The True Story of TL

The True Story of TL

Posted here by @lovely.thecommander#9482, translated by @l1ttle#2716, from official TL Discord group

Translated from https://minecraftmain.ru/2018/02/tlauncher-story by l1ttle#2716 (on Discord) (May 2021)


It just happened that a situation in VK got my attention (VK is a popular social media service in Russia). Owners of a piracy project, a cracked Minecraft launcher, "legalized" themselves as an off-shore company, registed a trademark on "their" (the reason for quotes will be explained later) software product and started fighting with VK groups and sites, where products with a similiar name were distributed.

Unanswered questions

These events created so many questions and I tried to find an answer to them. I even contacted TLauncher Inc. with my questions first via e-mail, then did it publicly. There were no answers, aside from a small altercation, where someone who labeled themselves as a "friend of TLauncher's admins" accused me of bias, because of which I won't receive any answers.

Of course, it will be more interesting to find answers for these questions. I would be glad to publish them as a separate interview. But because we don't have them, we only have one choice: collect facts and try to find answers ourselves.

Let's (not) get to know each other

In the process of writing this article, I found out that the group of people we are researching has multiple sites, projects, and as it seems, "names". Because my request to introduce themselves was ignored, we will call them TLauncher Inc. At least that's how their legal entity, registered by them, is called. Personal information, that I got from different partipicants of these events will not be mentioned here.

How TLauncher was born

TLauncher was presented to the public on the 1st of October, 2013. A thread was created there, the author shared his creation and talked with users. The author of the thread was turikhay. Currently, the thread and the web-archive page was deleted by request of TLauncher Inc.

How the second TLauncher appeared

In November of 2013, representatives of ru-minecraft.org contacted turikhay with the request to create a special version of TLauncher for them. He talked about this in an interview to the MineInterw project.

The end product should have a block with ads and a link to ru-minecraft.org

The partnership with turikhay continued until 2015. And then TLauncher [Ru-Minecraft.org] started living its own life.

What is Ru-Minecraft.org

Before we continue with our story, I want to talk about "what is ru-minecraft.org". You probably found the site or at least its mentions when trying to find mods for Minecraft or the game itself. (note: this is less applicable to non-Russian speakers) When the project had its own launcher, it was a pretty popular website. Except it wasn't popular because of interesting content or unique mods. The key was in the "marketing".

First of all, when the project was created in 2013, they copied the domain from ru-minecraft.ru, which was created 2 years prior. It's obvious that the concept of getting popular was in the name similiarity with other popular projects.

Second of all, they also had a very special way to get users on their website. On the website there was pirated Minecraft, which was distributed as an installer. One of this installer's editions had a very interesting feature:

The installer changed the Windows' system files in a way that any attempt to go to other websites with similiar content was altered to redirect to ru-minecraft.org. This included clicking on search results.

It modified launcher website shortcuts in a way that the browser would have ru-minecraft.org as its home page

All these actions were "optional" and had a name "Featured", which allowed the "authors" of the product say that "users agreed themselves". But from a simple game installer, no one expects any destructive actions. The authors of the installer simply abused users' trust.

There isn't a lot of information regarding these events.

As a result, the ru-minecraft.org website was sanctioned by search engines (at least by Yandex), and the owners quickly registered a new domain, ru-m.org, that still exists to this day.

It should be noticed that the IP address of the website did not change, that means the users of the installer mentioned continued to visit the "new" website, bumping its ratings in search engines.

The creation of TLauncher Inc and what it lead to

In the middle of 2015 the domain name tlauncher.org was registered and it was safe to assume that TLauncher would be advertised as a separate project, and not as a resource of ru-m.org.

Prior to that time, a plan of actions was already created: on the 20th of May, 2016 request was made to register software "TLauncher", and it was accepted on the 21st of September, 2016. A copy of it was published on TLauncher.org, an entry of approval was also posted on the page of Federal Institute of Industrial Property (FIIP) under the number 2016660712. 

The copyright owner in that request is TLauncher Incorporated (SC). SC leads to country — Seychelles. That means that TLauncher Incorporated — an off-shore company, that could've been made to optimize tax, and possibly to hide the real owners. And the software author is — "Not specified".

This approval was used as a base for DMCA takedown requests, redirected to blacklist sites from Google where TLauncher was redistributed (regardless of which variant the website is redistributing).

In other words, the copyright owners requested takedown of various websites, claiming that it was "Published via the link below without our approval".

