Back when I actively played Minecraft back in Minecraft 1.7 and before, back when things were more simple and there weren’t zombies and skeletons literally every-fucking-where, the Minecraft servers I used to play on weren’t huge, but they had stable enough communities and regular players. These servers also had a bunch of basic commands, like being able to protect areas, protecting your chests and a multitude of anti-griefing plugins. Eventually though, I stopped playing Minecraft aside from glancing at new versions and playing in single player creative mode. It wasn’t until I started playing Pixelmon that I got into Multiplayer again.
The Pixelmon server I ended up playing on was recommended by my sister. She generally has a good taste for good Minecraft servers, and this one was separated into 6 different worlds, that you connect to via a hub world. But everything about it felt so… commercial and branded.
Like, everything had the server initials on it. There were constant announcements in chat, asking you to vote for the server and say that it was good. The server advertised ‘Lotto’ crates, again branded with the server’s name. Even the plugin that asks you to answer a question in chat (a plugin I have seen in messing-around TF2 servers as well) had been tweaked to have the server’s name in it.
And of course, there were loads of messages suggesting that you donate to the server to get VIP and get additional bonuses. This server in particular offered “free Legendaries and more!” for those who got VIP, and the server also offered “VIP+” and “Lifetime subscriptions” too. A basic VIP subscription costs $8 a month, $12 for VIP+ and $79 for a lifetime subscription. For a Minecraft Pixelmon server.
You know what though? That’s not too awful. It’s honestly more than I’m willing to pay. No, the weird thing is that this server also sells pretty much everything else Pixelmon-related. You can by a pack of random Pokemon eggs for $8.10, you can buy a single guaranteed shiny converter item for $15 and you can also buy a shiny of nearly any Pokemon. What’s that? You want a shiny Charmander, Charmeleon and Charizard? That’ll be $9. Do you really want a shiny Giratina? Then you can buy one on this Pixelmon server’s shop for a small fee of $36.
You can buy all sorts of things for hugely inflated amounts of money. Do people actually buy them? I didn’t think so until someone admitted to buying their shiny Solgaleo for real money. You know, the evolution of the Pokemon that I spent ages fishing for.
What makes this worse is that I thought it was just this server that was selling all this crap. No, it’s most larger Minecraft servers.
I joined two other, normal Minecraft servers. Not huge ones, but enough to have multiple worlds. They were all the same, selling VIP goodies under the guise of donations, plastering their name on everything, offering lottos and items and things all purchasable via their shops…
What made me really sad though was when I saw someone opening a bunch of ‘lucky crates’ on a somewhat basic Minecraft server. This server was mostly just vanilla survival with anti-griefing measures, with the ability to claim a chunk and build a clan. But it also had items you could obtain to claim more land and make your clan bigger. Items you could also buy. Or win in lotto crates.
We looked up the price of these crates. This person opened 10 crates, at $5 each. Every time he opened one, the server announced it to all players. We never heard whether he got anything good. I don’t think he did.
While I am fine with people spending money on what they want, this whole thing feels insanely predatory. Sure, you have this stuff in Team Fortress 2 servers as well, but in Minecraft it feels all-round worse because Minecraft is aimed at a universal audience that includes a LOT of kids.
Let’s go back to that Pixelmon server I play on. The age range on there is anything from around 10 to 40. There are people in every age bracket though who have bought VIP. One of the more notable players is 13 years old and has a lifetime subscription to VIP+, which costs about $110. That was bought for this kid so he can get all the premium features on one Pixelmon server. A server that constantly advertises lottery crates and wants you to buy shiny Pokemon.
It’s not just Minecraft though. It’s not rogue server owners writing their own code and plugins. There is a market for making money and collecting donations from servers. When looking into the prices for the aforementioned Pixelmon server, I looked up Buycraft, who hosts that server’s store and the shop for many, many other servers. It’s all tied to a service called Tebex, which basically exists to help sell donations and more to people playing on these servers. They cover a multitude of games, from CS:GO and Team Fortress 2 to ARK and Space Engineers. According to Tebex themselves, they process “… over $3.5m worth of payments every month on games from Minecraft and Rust to ARK and Unturned…” and charge £9.99 a month per $2500’s worth of transactions while doing so.
I do get that you need donations to keep a server running, but does it have to be done by selling subscription services and loot boxes inside games that most likely already HAVE things like that?
It’s insane. It’s scary. It’s like a secondary or even tertiary market inside an already very dense market.
And to think that it all starts off with asking for donations to keep a server running…