February 26, 2011 3:00 AM | Tim W.
[Mike Rose talks to Markus 'Notch' Persson about the future of hit online indie title Minecraft, as he explains why achievements are in his plans, and how sales went up after a price rise.]
I had a chance to visit Mojang headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden last week, and along the way, sat down with Markus Persson, known online as Notch, about the future of his surprise indie smash Minecraft.
The open-world 'sandbox' title, which started as a one-man project, has ended up selling 1.4 million copies to date at anywhere between 10 euros ($13.75) and 15 euros ($20.60), and this has allowed Mojang to hire people and expand its vision for the blocky hit.
By way of introduction, Persson told me that he's really excited about the mods being created by the community for Minecraft, which runs in a browser as well as as downloadable PC, Mac, and Linux versions.
In fact, the Swedish native hope that one day the Minecraft modding scene will be as popular as Half Life 2 mods, and that people will approach him in the future with ideas for commercial mods for Minecraft.
Ideas for mods? Persson himself would like to work on a Capture the Flag-style game set in the Minecraft world, and said that it would be "the best idea ever" to build on the game's retro-style framework, citing Team Fortress Classic as an angle he'd like to approach the idea from.
Along the way, I also had a chance to ask Persson a number of additional questions about the smash title, which is nominated for awards in both the Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Choice Awards at this year's Game Developers Conference, which kicks off in San Francisco next week:
Will you ever host your own servers [to play Minecraft collaboratively with others]? Right now third parties host their own servers.
MP: We might. I mean, if we controlled the servers, then we could give out badges and things like that.
So you're thinking of adding achievements?
Yeah, I like achievements. I know a lot of people don't, but I like them. I've had the idea to make achievements kind of like the in-game questing. So you'd be able to see the first achievement in a tree of achievements, and you have to unlock the top ones first before you can unlock the ones further down.
So the first one might be to chop down a tree, or kill a chicken, and then these branch into more things you can do. Hopefully it would encourage people to try new areas.
So what would happen when you finish an achievement tree?
Well, it could converge into a big task, like kill a dragon or something, which would put a kind of narrative into the achievement tree.
Are you worried that when you put a tutorial or narrative into the game, then it will make new players think 'this is the way I'm meant to play the game', rather than finding their own playing style as happens now?
Yeah definitely. I'd want these achievements to feel like things that you can try, rather than these are things you have to do. People can follow them, but only if they want to.
How has the game has changed since the popularity boost, and what we can expect from Minecraft in the future?
We thought that when we moved the price up from 10 to 15 euros, we thought sales would decline by a third. But it was like the opposite -- it went up from four to five thousand sales a day to ten thousand sales a day. It kind of went against everything that I'd be told by other developers.
Do you think there will be a point where you'll think "I'm done, I don't want to do anymore"?
I think so. I'm surprised it didn't happen a long time ago. I suspect I'll eventually get bored of it at some point, but then I'll just hire other people to work on it.
Will Minecraft become a franchise?
I want to work on other games, but I think it would make sense to turn Minecraft into a franchise. I think it's important that there should be a point to any future Minecraft games. So if we make an Xbox version, there should be a point to it being on Xbox.
You've mentioned bringing in outside support for user inquiries/community management in the past. Is there going to happen anytime soon?
Yeah, we've just hired someone actually who starts soon. The most crucial thing is that people who have paid money for the game get the support they need, if for example they need a refund or something.
But do you miss being able to talk to the community intimately?
Yeah, I kinda do. As the community grows, some channels close for me. So like with IRC, I can't go on there anymore because I immediately get like ten messages. I think the way I use Twitter now kind of works. It gives me an average of what people are currently thinking.
I also like the forums -- if there's a really popular topic and lots of people are discussing it. For suggestions, I try not to read them too often, because they can kill my inspiration. But I still read the popular threads.