about playing on a server it’ll be real frustrating if it’s down for a few days (or weeks) every month.

Population

Sometimes a small server isn’t so bad: anarchy-style servers can be fun with smaller numbers of players as that provides a nice balance between the thrill of the hunt and breathing room to build and explore. Other times a small server is awful: if the server is focused on mini-games that require lots of active participants to be logged in to fill the rosters for each new game spooling up then waiting around for one of the five people logged in to sort-of-maybe get interested in the game you want to play will be agonizing.

The Hive, is a great example of the importance of a thriving population. It’s one of the largest Minecraft multiplayer servers around. It’s focused on mini-games and it has at least 3,000-6,000 players logged in around the clock playing these games. Without that kind of huge population the games wouldn’t be much fun.

Cost

We have yet to run into a Minecraft server that’s strictly pay-to-play, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential costs. Almost every server accepts donations to help defer the costs of running the server. We’re okay with that, servers, bandwidth, and maintaining the server isn’t free and we’re happy to support a server we enjoy playing on.

Typically servers have a system where they reward players that donate with little but useful perks like the ability to teleport back and forth from the field to their home base or an anvil that repairs their tools with no experience penalty. If you already like the server, it’s not a bad deal to throw $5-10 at them, simultaneously support them and get some fun perks in the process.

Other servers take it a bit far though and the money side of things becomes heavily tipped towards pay-to-play. In the case of The Hive, they have a premium tier for players that costs $20 a month and automatically bumps the player to front of the line in any game queue and boots any non-premium member that is in line waiting to play. If you’re trying to play on the The Hive during a really high-traffic time of day, getting bumped because everyone else is shelling out $20 a month to play mini-games can get really old, really quickly.

Connecting to Remote Servers

With all those search terms and considerations in mind, you can refer to the listings at Planet Minecraft and the Minecraft forums to find servers to explore.

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For the purposes of this tutorial we’re going to connect to the small and family-oriented Cubeville server. It isn’t a whitelist server, but it does have very strong anti-griefing policies.

Once you have a server selected, it’s important to note what Minecraft version the server is running on. It takes a lot of effort to build, tweak, and moderate a large Minecraft server and typically, the version of Minecraft most big servers run is a few versions or more behind the current release.

For example, at the time of this tutorial the current release of Minecraft is version 1.7.9 but if you visit the Cubeville server’s website you’ll see they are running version 1.7.2. If we attempt to connect with a different version than the server (older or newer) we’ll get an error message.

The quick fix for this problem is to open up the Minecraft launcher and click “Edit Profile” to temporarily change which version you’re launching.

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If you find yourself frequently connecting to a server with a different Minecraft version than the one used for single player, we’d recommend using the “New Profile” button next to the “Edit Profile” button to make it easier to switch between your local profile and the server profile.

When you’ve selected the correct version for your server, it’s time to launch Minecraft and navigate into the Multiplayer menu. Unlike the auto-detection that occurs with local games however, you won’t automatically detect remote servers and will need to add them manually.

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Click “Add Server” and then on the next screen enter the server information.

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Most servers do not require you include a specific IP address, but if you need to include one add it to the end after a colon (e.g. someserver:9000).

Additionally, newer versions of Minecraft (remember we “downgraded” to 1.7.2 for this particular server) will also ask you if you’d like to allow for custom server-supplied “resource packs.” These resource packs allow the server to provide custom textures and such for their server.

Click “Done” and you’ll see the server and server status listed in the Multiplayer screen.

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Select “Join Server” to connect your Minecraft client to the remote server. After a moment you should be connected to the remote server and see something like the image below:

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The majority of servers have a landing zone where new arrivals always end up and those landing zones typically include instructions on how to get started on that server. This tutorial zone highlights special things about the server and information about contacting the administrators/operators of the server if you need help or to report misbehavior.

After reading the signs and checking out the tutorials you’re free to roam around and explore the server and all the neat creations on it.

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If you’re still on the fence about whether or not jumping into the Multiplayer pool is worth the hassle (especially if you’ve grown comfortable playing single player), we certainly don’t blame you. If you want a great way to review servers without the hassle of jumping into each one to see if it’s your speed, hit up YouTube and search for “Minecraft server spotlight.”

Checking out server spotlight videos is a great way to find servers that look interesting without devoting the time to exploring each one yourself.

Where to Now?

At this point you’ve got your feet firmly planted on the 8-bit soil. You’ve learned about the creatures in Minecraft, played around in Creative Mode to build some stuff, survived in Survival Mode, and even learned how to connect to friends near and far to play Minecraft together.

As we stressed in the very beginning of the series, Minecraft is the game you want to make it. Build a giant working train system in Creative Mode, hunker down and survive the onslaught of zombies in Survival Mode, or build a giant mansion to explore and invite your friends over to solve its puzzles in Adventure Mode.

Keep placing those blocks and stay tuned for our Advanced Minecraft series that will introduce even more exciting topics like changing the look of the game, adding new content, modifying the game to enable awesome elements like more creatures and in-game maps, and even hosting your own server for friends!

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 06/27/14