MisfitMC (formerly at misfitmc.com) is an example of a game server that was financially viable and well-maintained.

Developers and adult gamers enjoying deep gameplay experiences and replayability founded the “Misfit Multiplayer Community,” and ran the Survival Minecraft server (in addition to a Team Fortress community, TeamSpeak Server, and later TerraFirmaCraft server). The founders wanted to play the game anyway, but could acquire donations which allowed them to spend more time playing and have more money to operate and maintain a powerful server. Generally, founders had “alts” (second Minecraft accounts with different player names) so they could participate in PvE unaffected by their “op” or other moderation privileges.

The operating costs were apparently low, including a domain name and a powering and maintaining a reasonably powerful home server (25+ players simultaneously at peak times, and very large main world, and additional worlds). The six founders and two admins may or may not have shared in the modest donations, but contributed greatly by creating amazing public facilities in “the city” (later rebuilt and renamed “the hub”), creating builds and mods for gameplay and aesthetics, integrating features (integrating mods with other mods and with the website and with PayPal), and providing quick and fair (policy-based) in-game support.

The MisfitMC team was very good at advertising and made sure they maintained a presence on server list sites. Their entry always prominently featured their logo and included terms regarding the “mature survival” theme. Some specific advertising points were that the server had “hard” difficulty (Minecraft setting), real challenge with balance, worlds with special rules and mobs, and special events. There were many special events in scenarios featuring multiple large and detailed builds, designed for scenarios such as holiday-themed treasure hunt areas with minigame features integrated with website leaderboards

  • Players got prizes from regularly-scheduled automated fishing tournaments:

“We’re a stable, adult-run community of mature casual gamers.
No teenage admins, no fly-by-night servers, no pay to win.
Join us on one of our servers today!” -misfitmc.com

Screenshot of Minecraft Town Made by MisfitMC

“Markov” (Completed Around May 2016, pictured above) was one of the official parts of the remade Hub. The Hub, as expected from a popular self-hosted Minecraft Server with server-side mods, contained many public services.

The target audience was “mature” players, and teen and young adult players who wanted to avoid trolls. This environment gave the numerous adult or late teen players a place to feel welcome and get along. Though adult/mature gamers are generally considered a casual audience, they also include “serious casual” gamers. “Serious casual” gamers may spend less time playing the game, but spend a larger percentage of time on complex interactions (including stores and PvE challenges) and builds (including public facilities). Many users from this target audience spend time in spurts–long spans, but usually either not daily or not full-time hours. The thriving economy on the server (the purchase and sale of rare materials and advanced equipment in player stores) enabled casual players to still create “serious” builds with artistic freedom, and replace armor to participate in deep gameplay experiences.

Free Features

To get an idea of how expansive just this central part of the main world (above) was, compare the size of the gray square plots (“base claims”) in the map above to the same-sized plot in the zoomed-in screenshot below:

The Survival Minecraft server had extensive free features, many from using or integrating existing mods, and others from in-house mods. The economy was based on the in-game currency, misfit dollars. All mods were server-side mods, so all players could use the standard Minecraft client without any additional prerequisites (no client-side mods were required).

:edit 2019-02-27: The map above is an example of a rail plan proposal. Only one person ever made a proposal. Normally, rails should bypass the plots of other players as opposed to going under them. However, the mature community usually didn’t have conflicts over land, so little moderation or approval was needed for building long rail corridors. The rails were expected to be near the bottom of the world to avoid underground player activity and oceans. Since the server was focused on survival, teleportation was very limited (a physical teleporter to the hub was used to mark the center of your plot). Rails were not only important for getting around quickly, but added depth to the experience.

*all asterisks in this list refer to the in-game currency misfit dollars, not to any pay-to-win feature.

