So you’re wanting to play Multiplayer Minecraft with your friends online? Unfortunately, you’ll probably need to buy a Minecraft server to do it. Whilst it’s theoretically possible to play multiplayer Minecraft for free, in practise unless you’re willing to deal with some restrictions or have a fair amount of technical expertise, you’ll be better off with a bought-and-paid-for server.
**Updated 7th September 2012**
**Note** – as of recent versions of Minecraft, it’s now very, very easy to play Minecraft with your friends over a Local Area Network – your house’s wifi or similar. Simply start a single-player game, then press Escape and choose “Open To LAN”. Anyone else on your LAN can now join your game!
If you want to play on the Internet, though, you’ll need to do some more work. So, should you buy – well, rent – a Minecraft server?
There are a couple of options you could consider rather than buying a Minecraft server:
Play on servers already running on the Internet
As we mentioned in our article on Minecraft SMP Servers, there are a lot of lists of already running Minecraft servers out there. It’s possible to simply start playing on one of them with your friends. However, there are a couple of problems.
First of all, Minecraft servers tend to be fairly busy. You may decide to sit down of a night and start playing, only to find that the server you usually play on is already full up. If you become friends with the server admin or donate to the server’s upkeep, you might be able to get a reserved slot, but there’s no guarantee.
Secondly, the server isn’t under your control. On the Internet servers have a tendancy to vanish unexpectedly when the server maintainer’s machine melts, her work gets busy, or he meets a new SO and spends more time doing… other stuff. For most pickup games that might not be a problem, but if you’ve spent the past month constructing a perfect scale replica of the Eiffel Tower and you suddenly can’t get to it any more, you’re likely to find that… a bit irritating.
Thirdly, public servers are, well, public. And the public include griefers, who will merrily run around doing their best to ruin your gaming and smash your stuff. The only way to be protected from them is to play on a private server, either one you control or one you’re invited to.
Overall, if you’re interested in PvP or other “instant fix” gaming, then you’ll be OK playing on a public server. If you’re interested in longer-term projects and big constructions, you’ll want to be on a server you control.
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Running your own server
Not As Easy As It Sounds – although it has gotten a lot easier. Most modern PCs can host at least a few players on the same machine that you’re playing on, although if you’re wanting to run a huge server you may need a separate machine to run the server on, possibly with quite a lot of RAM.
You’ll also need it to be connected to the Internet at reasonably high speeds, both download and upload – which is where most home connections will fall down. See http://canihostaminecraftserver.com/ to get the full scoop on if your spare machine can run it. In short, you’ll need at least 1Mb/s upload speed to be able to host a server, and more to be able to host 4 or more players at the same time.
If you’ve got all that, there’s a good chance you’re expert enough to run a Minecraft server. However, be aware it’s a pretty technical process, even on Windows – although Windows is by far the easiest operating system to run on.
Buying a Minecraft server
Overall, the least painful option if you want to play on the Internet, particularly with a lot of other people, may well be to buy a Minecraft server for yourself – or rather, to rent a Minecraft server from a specialised company which already has Minecraft servers for sale.
You could, of course, simply rent a generic computer server from a Web hosting company and then install a Minecraft server on that. However, from all the costs I’ve seen, it won’t work out cheaper – indeed, it’s likely to be significantly more expensive.
In the US, Multiplayer Game Servers.com are highly recommended for ease of use and general friendliness – they’re the option you’ll see suggested most often on the Minecraft forums. Here in the UK and EU, the MMO Melting Pot team run our own Minecraft server with Multiplay.
In all cases, it’s a very simple process to set a server up: it should take about 15-20 minutes to go from the first page of the vendor’s site to being connected to Minecraft. Sometimes, though, the server setup may take up to a day – bear that in mind and order it in advance of your planned first gaming session!
Costs are extremely reasonable. A 4-player server will set you back about $7 / £4.50 per month, wheras a comparatively massive 16-player server will cost $18 / £12 per month, more or less. Prices significantly higher than that aren’t worth paying – shop around!
A good server hosting company will also have a wide range of additional options available for your server – for example, ClanForge claims to have over 1000 addons ready to install in your Minecraft server. You’ll still need to go through the somewhat painful process of setting them up on your local copy of Minecraft, but the non-trivial server install process will be automated for you.
Any other questions about buying servers? Got a great host to recommend? Comment below!