Mineserver – It Could Still Happen

But backers still don’t know when they will get one.

A regular reader… somebody like Jenks maybe… might recall my post about the Mineserver Kickstarter campaign back in early October of 2015.  The Mineserver was to be… and may yet be… an inexpensive and easy to administer Minecraft server you could put on your home network that would allow your friends to play with you from their homes.

It was all but done according to the Kickstarter.  Specifically, the money was just supposed to help them ramp up production.  Per the campaign:

All that still needs to be finished is the final case tooling, which is coming from a U.S. supplier. That tooling — and pre-ordering a large enough supply of other components at volume prices — is what the $15,000 is for.

That was the story, while the plan was:

Full production will begin at the start of November and our goal is to deliver all Mineservers™ — burned-in and tested — by Christmas.

That was Christmas 2015.

It seemed like a good idea, and was being driven by a Silicon Valley notable Mark Stephens, aka Robert X. Cringely.  Surely his public reputation would keep the project on track.  I went in for a Mineserver Pro.  I figured we could host our group’s Minecraft world there so I wouldn’t have to pay for hosting.

Of course, the devil is in the details… or the software.  Yesterday I chided Blizzard for complaining that something they had proved they had done already was too hard.  This was the flip side, the usual scenario in software development, where a goal as yet unachieved is considered to be trivially easy right up until the coding actually starts.

And so a year after the Kickstarter I wrote a post about project, the ups and downs, the over ambitious statements, the long silences, and most of all, the lack of delivery when it came to the Mineservers.

There was a quick update just after my post, which I linked to as an addendum, holding out hope before the backers that maybe the last problem had been solved and that perhaps we might see Mineservers delivered in 2016.

I haven’t written anything since as there has been nothing to write about.  No Mineservers were delivered, though there was faint hope of that, and between early November and this week there were no updates posted about the project.  More than six months of silence on a project only 19 months in… and 17 months past due.

And then finally Cringely stepped up to the podium and posted an update on his blog.

The gist is that while they raiser over $30,000, they have spent $90,000 on the project and it still isn’t done yet.  Rather than folding up shop and leaving us all hanging forever, Cringely decided to push forward, get more funding, and turn the whole thing into a real business.

This meant negotiations and business development and finding funding and so on, stuff you cannot do in the public eye.  You can go to his post for details.  And there is the promise that those who backed the Kickstarter campaign will get their servers.

Yet I find some of his post irksome, and not because we are again left to guess when we might see the hardware or even if the software is done.  I think it is more a matter of having seen some Kickstarter campaigns run well… campaigns that shipped even later… that it is difficult to be tolerant of an alleged industry expert who clearly doesn’t get it.

I think the issue stems from his mode of operation over the years.  He is somebody who tells you things or repeats stories or other items he has heard and thinks are important.  Sometimes that leads to interesting works.  His main claims to fame, the book Accidental Empires and the InfoWorld column from which he took his handle (though he was neither the first nor the last to use that name there) involved retelling the anecdotes of others.  And he has continued that with his blog, where he ranges from personal tales to the trials of IBM to the non-issue of “buffer bloat,” something that led him to endorse that useless LagBuster product. (I own one; it is snake oil except under very specific circumstances.)

That has all been very much a one-way street of interaction with his audience.  He talks, we listen, and no discussion or interaction is welcome… unless you’re somebody in the industry and drop him an email directly.  But then, that is fodder for future posts to keep the cycle going.

Backers on Kickstarter expect interaction though, and that was something Cringely just wan’t going to give us.  Backing a project is a leap of faith.  The project can take the money and run and there is very little available by way of recourse.  Because of this, backers expect to be heard, and it wasn’t clear anybody was ever listening once the campaign closed.

So his post scolds people for being impatient about long delays and few updates and expects people to be grateful for even as much as he has done.  He ends up trying to make backers feel guilty by claiming that the average price paid was a mere $63 for something that cost him $99.

That number is a few flavors of bullshit from where I stand.  First, he set the price, not the backers.  If he set the wrong price, blaming the backers is bullshit.  Second, doing simple math, the average paid in was just over $70 for basic Mineservers.  I will assume he isn’t bad at math and he is trying to exclude Kickstarter’s cut, as though backers somehow didn’t pay that.  That is bullshit.  Third, blaming a whole group for the average when some people ponied up $99, or even $109 in one case, is bullshit.  Using the average was just a transparent attempt to make people feel sorry for him.  Fifth and finally myself and 52 other backers paid for Pro models, so paid at least $179.  From that vantage point having that average price paid for the base model thrown in my  face becomes an extra special brand of bullshit.

And then there was the sop to backers at the end, the suggestion that he might look into us getting some sort of equity.  I suspect that this was added just to make him look like a good guy and so he didn’t have to end on a note that involved trying to make his backers feel like ingrates.  I also suspect that if we ever hear of this offer again, it will be to explain how it just couldn’t be managed.  My experience in Silicon Valley tells me that doing this will involve way too much work to be likely to happen.

