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Finding players is a particularly big challenge for most game server admins, and getting it right is crucial to the longevity of any server. In this guide, you'll find nine important steps for building a long-lasting community, so that your content never gets stale.

Step #1: Prepare your server for new players

This may sound intuitive, but it is often overlooked by novice server operators. A new player is going to give your server a limited amount of time to decide whether or not she wants to invest her time building up on your server. It's crucial that a new player has a great experience, so they have a good first impression and want to continue building! Here's a quick checklist:

Are all of my settings the way I want them?
Have I installed and tested all of my mods together?
Is my server running smoothly with no performance issues?
Do I have a voting mod installed? (More on this below)
What are the most popular mods I see on other popular servers for this game? Does my server have those?
If I joined my server as a new player, would I find it fun enough to stick around for weeks or months?

Step #2: Invite your friends

This step is not mandatory or always possible (sometimes friends have different tastes in games!) However, the more players you can get too invested up-front, the more active your server will seem and the more likely new players will decide to stick around and participate. Getting at least 4 or 5 friends to start playing with you can significantly speed up the rate at which your server begins filling up. Just make sure not to favor your friends and family too much -- This can come across as unfair to new players and may turn them off your server.

Step #3: Add your site to ranking sites

A very important step -- don't rely on the game's server list to find new players! There are many sites that provide server rankings, and this is where you'll find most of your new players. Think about how you'd find a new server as a player looking to start playing this game. Most likely, you'd load up a search engine and search for servers so you can compare them and find the one that looks best to you. So go ahead and do a search yourself, find the top 5 results and add your server to their lists.

Step #4: Get votes!

The key to getting good traffic from these sites is to get plenty of votes. More votes will help you rank higher, which will get you more players. More players will help you stay higher and continue to keep your player count high.

Most games have mods that help with getting votes, helping give incentives for your players to vote daily. Even servers with few players can rank high if their players are actively voting daily! If you can't find a voting mod, or if you'd rather not install one, the minimum you should do is personally ask your players to vote daily and explain how much it benefits everybody by bringing more players in to play with.

Step #5: Join communities

Join forums and other communities where players gather to discuss the game and play on private servers. Usually, these communities will have places where you can advertise your site for free in an attempt to recruit new players. This can be very effective! You may also genuinely meet some new friends here as well. Steam forums for your game, along with Reddit are great places to start. Engaging in these communities can easily bring additional attention to your server.

Step #6: Start a community Discord

Having a way to stay in contact when not logged in, and having a way to voice chat with other players, is a great way for a group of players to really feel like a community. Discord servers are free and pretty simple to set up. Once set up, put the discord link in your MOTD (Message of the day) and make sure all of your players know about it. This free program can easily be turned into your communities central location outside of the actual game itself. You can hold polls here for adding content. Have voice chat channels for groups to tackle hard content and even channels designed around whatever your community wants to accomplish. The sky is the limit using discord as a community center point!

Step #7: Actively engage with your players

It's fairly easy to set up a server with some mods and let the players do their own thing; for the most part, that's okay! However, one thing that separates the truly successful, long-lived servers from the smaller servers is cultivating a fun atmosphere and injecting your own personality. Host some server events! Do fun things with your players that they didn't expect from your server when they joined, and you'll have long-time fans. Always remember the more you engage with your community members the stronger your bonds will become. Everyone tends to enjoy a server with active admins and server owners.

Step #8: Incentivize referrals

Your players usually have friends and family, too! If you can motivate your players to invite people they know, you will enjoy plenty of organic growth. If you have a player that refers a lot of players, be sure to thank them! There's a bit of a fine line to walk here, as too much reward may be seen as unfair, but almost always, there is a fair way to reward your active players. It can be as simple as some verbal praise, or once you're monetizing your server you could even reward them with credits to spend on your server. Try and take notes on who is actively trying to promote your server and helping you do all the heavy behind-the-scenes lifting. These people are valuable members who can help build your community even stronger.

Step #9: Don't give up!

It can be disheartening at first if your efforts to expand don't work right away. Sometimes it takes longer than other times to get those first few players you need before you start picking up steam. If it's been longer than a month, consider asking your players how they feel about a re-launch to attract new players. Starting a brand new wipe with more players than you originally started with will give it a higher chance of catching on the second time around. Always remember it is very rare that gaming communities have large numbers of members right away. Some gaming communities have been together for years and started out just like you are now. It takes time, patience, and a can-do attitude.

Turning your server into a thriving community is an ongoing project and you may find that no matter how much you invest, you will find there are always ways to improve and grow! For many server hosts, the feeling they get from running a thriving community is rewarding enough to justify all the work that goes into it. Though, at this point many server owners monetize their server; some just to help cover the costs, and some to actually make a sizeable profit! All of this is very possible if you take the time to really plan out your community and nurture its growth. I hope this article gave you some ideas on how to build a better community!
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