The first of these requests was sent on the 30th of October, 2016, or after 9 days of receiving approval. The victims of this takedown request was the website tlauncher.ru, and also a VK group "TLauncher a free launcher", that even claims to be the "original" TLauncher, but is not associated with the original creators. The date of the last DMCA request — 20 февраля 2017 года. Based on this request, the search engine blacklisted links to TLauncher Legacy in VK, and also tlauncher.ru.

I want to make sure that not only the resources that redistributed the original TLauncher were blacklisted, but other projects that had the same name fell under this as well.

It was quiet for some time. However, it wasn't because the "rightholders" cooled down, but because the request to register TLauncher as a trademark took a long time to get reviewed — it was sent on the 7th of February, 2017, and was approved only on the 8th of November, 2017.

Trademark registration and DMCA takedown requests happen almost at the same time. It looks like VK refused to takedown anything without a trademark registration

After the registration of the trademark, "rightholders" contacted VK with new arguments. In result:

The group Terraria Launcher was blocked, which wasn't remotely connected with TLauncher, and did not contain any download links for that launcher. The reason behind this request is unknown

The marketing manager, active in VK as "Алиса Фомина", explained that a report was filed towards the group, because allegedly the members of that group insulted them in the comments.

The group dedicated to now already TLauncher Legacy, had to change their short URL, and also completely get rid of the word TLauncher in the name of their product.

Besides sending DMCA takedown requests, and reports in VK, claims were also directed to hosting providers.

For example, website ru-minecraft.ru was forced to delete the article, dedicated to TLauncher Legacy. It happened because a report got filed in the hosting provider's direction. The owners of the website, to avoid problems with the hosting, had to change the article: remove the screenshots and the name "TLauncher" (you can browse in the web archive to see how it looked before the report).

Forums rubukkit.org and bukkit.ru had to remove the threads with TLauncher (the real one) because of the same reason. Admins of rubukkit.org, as usual, ignored my request. But an administrator of bukkit.ru confirmed that the thread was removed by the request of TLauncher Inc., and also showed a copy of the report (available to minecraftmain.ru).

To be honest, if someone a couple of years ago told me this story, I wouldn't believe it. Because it's absurd: A website, that distributes (among other things) a pirated version of Minecraft, orders the development of a launcher, that demonstrates ads. After that, the pirated software registers itself and starts heavily defending its rights; the violator of these rights is the author of the software who developed it in the first place.

But the situation appears in a completely different light when you understand that we are talking about money.

Business-empire of TLauncher Inc.

Websites, dedicated to Minecraft

The main sites can be considered:

  • ru-m.org (ru-minecraft.org) — a web archive, containing pirated versions of Minecraft and Minecraft: Story Mode, and also containing programs and mods.
  • en-minecraft.org — an English variant of ru-m.org.

How do these websites earn money

Currently these websites demonstrate ads using Google AdSense. In former times these websites were infamous for intrusive ads, a lot of pop-ups, etc. (at least judging by the feedback on the Internet). But the time has passed, and the only function of these websites — advertising TLauncher.

TLauncher: ads, capes and premium-accounts

There's only 1 website, but it has a ton of domain names:

  • tlauncher.org — this is the "main website", and here are domain names for it:
  • tlauncher.biz
  • tlauncher.download
  • tlauncher.info
  • tlauncher.name
  • tlauncher.net
  • tlauncher.su
  • tlauncher.xyz
  • тлаунчер.рус
  • тлаунчер.рф

You probably noticed there's no tlauncher.ru — the author of the program managed to register it in time. But it's listed in Google's DMCA-lists, so it can be considered as non-existant.

What can TLauncher do

The main task of any Minecraft launcher — launch Minecraft. TLauncher, of course, allows to do that. In doing so, it supports Forge and mods, displays news on the title screen, related to projects made by TLaunсher Inc., advertises servers, including by force-adding them in the Minecraft server list, and loads the blacklisted servers list to remove them from the game.

We will talk about the commercial part of TLauncher later. For now, we will talk about their Minecraft monitoring service — TMonitoring.

TMonitoring

This is a monitoring for Minecraft servers.

Website:

  • tmonitoring.com. It has multiple domain names.
  • tlmonitoring.biz
  • tlmonitoring.com
  • tlmonitoring.info
  • tlmonitoring.net
  • tltop.org
  • tlmonitoring.org
  • tltop.ru
  • tmonitoring.com
  • tmonitoring.org

I see a perfect monitoring as: a list, sorted by daily average players; where you can see the server's short description, to decide to whether it's worth it to play on it. But it's from the player's point of view.

The perfect monitoring from a server owner's point of view: a monitoring where your server is always on top.

