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Minecraft's Millions: Interview With Markus "Notch" Persson on the Indie Sandbox Building Blockbuster

Above, a fan-made, Inception-flavored trailer for Minecraft... because everything goes better with BRRRRR!

Minecraft, the indie sandbox building game I wrote about last week, has quickly gone from cult favorite to blockbuster. According to the developer's stats, the game has nearly 900K registered users, over 253K of whom have paid about $13 each for the game, mostly in the space of several weeks. Developed by a four person team, this likely means a net profit that's already in the millions, and a success that major developers would envy. In an era when traditional publishers assume high-end graphics are what hardcore gamers crave, Minecraft depicts a randomly-generated world that's charmingly low-res and blocky. (It looks less like a game you'd see on the Xbox 360 now, than a game you might have played 20 years ago.) Even more notable -- and this is why I'm writing about it so much here -- the game's overwhelming success proves a deep, under-served hunger among gamers to make their own 3D content.

Markus Notch Persson

The brainchild of Markus "Notch" Persson, the Swedish developer tells me that the old school CGI is part of Minecraft's appeal. As he puts it, "I think the simple graphics helped make the experience feel more personal!" I asked him if Second Life was an influence on the game, since it resembles SL as it was originally conceived. "I've never played Second Life, but I've read a lot about it," he answers. "Linden Lab have done an amazing thing with it, but it's not really an influence for Minecraft." (In previous interviews, he's cited games like Dungeon Keeper and Roller Coaster Tycoon as influences.)

All the same, it's the high degree of amazing user-generated content that has impressed me about Minecraft. So I asked Notch to tell me about some of his favorite fan-made levels:

"My favorite custom levels are the complicated technical ones," says Persson, "like the Portal mod or the calculators." Video of one Minecraft-driven calculator above; video of Minecraft-based Portal, with teleporting ability like the classic Valve game, below:

The next inevitable step, it seems to me, is to turn Minecraft into an MMO, but Notch says that isn't on his schedule. "I have no plans for that at the moment," he says. "I don't think the game as it is designed at the moment is a perfect fit for an MMO." However, he adds tantalizingly, some Minecraft players have plans of their own: "I know there are some server admins who have pretty large scale plans for their Minecraft servers."

Notch photo from the Minecraft forum.


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Valentina Kendal

that music ROCKS - how to make Legos seem evil!

Miso Susanowa

TY for this article/spotlight! I have been both a hardcore gamer and a 3d worldbuilder, and the Big Company people have yet to absorb the lesson handed to them by gamers and their purchasing power: eye candy is wonderful, pretty... and worth about 5 minutes looking at. A game is a GAME, and I'd rather play a 20-yr-old game like Elite, nethack or Age of Empires because it is a GOOD GAME, with lots of options, variables, action, strategy... a GAME. Not a pretty too-bad-this-isn't-a-dvd... because if I want a movie, I purchase a dvd.

Gamers have voted with their wallets and feedback. One of the most-beloved things about old-school games was the wholehearted support of modders and user-built levels and options. That is why people STILL play Doom or Quake... 14 years later. Game companies should take this lesson to heart, or move over for the likes of Minecraft.


Procedurally generated stuff is addictive.

Dizzy Banjo

now they just need to add the ability to make prim shoes and a micro-currency... oh wait..

Arcadia Codesmith

I'm holding out for an MMO that has a UGC system with Spore's ease of use, Second Life's flexibility, Blue Mars' graphic polish and Metaverse's pricing structure. What's taking so long?

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