  • There were creative ways to get in-game currency*, such as achievements in solo instances (only one player in minigame at a time, for coding simplicity) or PvP minigames.
  • You could protect any arbitrary-sized area you selected with a wooden axe (an axe so as not to not interfere with worldedit which used a wooden hoe), paying* by the block.
  • You could rent* a store (automatically withdrawn each month unless you cancelled) where you could sell* items. The community store area was in a separate world so it could keep expanding, but was in the hub area, with good visibility and signage.
  • You could rent* an apartment in the hub area, in a high-rise that could keep growing upward if needed (until the sky limit was reached, which wasn’t likely considering the size in ground dimensions and low demand).
Misfit MC Apartments at the Old City
Apartments at the Old City
  • You could buy* a rail terminal in the basement of the hub (with protection, and the ability to allow specific players), and run rails all the way to your base (many rails were more than long enough to earn a new player Minecraft’s “on a rail” achievement in one ride). You could protect the part you built the same way as any other area. Even without that, griefing of significant builds such as long rail corridors was rare, and moderators generally would roll back changes upon request.
  • You could mine misshapen ore or gold then sell* them to the bank at the hub.
  • Mining with a Misfit Pickaxe would cause ore to be harvested as “misshapen” ore occasionally. Normally you not only easily pay for your pick repairs (it was not generally profitable to have to buy a new one–repairing it was about half the cost or less of a new one) but also rent a shop and have more currency to spare, considering how much currency the bank paid* for the “misshapen” ores (only mining ores better than coal increased profitablity).
  • Each player could get a plot of land (the official term “base claim” was sometimes a source of confusion and technical requests) by typing “/claim” (similar to the Towny mod but simpler, larger, and permanent). The plot was very large on the ground axes, and went from bedrock to sky limit on the y axis. The center was where you were standing, so knowledge of the technical “chunk boundaries” (used by Towny) was not needed. A plot didn’t offer protection, but the land was “supported,” in that admins would roll back changes upon request there if there was any griefing there.
  • You had the fly privilege within your areas protected by the residence plugin.
  • Every 30 minutes or so while you were logged in, you got a loot crate in your inventory which contained a random useful item. The pool of items could be adjusted in real time by admins, so during certain events the boxes could contain better items, and on rare occasion a specific item or category of items was guaranteed.
  • You could get a loot crate for certain special circumstances (possibly for rating the server on a list site–comment below if you have further information) but in a way that did not provide any advantage over other players (see paragraph below under “Paid Features”).
  • The city had an extensive casino which had multiple tiers of slot machines (using programmed signs) and a large sheep roulette machine made using a custom mod/plugin.
MisfitMC Slot Machine
(Screenshot by EliotSeineRoe)
  • There was a special extra hard world called “The Lost World” with unlimited mob spawing, Supercharged Creeper and Giant Zombie spawning, frequent world resets, free armor, and special items such as giant diamonds (to build special misfit items).

Paid Features

The screenshot above of the web-based “live map” shows the extensive size of a plot–zoomed this far out, each block (1×1 meter) is only about one pixel wide (in this case, named “Tower of Mystery”). A player could make one standard base with a free account.

  • “Your name in Diamond blue”
  • “15 Server Buff Tokens per month – valued at over $4.99 by itself (Tokens are used to activate server-wide buffs like increased mining speed and fire resistance)”
  • “Have your builds schematiced with MCEDIT and the file sent to you upon request” [sic]
  • “Change your display name once each day”
  • “Ability to change the border color and icon for your Base Claims as displayed on the 2D map”
  • “Reserved Server Slot” (reservation for Team Fortress 2 events)
  • “And the eternal gratitude from the MisfitMC Team!”

Some free features could be interpreted that way or could be considered gambling (gambling with real money is illegal for minors in many regions, so more recently games with loot crates have had legal issues and massive loss of reputation). However, the loot crates could not be purchased with real money. Pay-to-win servers offer advantages over other players for real money, which is against Minecraft’s Terms of Use, so servers could be taken down for that. The server owners carefully monitored the Terms of Use, and prominently posted that they were compliant. This was contested by an active member on a forum post, but never by Mojang or server listing/review sites apparently. The server-wide buffs were purchased often by the core audience including the organization’s team, but didn’t give them an advantage over other players. If players missed buffs by being offline, they wouldn’t be mining or advancing anyway. However, since the buffs were powerful and not “rare” (since they were purchasable), they changed the PvE balance, even though they didn’t change the PvP balance (PvP combat was off except in minigames, and buffs did not affect players’ success unequally). Paid features didn’t incur the wrath of the Terms of Service or of the law, but could allow real-life financial status to affect gameplay. Players could also miss buffs due to having a rigorous schedule or living in a different region. Keeping these server-wide buffs as freely discoverable and rare, if at all, may have been a way to keep the playing field level and avoid breaking immersion.

