01. 03. 2023
In June 2014, Mojang, right before the Microsoft buyout in June, dropped a bombshell to the community.
Although it seemed innocent enough, a blog post entitled “Let's discuss server monetization” threatened to disrupt the stability of the private server ecosystem. Although the blog post was intended to clarify the Minecraft End User License Agreement, it explicitly criticized many server practices such as allowing players buy in-game currency. Although there was much disagreement over what this meant, the consensus was that Mojang had the right to enforce these rules. This would reduce the number of exploitative and predatory practices.
Some servers found the changes to be beneficial. They had been operating for years without knowing if they would be allowed or what they were allowed to do. They were given legitimacy by the changes and moved out of the “greyzone,” according to Aaron Donaghey (Operations Manager at Hypixel). He said that it allowed them to create a one-year plan, where previously, things were monthly-to-month. Without the threat of a shutdown Hypixel and other legitimate server owners could operate their servers more like businesses, hiring staff, and expanding.
Others, however, were less certain of the future. Although the blog post was not followed up with any particularly vigorous enforcement efforts by servers, most servers just continued to work as before, the signs were there.
Mojang began to employ a number of 'brand enforcers' nine months ago. They started cracking down against EULA violations. They sent e-mails out to servers that were not in compliance and created a blacklist. The purge included servers in good standing who were not previously in violation. Hypixel was free from all EULA-violating practices at the time of the announcement. However, it received an enforcement letter directing it to take down the horses it offered as rewards for donating players.
Despite an existing agreement with Mojang, and an understanding that their server was compliant, the Microsoft enforcement team sent the Shotbow network a clear message telling them to either remove their soft currency Shotbow XP or be blacklisted.
“We inquired about our agreement with Carl [previously of Mojang], and were told in no uncertain terms that, regardless of previous communications and agreements, we had to adhere to these terms or get blacklisted,” stated Barnier. It was quite scary: we had spent more than four years developing our games and it was clear that we couldn't be stopped at any time.
Even servers that have large player counts have had to struggle to remain afloat since the changes. Overcast Network, which was purchased by Pocket Edition mega-network Lifeboat or Mineplex, has struggled to stay afloat after the changes. This once dominant server is now plagued by rumors about player and server decline. To avoid being targeted, some servers even went to extreme measures by distributing crack launchers and running bootleg Minecraft versions. Some servers have decided to not update, and instead continue to run increasingly old Minecraft versions rather than trying to meet Microsoft's requirements. However, for servers that are not legal entities, it would be a complete shutdown.
Mojang tried to work with the community but their enforcement of EULA was inconsistent and unevenly applied. Some servers received severe punishments while others were ignored. While some servers that were large and healthy have had to be closed down or scaled back, many servers that are paid rank and receive items continue to function, seemingly without any consequences. Donaghey acknowledges that “the door for dialogue” is open, referring to recent Microsoft communication efforts. However, the damage may be already done.