Interview: KarlofDuty from EarthMC

For some reason I have always liked geography. Be it learning all the flags of every nation or looking up information on countries and their resources. For instance, the first thing I always do whenever I (re)install Civilizations is subscribe to the latest World map from the Steam workshop. While I was doing some research for upcoming interviews I stumbled upon EarthMC. After seeing what these guys have set up I HAD to interview them. EarthMC is a “geopolitical sandbox server with a custom made earth map”. Besides their interesting setting, EarthMC is currently one of the big communities within Minecraft housing hundreds of players on a daily basis. I managed to snatch KarlofDuty, co-owner of EarthMC, for a quick chat regarding their passion project. Take it away!

Greetings Karl! First of all, how are things going?

It’s going fine, although we have quite a bit to do at the moment both with our current server upgrade and some other unannounced changes.

What can you tell us about yourself and EarthMC?

I grew up in a medium sized town in Sweden and I’ve always had a passion for video games. This eventually got me into video game related education and I recently graduated university with a Bachelor’s degree in game programming. At the start of my second year of university me and, Fix, a friend of mine that I had known for many years, decided to start a Minecraft server with the unique aspect of being set on an earth map. I have applied what I have learned to the benefit of the server and in return I have learned more about player retention and community management.

We started out very slow, barely having any players at all in the first few months. But by sticking to our unique ideas we managed to get a small but dedicated community going and many of our first players are still around to this day. The server and map we started out with is still available as “EarthMC Classic” as we didn’t have a single server reset for over two years. Last november we opened a new server with a much larger and better map than any other currently available online and the server has had over a hundred concurrent players ever since.

Have you been part of other communities prior to EarthMC?

No, I have barely played on other minecraft servers at all outside of when I first started out with minecraft on a survival server called Otho.us. This is also where I met Fix almost ten years ago now.

Besides the geography aspect (which I love!), what makes EarthMC different from other Minecraft servers?

EarthMC is a political sandbox which runs our own version of Towny and is focused on building civilizations. All buildings within towns territories are protected so players can build beautiful structures without worrying about grieving. The server is still a survival server so it also has all the aspects of pvp and cooperation found on other survival servers.

Players can create their own towns and nations and engage in politics and trade between them. The server currency is normal gold ingots which simplifies trade and gives the economy a more interesting feel to it. Players also use our dynmap to navigate and see the territory of towns which amplifies the effect of using a real world map.

On your live map I noticed lots of towns and nations. What can you tell us about this system?

Players are able to create towns and nations freely as long as they don’t block others or have names not allowed by our rules. All star symbols on the map are nation capitals and many of them have lots of towns under their rule. All blue towns for instance are part of a capital and all green ones are nationless towns. Most server politics are focused on relations between the bigger nations but some of the larger towns on the server have also managed to make a voice for themselves.

Real quick for a fresh player like me, what can I expect when I join the server for the first time? Will I be able to join an existing town for instance?

Yes! As soon as you join the server (and get through the queue if it’s full) you are spawned in a random location on the map and are able to start playing immediately. If you want to you can just join any town you wish if they accept you. You can also go mining immediately and once you get 64 gold make your own town, and you can vote for the server on voting sites to get 10 gold a day.

You will be invulnerable for half a day so you have some time before other players can come mess with you. You should be prepared that stealing is allowed on the server but once you are part of a town that shouldn’t be an issue as the town would be protected from outsiders. You spawn with a book which includes this information and more to avoid any confusion.

Can you tell us a bit about the custom map (of earth) you guys are using?

We started out with a much smaller map two years ago which was one of the two main earth maps available online. We chose the slightly smaller one as it had way better terrain and biomes compared to the slightly larger one and thus would be better to play on rather than having a nicer looking dynmap. The old map can still be found on our old address earthmc.xyz running 1.12.2.

Just one year after we opened the server we got in contact with a map maker who wanted to make a new better earth map for us. We didn’t feel like we could really rush them at all so the development took almost a year to complete. The final map we got however was amazing, so it was well worth the wait.

The terrain and biomes were better than the previous map with the exception of things like the grand canyon and mount everest which had been hand crafted on the old map instead of generated from real data like the new one.

The biggest feature of the new map however was the size, it was more than six times larger than any other earth map as you can see in this comparison image with the red world border of our old map still active:

By the looks of it, a lot of the plug-ins seems to be custom made. Anything you can tell us about the development process?

