After first being involved in the PC version of Minecraft back in 2014, I always had the desire to own and run my own successful Minecraft server. It was fairly straight forward to launch a server but making it popular and successful required spending thousands of dollars on marketing and advertisement spend. Back in 2017, being only 16/17 at the time, this certainly wasn't a viable option nor one that I could ask my family for help with.
I had looked around at other options for growing a Minecraft server on a tight budget, but these methods would only bring a handful of players to my server - not the "hundreds" or even "thousands" that I was hoping for. I was a few years into programming at this point having self-taught it since I was 13 years old, I started to look at ways that I could use this knowledge to somehow increase my chances of success.
Player Count Manipulation
The most popular method of increasing success at this time was to manipulate the player count shown to potential new players, this would ultimately make your server feel more popular than any competitors with less players. Typically servers would multiply their real player count to do this, for example if your Minecraft server had 20 players online you'd show it as "40 players" on the server list.
This was certainly a clever way to encourage new players to join and sooner or later became the "gold standard" for growing a Minecraft server whilst on a tighter budget. It became so effective to execute that even the larger Minecraft servers would use this tactic, however as soon as players would join they'd instantly notice a smaller volume of players actually in-game. This meant that manipulating the player count was great for initial joins, but became hard to retain players once they joined unless your Minecraft server felt attractive enough for them to stay.
Adding Fake Bots
With this tactic gradually becoming less relevant, Minecraft server owners began to add fake bots (that looked like players) in their server to provide a feeling of their server feeling busy. Similar to the technique mentioned above, this worked in the shorter term as it encouraged players to stay on the server for a while longer. However, keen-eyed players would eventually notice that these bots would lack in a few areas such as..
- Never speaking within the in-game chat
- Not having any visible ping (The distance in milliseconds away from the server)
- Not accessible through any in-game commands
- Appearing as "offline" through the in-game
/seencommand (That tells you when a player last logged in)
These, in addition to a multitude of other reasons, meant that spoofing (in this form) became a very risky solution to use when growing a Minecraft server. As the risk of being "outed" would set a bad reputation for the server, one that any server owner wouldn't risk the hassle of dealing with. At the time, no other solution existed that would "spoof" a Minecraft player in such a way that would feel realistic and work with the existing commands and functionality within a server. So, I built it!
Fake Players (AKA "Spoofing")
This still, to date, is the toughest project I have ever worked on for many reasons. Firstly, it required a lot of source-diving into the internals of the Minecraft server software. This meant I needed to understand the journey of when a player joins a Minecraft server, to understand how I could add my own fake players. Secondly, I needed to ensure that this would work with the existing functionality in the server software such as the
/seen command mentioned earlier, without any code changes needed from other developers - as this would defeat the purpose of spoofing them.
Normal functionality, such as messaging worked with spoofed players.
Spoofed players could even receive items.
To further make Spoof undetectable, each spoofed player had its own fake IP address.
Spoofed players could even run ordinary, player commands.
Finally, Spoof ran as an undetectable piece of software that was injected to the Minecraft server upon launch. This meant it was not only invisible to real players on the server (which took away fears of being publicly shamed), but was also hidden from server administrators who may be managing the network on behalf of the owner. Spoof was an ultimate success which not only helped my Minecraft servers grow, but also helped the hundreds of other server owners who purchased access to it.
Spoof has since been acquired since 2019 - having gone on to evolve with its source-code being used in many other great spoofing projects. It makes me very proud that my hard work and dedication has still, to this day, helped server owners grow their server to its best potential.