And the final item, the clincher to “Cringely doesn’t get Kickstarter” is that he posted this update to his blog, but not to the Kickstarter updates.  So unless, as a backer, you follow his blog… and perhaps his ego dictates that we all must… you might still be sitting in the dark thinking the November 10, 2016 update was the last word on the project.  Part of the reason you use the campaign for updates is that it sends the updates to backers via email.

Of course, some of that is me being my grumpy old self.  This is hardly the worst or longest delayed project, Kickstarter or otherwise, that I have been involved with.  I have been on the developer side of some bad ones, so I am not unsympathetic.  But I also know bullshit when I see it.

And the question remains as to what kind of product the Mineserver will be.  Once I get one I will most certainly use… our Minecraft world, hosted on Minecraft Realms, still gets regular use… and will write about it here.  If it works as advertised I will no doubt have good things to say about it.

But all these Mineserver plans still have to come to fruition to get to that point.  Perhaps for Christmas 2017 I will find one under the tree.

9 thoughts on “Mineserver – It Could Still Happen

  1. Jenks

    Thanks for the update LOL! I did find out about the mineserver here, but I have to say it’s a little sad that you are also my only source of news on it, the kickstarter feed is long dead like you mentioned. Some people on the kickstarter comments got very toxic a loooong time ago.

    I’m not even mad about it to be honest, I was annoyed for a while because it was going to be a gift for my wife who loves minecraft. But I wrote it off long ago and at this point any news of it is sort of a novelty. If I ever get it, it’ll be a nice surprise. I don’t read his blog so I appreciate you forwarding this news to all your readers who went in on this one with you – even if it’s just me :)

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  2. anypo8

    The LagBuster looks like an overpriced hack to me, but Bufferbloat is a real Internet technical problem. I know the networking folks who isolated and publicized the problem, and have read the technical papers and tuned my home networking setup to great effect.

    Bufferbloat has been somewhat solved upstream, with ISPs finally installing decent queue management algorithms, so it’s less of a thing for consumers to worry about (except on WiFi, where the right AP can still be a significant help). If you’ve noticed over the last year or two that your connection has significantly less burst lag, especially during peak bandwidth, you probably can think the Bufferbloat folks.

    If you want a MineServer, buy a Raspberry Pi 3 and a decent-sized SD card for it, and go find someone like me to set up Linux, Minecraft and some admin tools on it. That seems to be what Cringely is trying to sell you. I’ve tried it, and it works. You might get $100 worth of convenience out of not having to get this set up yourself: that’s about all you’re going to gain from an Official Mineserver.

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  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @anypo8 – Well, “non-issue” was overstatement on my part. More like an issue that experts recognized and started to address without much fuss overall. It was certainly not the sky is falling scenario, your ability to stream Netflix is doomed, take up arms and write your congressional representative sort of thing he was making it out to be for a bit. And, of course, he was pushing LagBuster as a shining example of fighting the problem when there isn’t anything that it does that you probably can’t do with your current router with the out of the box flash.

    Back before the Kickstarter I looked into building up a server on a Raspberry Pi. However one of the issues with Minecraft… and I have a draft post about this somewhere… is that it is a horrible and inefficient resource hog. I could have run a server on one back then, but it would not have been a good experience. The Raspberry Pi Model B Rev. 3 is more in the ballpark. But by the time that was available I had already paid for the Mineserver and was being told delivery was just around the corner. Why invest in something else at that point? I still held/hold out hope that Cringely would send people the hardware. Hell, he only lives a little over an hour from me, I’d go pick it up! (Yeah, right!) With that I could build up the server myself.

    And what Cringely is mostly selling is a reverse proxy service so your friends can connect to your server without you having to put it in the DMZ or open ports in your firewall. As I understand it, there will be a name.mineserver.com address for each server that you can give your friends so they can connect, though you will still have to white list them via their Minecraft user name for them to be able to log on.

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  4. Chuck

    I actually thought this sounded like a cool project, recommended it to a friend of mine whose son is into minecraft (she didn’t get one, thank goodness, as he already had his own server) and was looking to buy a T-shirt to help support it, but they didn’t seem to have a way to do so even back when optimism abounded. I still have my doubts that this thing will ever come to fruition but time will tell. Good luck getting your eventual Mineserver.

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  5. Fenjay

    I ran a home server on a full sized desktop that whose only sins were 4GB of RAM and a dual core processor. We experienced significant lag especially when trying to move fast. With that in mind I would doubt how well a pi would run a server, though I’ve never tried so wouldn’t know for sure.

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  6. Just Will

    Yes, technically it could happen — only because he hasn’t conceded defeat (or admitted to ripping us off).

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  7. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    Indeed, I saw his post about his house going up in flames in the fires around Santa Rosa earlier in the week. I figured now would not be the time to bring up my $179 since he just lost his whole house and anything he forgot to grab as he fled ahead of the inferno in the middle of the night.

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