Running a Minecraft server costs money. At a very minimum that means hosting fees, and it may well also include development time, system administration and the myriad jobs both small and large associated with security, keeping software up to date and making sure your current build doesn’t break anything.
The most important thing to note is that you’re allowed not only to cover your costs, you can also make money from it, turning it into a business rather than a break even arrangement between friends. In order to do that, you need to adhere to Mojang’s simple, common sense guidance, which as well being extremely sensible, also leaves plenty of room to be creative and make it as entrepreneurial as you want to.
It’s well worth reading the guidelines in full if you’ve got time, but we’ll set out the basic tenets here, so you’ll know where you stand when you’re setting up a store and deciding what to sell in it.
Don’t do evil things to players
To set the tone, here’s Mojang’s statement summing up its commercial conditions:
"We want Minecraft to be a place where players can have fun and a trusted place to explore, build, and invest their time and money. Please use your common sense and discretion in creating a safe, fun, and trusted environment for all players. We reserve the right to adjudicate and interpret whether the way you monetize is done in a manner consistent with our Brand. In short, don’t do evil things to players."
It would be hard to argue with any of that, especially its closing line, and really what it’s saying is that anything you sell in your store must not give any player advantage over another - you can’t make your server pay to win. As a player yourself, that’s probably so obvious it doesn’t need stating, but just in case anyone fancies profiteering from Minecraft players, Mojang expressly forbids it.
So what you’re left with is the whole world of cosmetics. TF2 did it with hats, CS:GO went with weapon skins, and in Minecraft you can do anything from whole avatar costumes to pretty much anything you want, provided it doesn’t influence the course of the gameplay. There are a few other stipulations though, which are worth you knowing about.
No ‘borrowing’ Minecraft assets
Mojang is perfectly okay with new costumes, hats and skins for your avatar, as well as other novel in-world objects, just as long as they don’t borrow textures, sounds or likenesses from existing Minecraft objects and figures. If you or your players make something unique, or at least distinctive, it’s perfectly fine to sell it for cash.
The same goes for mods. It’s absolutely fine to make, sell and distribute them as long as they don’t borrow imagery from other games. The other rule about mods is that while it’s okay to make money from selling them, they have to be sold on their own, as opposed to complete with the game itself. You can also run modded iterations of the game on your server and charge people to play it, with absolutely no problem or legal interference from Microsoft.
Making money from Minecraft
There are other rules it’s worth being aware, for example if your server charges a subscription, it has to be an equal amount to all players, so none of them feels as though they’re at a disadvantage. You can even put ads and video ads in the game on your server, although you’ll need to make sure none of them has adult content or anything that Mojang might find detrimental to its family-orientated brand.
Streaming is fine as well, and your players are at liberty to stream content from your server, and to monetise their streams whether its modded or vanilla Minecraft. You can even lock them behind a paywall, provided the content is made free to everyone within 24 hours of its creation. You also aren’t allowed to make and sell DVDs or other physical media, although in this century it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to.
Actually pretty generous
There’s more detail on Mojang’s website, and if you’re worried about a new direction for your server or a plan you’ve got for marketing, or indeed new items you’re planning to sell, it’s worth reading it in full. It won’t take long.
The long and the short is that their attitude is about as reasonable and relaxed as you could possibly imagine from a company owned by a multinational the size of Microsoft. It’s cautious in some ways, but mostly just wants to give you the freedom to have a good time with their software in whatever way you prefer, provided it remains fair to players. It certainly gives server owners the scope to unleash huge creativity with Minecraft as the basic building blocks.