And here's how the creators of TMonitoring see a perfect monitoring: on the top there's an empty server, but it already has the advancement "Starting businessman", which is awarded for buying 100 points.

Basically, the one who paid more is on the top.

An owner of the one of the servers, who once was on the top, wrote the following about the monitoring:

I don't recommend this monitong, because it's very expensive and ineffective. For 2 weeks in top-1 the average online was 2 players, then I abandoned the monitoring. With sales, it costed me 2300 RUB (30 US dollars), without sales it would be about 8000 RUB(110 US dollars!).

The website traffic of TMonitoring’а isn't the lowest, but still concedes other sevices (for example, monitoringminecraft.ru or minecraftrating.ru). Obviously, when the monitoring gets popular, the war for the top will become a simple auction. All the first positions in the rating will simply say about the owners' richness, nothing more.

How does TLauncher earn

TLauncher 2.22. The launcher advertises: servers, TLauncher premium account and the YouTube channel.

Every entry in the server list allows you to join it in literally 1 click. Servers in this list appear there by paying. And it looks like it's the main source of revenue of TLauncher Inc.

TLauncher's server advertisement

Selling ads is managed by the "marketing manager Alice", here are the current (this article was written in 2018) prices:

Advertisement on the title screen, allows to join the server in 1 click. Cost: 2500 RUB (35 US dollars) for weekdays, 3000 RUB (40 US dollars) — for weekends and holidays;

Advertisement on the page "More servers". This one is cheaper: 1000 RUB (14 US dollars) for weekdays, 1200 RUB (16 US dollars) — for weekends.

There's also another type of ads, it's the automatic addition to Minecraft server list.

When I asked about the cost, it was said that the ad is not for sale. But because it exists, there must be conditions for its placement. We will come back to this later, for now let's count others' money.

How much TLauncher earns on ads

Now that we got the price-list, we need to count how many servers are being advertised. It's pretty simple, here are the addresses where the launcher loads ads.

List "Recommended server":

  • http://repo.tlauncher.org/update/lch/servers/servers_info.xml
  • https://tlauncher.org/repo/update/lch/servers/servers_info.xml
  • http://ru-m.org/update/lch/servers/servers_info.xml

List "More servers":

  • http://repo.tlauncher.org/update/lch/server_info_page.json
  • https://tlauncher.org/repo/update/lch/server_info_page.json
  • http://ru-m.org/update/lch/server_info_page.json

When this article was written, the "Recommended servers" list contained 174 positions, the list "More servers" — 10.

Placement Cost       | Recommended Servers          | More Servers
---------------------+------------------------------+---------------
Weekdays (1 day)     | 2500 ($35)                   | 1000 ($14)
Weekends (1 day)     | 3000 ($40)                   | 1200 ($16)
A week               | 18500 ($250)!                | 7400 ($100)
A month (4 weeks)    | 74000 ($1000)!               | 29600 ($400)

Then the estimated revenue is:

  • 174 * 74,000 = 12,876,000 RUB (154,512,000 RUB a year) - for advertisement in the "Recommended servers" list
  • 10 * 29,600 = 296,000 RUB (3,552,000 RUB a year) - for advertisement in the "More servers" list.

In total, 158,064,000 RUB a year.


l1ttle: Let's do the math in US dollars:
  • 174 * 1,000 = 174,000 US dollars (2,088,000 US dollars a year) - for advertisement in the "Recommended servers" list
  • 10 * 400 = 4,000 US dollars (48,000 US dollars a year) - for advertisement in the "More servers" list.

In total, 2 136 000 US dollars a year.


Added on the 8th of September, 2018: Representatives of TLauncher, in a personal conversation, called this number high and biased.

It seems like a lot. I assumed that the servers in the "Recommended" list show up by the rotation principle. But there are only 15 to 17 servers at the same time. I don't know if there is rotation or not, so here's more math:

Everyday, on the front page of TLauncher there are 17 servers advertised:

  • 17 * 74,000 = 1,258,000 RUB (15,096,000 RUB a year) - for advertisement in the "Recommended servers" list
  • 10 * 29,600 = 296,000 RUB (3,552,000 RUB a year) - for advertisement in the "More servers" list.

In total, 18 648 000 RUB a year.


l1ttle: Let's do the math in US dollars:
  • 17 * 1,000 = 17,000 US dollars (204,000 US dollars a year) - for advertisement in the "Recommended servers" list
  • 10 * 400 = 4,000 US dollars (48,000 US dollars a year) - for advertisement in the "More servers" list.