Feature Integration

  • If you ‘subscribed’ to MisfitMC Diamond (a standard PayPal subscription) to provide a monthly donation, then the postback (a standard part of integrating a website with PayPal, not difficult to implement on your server) changed some data that affected mods, giving you diamond member benefits in the game. Scheduled scripts would need to run to make sure your membership did not expire since the previous donation.
  • Your rank in minigames was displayed on the website–this was a great way to generate buzz and improve replayability.
  • Certain features required you to use the same username on the forum and game (this may have been required for certain member benefits).

The Final Days

Screenshot of Website (Wayback Machine 2016-05-05 Capture)

Minecraft updates often broke mods, due to engine changes and the lack of an official, consistent modding API. Every update essentially had to be hacked in order to re-add the ability to create mods. CraftBukkit (a modified Minecraft server providing the Bukkit API for modding) was condoned by Mojang until Wesley Wolfe claimed that CraftBukkit’s downloadable server included decompiled code–this seemed to many people to be suspicious or even a shakedown, especially surrounded by the controversial purchase of Mojang by Microsoft. In addition, Mojang announced that they owned CraftBukkit via undisclosed caveats. Spigot, based on CraftBukkit, was later affected as well, but can be legally built with BuildTools which uses your copy of Minecraft. Most major mods kept pace with changes to the engine, but confidence was affected–modders (including the Bukkit Development Team, who all quit) didn’t want all of their hard work to be lost due to corporate changes or secret agreements.

Sometime around the release of Minecraft 1.8, the server hit its highest activity. The founders were facing the reality of being community managers. They gradually decided to join other servers as players, even as they continued to manage MisfitMC and were expanding the brand by renaming the site to “Misfit Gaming Community.” The fact that the server was by gamers and for gamers was a strength, but unfortunately, the team had realized that they were more interested in playing games than community management.

Servers often held back updates to retain mods that didn’t keep pace, but popular demand for new official features often led servers to get updates. When MisfitMC updated to Minecraft 1.8, two major mods were broken: server shops and pocket horses. Breaking server shops destroyed the economy instantly. Casual users or users with large stockpiles of money could no longer get materials for builds, in many cases taking away their reason for playing on the server. Even many players not affected by that, such as who were just riding the wave of popularity or there to goof off, were very upset that the pocket horses mod no longer worked. This had allowed users to keep the same horse (the same name, appearance, and stats) in their inventory. This mod was maintained in-house, but the developer stated that making this work with 1.8 was impossible. The server tried to keep going as long as possible, placing some emphasis on an even more challenging TerraFirmaCraft server, but participation in the community as a whole dwindled quickly. Soon afterward, the Survival Minecraft server sat empty, and later the website went down.

Lessons Learned

Balancing the wants of your core community with those of your broader audience is important. MisfitMC may have been able to survive and thrive longer if they were able to resist updating to 1.8. Despite gaining the new official features of Minecraft 1.8, the unique benefits of the MisfitMC Survival Minecraft server were lost. However, corporate changes also drastically affected the Minecraft community as a whole. Before the release of 1.8, Mojang stated that an official “modding API” was on the way. This would have alleviated the problems with engine updates, but the API was only offered much later, and only on Microsoft’s C++ remake (such as on the Windows Store), so that did not help the many existing mods and plugins. Soon after, Minecraft Realms (“official” Minecraft hosting) appeared (where server owners must make regular payments to Microsoft), and due to its stable features, promotion, and ease of entry, became the focal point for experiencing servers with unique benefits as the broader modding community faded away. Microsoft’s lack of understanding of the core community (or lack of concern for it due to a rapid acquisition of new players) was a long-term loss for both self-hosted servers and Mojang.

For server self-hosted servers, Minetest is a viable alternative. It is publicly licensed, ensuring that corporate changes will not affect the availability of the API. Also unlike Minecraft, Minetest’s Lua API and world format are consistent across versions (the minetest.org version ensures backward compatibility with both, but the minetest.net version does not). Minetest has had a modding API as its focus from the start, and many of the included features are implemented as Lua mods. Since Lua is a script language, all mods are open source–maintainers (or lack of maintenance) can never prevent you from improving mods, and the licenses (usually MIT or similar) allow redistribution. Minetest downloads mods automatically from the server when you connect, so the barrier for entry is even lower for users than the already-low barrier for developers.