Eric Aaberg

FRISCO, TEXAS (MARCH 6, 2022) – Eric Aaberg shares the story of how he built the official Minecraft Server Project for The University of Texas at Dallas.

Man, just reading that title still gives me chills when I read it. As someone who has been playing Minecraft since the early dates, attended Minecon 2015, and has worked on countless projects revolving around Minecraft Servers that would reach 500,000 people – it’s been awesome seeing our project “UT Dallas Minecraft” come to life over the past year and a half.

Not sure what’s crazier, that we’ve truly created a server for our university, or that this project has been on the works since March 2020. Man does time fly, but anyways – let’s dive into UT Dallas Minecraft.

COVID Made Life Remote… for Universities

COVID truly turned our world upside down, and for universities across the nation – everyone had to adapt. With UT Dallas switching to remote classes, I remember being an RA living on campus and how weird and life-less the campus was – nothing was happening. With our Esports Department already having an established Discord Server and online community, we noticed the activity skyrocket as things suddenly went virtual and remote. That’s when I and a few others within our department at the time thought: How can we bring the campus to students in a digital format?

Answer: Minecraft.

The idea behind a University Minecraft Server wasn’t just for students to be able to have fun, but also to bring accessibility and equal opportunity for all students at UT Dallas who were hundreds of miles away from our campus in 2020 & 2021.

The Truth About Setting Up a Minecraft Server

Esports already has such a misconception when it comes to how the industry, professional organizations, and even varsity esports teams work – however it’s honestly a lot more similar to the traditional sports & entertainment industries when it comes to operations, planning, and work. When it comes to setting up a Minecraft Server, it’s not as easy as just “starting a server up” – there are easily 100+ hours dedicated to setting up a Minecraft Server properly, building out the game/world, configuring plugins & settings, beta testing, etc. In addition, you need a full-on Minecraft Team to help you with the day-to-day operations, maintenance, and moderation of a Minecraft Server.

How Did We Do It?

We had a few stages on creating the UT Dallas Minecraft Server:

  1. Phase One: Capturing Awareness. We posted on social media, Discord, and the Reddit about starting a university-wide Minecraft Server. In addition, we created a form where students could sign-up for our beta testing & getting first access to the server. Results: 330 Responses
  2. Phase Two: Building & Internal Testing. Our next stage, our Social Media Manager, our Head of Events, and I help build the base of the entire Modded Server. At first, we decided to go with a modded Minecraft Server for students to play on (oh boy, was that fun to setup…. but was a great experience for the 2 months it lasted).
  3. Phase Three: Beta Testing. After the base of the server was built and playable, we rolled out invites to students for Beta Testing from the form we sent out – first 50, then 100, then 150. What we noticed immedietaly was that the server would not be able to support 20+ players consistenly (queue the very sad music…).
    1. How could the server not hold over 20 players on at a time?? We purchased high-end servers, specs, etc. Seeing all of our hard work simply get crushed within minutes of launching the first Beta Test destroyed a lot of our hopes for the “team” at the time, as well as create panic (as would any game developer studio experience similarly when their game crashes on a big release).
    2. Thankfully – this was just a “beta” test, but definitely heartbreaking. We spent the next few hours that Friday afternoon & evening doing sever optimization, googling every single potential error we were having in console, and testing over and over.
    3. Conclusion: The modpack we used simply was not built for super large servers… despsite the “marketing” for it stating it was one of the best performing modpacks for optization.
    4. The development of the UT Dallas Minecraft Team: During this phase, we had passionate players reach out to our department showing interest of helping out with the project – becoming known as our department’s Minecraft Team to this date (with our own Student Minecraft Lead and coordinators).
  4. Phase Four: Release. While we weren’t able to figure out all of the kinks and small bugs with our modpack’s performance, we kept at work to release the server before our deadline: Winter Break 2020. If there was a perfect time to release a new gaming opportunity for students to do in their freetime, it would be right before Winter Break as students would be able to play a lot more not having classes and exams in their daily schedule.

Marketing & Project Rollout

The marketing behind UT Dallas Minecraft definitely has been one of my favorite campaigns we’ve built for UT Dallas Esports & The University of Texas at Dallas. It’s like combining my two favorite things: Minecraft & my university.

Lesson Learned: Things Will NEVER Go As Planned

As many game developers probably already know, you have to learn that things will never go as planned. This is honestly just a lesson for life in general: you have to expect the unexpected, what could possibly go wrong, and most importantly: adapt.

What did we learn? Modded Minecraft, while it adds tons of features to the game, is honestly not ideal for a large server that would be accessed by tens, hundreds, and even thousands of unique players. In addition, if we’re talking about “accessibility” – not everyone would be able to run a modpack.

What is one thing we would change if we had to go back? Go vanilla, and focus on a “concentrated” Minecraft Server when it comes to features and gameplay. We definitely spent a lot of time on 2 variations of modded Minecraft, and sadly had to completely scrap them for our current version of UT Dallas Minecraft (vanilla).

That’s a wrap! Enjoyed this campaign deconstruction, head over to my marketing blog for more. Want to get in touch? Shoot me an email at [email protected] (No newsletter signups please, and use this email and not other ones as this will get the fastest response).

About Eric Aaberg

Eric Aaberg

Head of Social Strategy & Marketing, TGR Creative
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