In total, 252 000 US dollars a year.


I want to note that this number and the previous one don't claim to be accurate. But with a smaller number it becomes clear why the advertising "on the terms of cooperation" was going on, which will be discussed below. 

TLauncher Premium

Aside from selling server ads, TLauncher offers services to users themselves:

  • Ability to apply an HD skin;
  • Ability to apply a cape;
  • Ability to disable ads in the launcher.

This service is available to users either temporarily (1 or 3 months, for 199 RUB (3 US dollars) and 499 RUB (7 US dollars) respectively) or permanently (1,299 RUB, 18 US dollars).

It should be noted that the official Minecraft license costs 26.95 US dollars

Calculating how much TLauncher earns on TLauncher Premium is impossible because we don't have the amount of players who have TLauncher Premium.

Partner program

Ad not for sale

As I already mentioned, there as unique type of ads - automatic addition to Minecraft service list. A player, who wanted to play multiplayer, clicks on the button and immediately sees the server.

When I asked on what conditions this ad is available, it was said that it is not for sale.

Then I contacted someone who used this type of ad. First of all, it was a project MasedWorld. When I collected materials for this article, this server was added in the players' server list. The owners refused to talk to me.

But I managed to get information from a completely different source - the owner of a server, whose server got blacklisted in TLauncher

Server blacklist

Aside from the ability to "add servers to the server list" there's an exact opposite function in TLauncher. The launcher can remove defined IPs from the server list.

This "blacklist" is loaded by the launcher from:

  • http://repo.tlauncher.org/update/downloads/configs/servers.json
  • https://tlauncher.org/repo/update/downloads/configs/servers.json
  • http://ru-m.org/update/downloads/configs/servers.json

When this article was written, there were 13 servers: (there's probably a lot more of them now)

  • bcplay.su
  • brillgo.pro
  • daycrafts.ru
  • enot.io
  • firecerv.ru
  • funnysc.ru
  • gravitymc.ru
  • mcbig.ru
  • minedex.io
  • plend.ru
  • sminer.ru
  • somego.pro
  • un-craft.ru

The full list looks a lot bigger, but the rest is just different spelling and subdomains.

If you add any of these servers in Minecraft, then restart the game, then TLauncher will accurately remove these servers from the server list. A player, who started the game for the next time, will be forced to either re-add the server on play on another one.

It's not surprising that any of the servers in this list had shut down, and these that survived have their own launchers

I learned from a source that this is a method of linking servers to adds. If the server stopped buying ads, it will be removed from clients to make the server pay again. I couldn't find any proof for this, but what I learned next from other server owners wasn't any better.

To understand why this blacklist existed and what servers appeared in there, I found a few people related to blacklisted servers and asked them. In most cases, they refused to talk with me. One directly said, that they are afraid of displeasure from tlauncher.org. But there were people that explained everything openly

"Ad on the terms of cooperation"

One of the servers said why their server got blacklisted in TLauncher:

I worked with them on the terms of cooperation. This meant auto-adding my server in players' server list. This is a type of advertisement. We agreed, I paid for the hosting. They reviewed it, they liked it. I once again talked with Edward — it's their head manager. An hour ago the ad was launched and there were people immediately. I wake up the next morning, there was about a thousand players. I checked for lag, there was none. The ad was gone, the players stayed. Everything was fine. Then, suddenly they changed. They didn't like my revenue. At first, we agreed that they get 60000 RUB (800 dollars) for auto-adding. Then they get 50% of the revenue. They no longer liked their share, they claimed the server was earning too much. They started asking for additional 30000 RUB (400 dollars). I refused to pay, they removed my domain and I quickly registered a new one. I had a specific audience there, then they started removing the new domain from the launcher to make sure players no longer joined my server. They blocked multiple of my domains. This is a circus of some sort. I talked to them about this. They still made sure players didn't join my new server because I was so "bad".

I didn't learn immediately that my servers were being blacklisted:

Some time ago I just lost 30000 RUB (400 US dollars). I found sponsors, we donated to the project. I paid for the ad with Alice. Alice did not warn me that these actions would take place and posted the ad — I won't claim otherwise. But at the same time, they started removing my server from the players' client. So they removed my new server because I was the one who paid for the ad. At first I didn't understand what happened. Then I logged in myself and realized that my server was being removed from the server list.

That's an interesting case. The owner pays for the ad, but the server gets added to the blacklist. So there's no effect from the ad. Players won't be able to join for a 2nd time. How can you memorize a server's name when there's hundreds of them in the ad list?!