We have a lot of both custom made versions of other plugins and plugins which I’ve made from scratch. They have usually been bug fixes to the original plugins that aren’t developed anymore or feature requests from either the community or the staff team.

The new features are usually small tweaks to help players out with tedious things but I’ve also made some larger security things to for instance block players who are confirmed to be stolen accounts and to let moderators keep track of rule breakers more easily.

The first nation (Britain) was founded on 27-10-2018 by MineHero43 during the beta era. Fast forward to April 2019, what has changed since then?

Since then we have increased the server player limit from 100 to 155 and added a queue system as the server is still full for most of the day. We have battled bugs, performance issues, exploits and mostly been able to keep the server going through it all. The launch of the new server brought in a giant amount of new players and it has continued ever since with the EarthMC Trailer reaching 1.2 million views and our Discord server reaching ten thousand members in march. We have also upgraded the server hardware a month ago and then are in the middle of doing it again right now.

Nations and towns are able to declare war on each other I noticed. Are there any limits and rules to wars?

That is actually incorrect, “wars” are just nations declaring themselves hostile to another and go around killing each other until their leaders come up with some political solution to their issues. So all the normal rules still apply in these wars and it’s up to the players to define how they go about them within that framework.

We used to have explicit war systems but the only two available are both buggy and have glaring issues of exploiting the system. We used these systems on and off for the first two years but as most of the community hated it after they had it used against them we decided to not use them again. Although we are planning two as of yet unannounced updates that will hopefully fill this role in the future.

As our server is very focused on the building aspect of the game in a survival game of minecraft we don’t want players to be able to take over or destroy other towns in wars. This has made truly amazingly constructed towns and buildings possible on the server.

I noticed EarthMC only uses Discord for its community. Is there a reason why you guys aren’t using a forum much like other Minecraft communities do?

That is actually incorrect, we do have a forum too, it’s just that no one wanted to use it so we have stopped linking to it.

We have felt like our members strongly prefer Discord to other platforms and I agree that it allows for very nice community features like having nation leaders make their own community Discord servers which one can join through the main one, having voice chat channels as well as the text channels and having Discord bots which show the ingame chat and sync roles from the server for instance.

The server also has its own news organisations which are also separate Discord servers run by different factions within the community. One of these showed high enough quality to even get it’s own channel on the main server for their articles.

Aside from a traditional forum we do also have a subreddit (/r/earthmc) which has been excellently revived recently by our moderator Shirazmatas. We also have a server wiki which documents important server events, both meta events like server updates and ingame events like the politics of different towns and nations.

“we are adding a Sky Wars server where players can go battle it out while waiting to get on the main server.”

What are you guys currently working on? Any new stuff coming up in the near future? 😉

Well, most of it is either classified or just ideas at this point but I guess I should leak something at least

. One of our main focuses at the moment is to make the hub world where the players wait in queue better. We have several upcoming changes here but the major one is that we are adding a Sky Wars server where players can go battle it out while waiting to get on the main server.

Do you guys host special events within the community? If so, what kind of events are we talking about and when is the next one?

We haven’t been very big on server events in the past although this is something we are looking to change. We currently have a monthly build competition going on the subreddit and we are going to add another kind of “on-server” event very soon.

I bet you’ve gathered some great memories during your adventure with EarthMC. Any stories you want to share with us? Be it achievements, fun events or gossip.

Well, about two months after starting the server it was completely dead, I was basically the only one that had been playing for six weeks. One day a player who was angry with us over something I can’t remember now came on for the first time in a month and just said that he was happy the server died.

At that point Fix told me that he was almost ready to give up on the server but literally the day after that guy came on we randomly got a lot of players joining and they just kept joining until we had a stable number of players from that day on. His message is still pinned in the chat log on discord as an example on why you shouldn’t give up, as the breakthrough can be just around the corner.

As always, are there any tips you feel like sharing to other (starting) communities out there?

The main thing you need for your server is for it to be unique and for it to be run on something that can handle up to 30 players without any lag. You will never get this many players at the start outside of random join spikes but it is very important that when you get a bunch of players you make them feel like the server works as it should. Those were the two main points that made our server successful when we started out.

You should also not worry about your players taking your unique features and making a clone of your server with them. No one wants the bad copy, and we have had over thirty clone servers at this point which are all gone now for that specific reason. As long as you are competent enough to have created a better server than they can by just copying you that is.