To describe the Swede Markus Persson as one of the absolute winners of 2010 is no exaggeration – at least if we talk about the games industry. He had the idea for the original Minecraftand turned the concept into a working game, writing all the code on his own. Nothing more than an ordinary home computer and a lot of time was needed.
One special thing about Minecraft: Markus »Notch« Persson seeks strong contact to the community. Although the game is still in beta, hundreds of thousands of miners crawl their ways through the procedurally generated blocky landscapes. For 15 Euros players gain access to the beta and will be given the full version without any extra fee when Minecraft turns to version 1.0.
Because of this business model Persson has piled up a considerable wealth which he uses to build up his small Mojang developer team. His success story has caused quite a stir, so that even a team of documentary filmers is following him around. It seems that we might also be stuck on camera as you can see further down in the pictures.
GameStar Most of the time you were the only one working on Minecraft. When did you realize that you couldn’t manage this amount of work anymore without any additional help?
Markus Persson It all started out very slowly. But after about one year the project was so huge that we had no other choice but to found a company. It took us again four or five months to reach this point, because I was busy attending countless meetings and keeping up with the coding.
GameStar How did you choose your team? Did all the members have to think on the same line with you or did you look for people with special skills bringing fresh impulses into the project?
Markus Persson In the beginning there were only Jakob Porser and myself, we founded Mojang together. The next step was hiring a CEO, who has actually never worked in the game industry before. We wanted someone who understood the business side of the medal. The rest of the team consists of Designers who deal with the content and coding.
GameStar Don’t you get tons of mails every day with suggestions and cool ideas for Minecraft? Do you even read those messages and if so, how do you decide what goes into the game and what not?
Markus Persson Indeed, I do get a ton of mails – too many actually to read all of them. But I scan through the subjects and read the forums. This way I can figure out what the community is curious about. But in the end I decide what I find reasonable and where I can say »Hey, this is a really great addition, let’s do this!« Nothing is added to the game only because many people in the community want it.
GameStar And how do you test all the new items, monsters, resources?
Markus Persson We start with testing all the new features inhouse. Of course we don’t always identify all issues, that’s where the community comes into play. If they find an error we deliver a patch shortly after to fix it.
GameStar All the time you have been communicating very openly – be it about the current state of beta or what issues you still have to face. Do you think this sort of communication can be a model for the future, even for any of the bigger publishers?
Markus Persson I think this open communication works pretty well for PC and Mac development. You can add new features at a daily basis, get immediate feedback, patch out the issues very quickly. And you have a direct contact to the community which is very helpful for a small developer. The fans feel connected to you, they know and trust you.
GameStar Starting with Minecraft as a single developer you didn’t put in huge amounts of money. What would you have done differently with let’s say, a few thousand dollars more for the head start?
Markus Persson You’re right, I started out with very little. I only had my home computer and the only thing left needed was time, a lot of time actually. But I don’t think I would have done anything differently with more money. I like coding a game from the very beginning, so I wouldn’t have licensed a graphics engine for example – which is btw a stupid idea in general because there is great software out there that saves you a lot of time.
But if you develop a game from ground up you have the advantage that in most cases you get a more original outcome.
GameStar So you never wished for a graphics expert who polishes the game and brings it to a new visual level?
Markus Persson Oh yes, I had that moment! Before I realized that the visual style of Minecraft works pretty well I talked with several Indie developers about adding them to the team as graphics experts. But in the end it never came to cooperation and I continued on my own, which turned out pretty okay.