Righting the Ship: Saving a Sinking RUST Server

Righting the Ship: Saving a Sinking RUST Server

Taking on water

The path to the bottom is but a loose bolt away…

Alright, in reality, it might not be as grim as a seafaring ship beginning to sink, but losing valuable members of your RUST community for unknown reasons can make you feel as powerless as the captain watching his bridge take on water. For many community owners, it’s not clear how to run a community, let alone save a sinking RUST server.

It’s easy to point fingers at personality conflicts, major server tenant drama, or perhaps some admin abuse allegations that hold credibility. But what about when people stop connecting? The first step in solving any problem is the recognition that there is one.

Noticing trends

Okay, so active Friday night max populations on wipe week are down 20% from last month. Now that you mention it, last month was down slightly from the month before, but it is not enough to worry about. Sound familiar?

Recognizing a descending trend early on is important, but understanding trends and patterns from year to year is equally important. Some months will naturally be slower than others, especially those with significant holidays or limited content updates. The real-world seasons’ changes play their role, with busy times changing as sunset gets earlier or later.

Most important to recognize are migratory trends – the player base is a constantly in-motion wave, with 80% of RUST diehards transitioning between server formats at different times of the year. Some players prefer lower upkeep and quieter servers during the holiday months and might transition to a faster pace, higher population servers afterward.

Some ‘server regulars’ might stop playing every December and January. Don’t panic if this is the case. Stay the course.  

The exception would be if you’re running a flavor-of-the-month format; this would be any new concept that doesn’t yet have a proven track record of player buy-in. Think of things like the hardcore or softcore modes or specialty servers like Terminus rules. Modes that are fun in the short term but deviate considerably from the ‘vanilla’ experience are often short-lived. 

Forming a battleplan

A mistake all too many newer server owners make is the implementation of ‘gut reaction’ server changes. Sudden, big changes drastically shift the format.

For the good of your core player base, heed this as an urge to reconsider.

In some circumstances, change may be required, such as a variable being altered in an update or a plugin that is core to your server format changing a feature drastically. These ‘forced’ changes are considerably different from what we call ‘elective changes.’  

After you’ve taken stock of a downward trend, cool deliberation and consultation among the admin team are vital in server-altering decisions. You need to consider not only the changes you intend to make but the ramifications that these changes will enact.  

Many players are very particular when choosing a ‘home’ server – the one they return to and feel comfortable playing. They take things like upkeep, map, BP wipe schedule, and even small convar changes very seriously. Imagine coming home from work and your spouse has painted your ordinarily gray house a bright canary yellow. This is how it feels when admins change big-impact game functions without consulting their community.

Alienation, while almost always accidental, is a quick way to torpedo a community right out of the water. Whatever changes you decide to make, getting the input of your veteran players is critical. These players are your returning customers, and their feedback is invaluable to your decision-making. Keep this in mind moving forward.

There are times to wait and see and times to take action. If your crew and community feel that change is warranted, assemble those invested and envision your collective future.

When changes are necessary

Sometimes the most challenging part about change is deciding to follow through. After your community pow-wow, plot the most direct, least intrusive way to reach your envisioned endgame. You may have struggled to put a finger on the pulse of the problem. Take a look at the following big-ticket items and ask yourself how your server measures up:

Curb Appeal

Most successful servers or server groups have appropriate branding, complete with a name and unique logo.

  • Are we appropriately differentiated?
  • Do we have ‘brand’ recognition?
  • What is the guttural reaction to our brand when the community thinks of us? Positive, negative, or indifferent? How can we improve this?

Communication

How easy is it to reach out to the Admin team?

  • Do we have a Discord server?
  • Is our current remote console option best serving the community’s needs?
  • Should we consider adding a new ticketing system for issues or modifying our existing one to be more personable?
  • Does our community feel as though their voices are heard?
  • Do we need a website to provide an accessible format for community members to access information?

Consistency & Performance

Are we free from bias in our actions, and do we provide the best server experience possible?

  • Look at network patterns, lag reports, and disconnect errors – how can we improve?
  • How can we work with our host (or make improvements if we host ourselves) to enrich the quality server experience we offer?
  • What is our overall server uptime? Do we have frequent outages?
  • Should we consider an automated system restart daily to improve performance and optimize system resources?
  • Do we treat all members of our community equally? Why not?
  • Are our plugins kept up to date and working appropriately?

Personnel

Do we need help?

  • What is our ticket turnaround time?
  • Do we have a backlog of issues that need addressing?
  • Are our current admins overworked?
  • Do we constantly feel like we’re barely keeping our heads above water?
  • Do staff dread turning their computers on and helping out?

Friendliness

Are we, as an administration team, personable?

  • Do players prefer to live with issues rather than put in a ticket or reach out?
  • Are members of the team cold, distant, or intimidating? If so, why?
  • Are you proud of the overall experience that your team provides?

Give it time

If your team truly feels they are doing all they can to ensure the player experience is flawless, it may be best to ride out the storm. Like all good games, RUST goes through periods of player interest and indifference. When viewing these trends, it is important to keep objectivity in mind as life happens and people grow.

However, if you identified a few categories that could improve, work on them. Saving a sinking RUST server isn’t impossible. Hold your staff in high regard and congratulate them as improvements are made. Take a sincere interest in the voice of your community and encourage them to buy into your ideas and make suggestions.

Reach out to those that might be on hiatus and let them know that their lack of presence on your server is felt. Communicate changes efficiently and in simple terms, and don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes. Your community will appreciate the open honesty.

If you have more great insights into what makes a successful community tick, reach out to us on Discord. Take care of yourselves, your servers, and your communities. Only then can you grow together.

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About No Limit Llama

An aspiring woodworker and web designer. Father, husband, and Rust veteran. Llama has written op-eds and official game documents for over two decades. The earliest writings were on Asheron’s Call, followed by World of Warcraft and eventually Rust. The vast majority of his indoor time is spent running Rust servers or helping friends with their Rust-related projects. He enjoys working around the house, continuing his education when time permits, and creating new processes to simplify activities of daily living for his friends and family. He has an incredible wife, a dog, three children, and one granddaughter.

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