January 26, 2012 6:00 AM | John Polson
Daniel Kaplan was recruited by Mojang to work on business development. An indie developer who had gotten suckered into being a CEO of his previous company "because none of the other guys were interested," he learned how to do business and PR before moving to Mojang.
Now, he's in charge of development of the mobile (iOS and Android) and Xbox Live Arcade versions of Minecraft, which stand distinct from the continuously-updated PC version. Kaplan recently revealed that the Android edition has sold 700,000 copies.
"It's mostly project management, but I also do some of the design work," says Kaplan, who collaborates with programmer Aron Nieminen on the mobile versions.
"We co-designed the mobile platform, so we try to nail out what will fit best for the mobile platform and we do the design work together."
Things are different with the Xbox version, which is being developed by 4J Studios in Dundee, Scotland. Kaplan interfaces with the developer as well as Microsoft. "Everything goes through me, and I say yes or no, or 'We should do this instead.' So it's a lot about being available to the different developers," he says.
The one thing that holds true for both of these versions of Minecraft despite any differences they may have from the original PC version is that "we want to work on smaller games, where we can have the developers working on the games being as close to the consumers as possible, and to the game as possible."
Even of these versions, Kaplan's goal is to maintain Mojang's signature -- "the community can be a part of the game development rather than just sitting in the backseat and looking at what we're doing," he says.
Examining Minecraft: Pocket Edition
While many players expected the iOS/Android Pocket Edition to be a faithful replication of the original PC Minecraft, Kaplan sees it as "a branch out from the initial PC thinking."
"It will be its own game, eventually. I mean, we're just getting started; this is the first version we will be releasing, and it will evolve in another way," Kaplan says. "I think that it will take some time, but in the end it will be a different kind of branch, but it will still be the core Minecraft experience."
He points to the fact that he retained the FPS perspective for the game "because that is what Minecraft is, even though I knew that the controls would suck" on a touch screen.
Still, he thinks that gamers who expect the same thing they get on PC need to think about things a bit differently. "If I buy Street Fighter on the iPhone, I don't think that it will have the same kind of stuff that Street Fighter has on the Xbox 360, because it wouldn't be possible," he says. The same is true of Minecraft: Pocket Edition.
"It'll be really weird to try to chase the PC version, because we will never be able to do that."
"That is not what we're trying to achieve. It's a different platform, and you have to adapt the game to the different platform, and that is what we're trying to do," he says.
He and Nieminen "try to take consideration that you're playing on a mobile phone, and try to figure out the timing aspects of how much you actually have time to play on a mobile phone, and all that stuff."
"We want that the player should be able to feel that they have achieved something when they start up the game... that is something we're going to try to figure out on the mobile version, like try to optimize it for the platform, basically."
They're also "trying to explore how it could be integrated into Twitter and Facebook and YouTube. But we haven't nailed out everything yet, but that is something we definitely want to do."
He also recognizes that while there's audience overlap, each platform probably has, to an extent, its own audience.
"I think that we can attract more users by trying to do different stuff, rather than doing exactly the same on other platforms, because it wouldn't be possible, either. So it's an experiment, and it takes a lot of iterations to figure what is the right path to go, I think."
Moving Minecraft to Xbox Live Arcade
The Xbox Live Arcade edition of the game is due in the second quarter of 2012.
It, too, will be different from the PC version -- not least because the team was forced to start work from an older version of the game than is now in general release on PC. But that's also due to the different nature of the platforms, Kaplan jokes.
"The Xbox has different release cycles, so it's much harder to release something as buggy as Minecraft was, or is," he says, laughing.
"But we will eventually update it, the Xbox version, and put in new features, just like with Minecraft PC version."
This may mean that Mojang pushes the limits of what Microsoft allows in terms of updates and patches to its games. "I hope so. I definitely hope so," says Kaplan. "Because it is something that we want to do, and we are having discussions every week with Microsoft about how to nail it out and do it in the best way."
"I think it's better for the players because they will get new content all the time, and I think that happier players will stay with your product for a longer time. And that is how we developed Minecraft, and that is how we think or believe that our new games will be released, too."
The Xbox Live Arcade version of the game will be more stable and more forgiving than the PC version -- due to audience expectations, he says.
Since Xbox 360 players can't have the wiki open in another window, as PC players can -- something which Kaplan thinks is instrumental in the success of the game, but which won't work on consoles -- the 360 version will have to help players learn to play on their own.
"You don't expect it to crash, as Minecraft does; you don't expect it to be as buggy as Minecraft is, sometimes... We will have more in-game help, more Achievements, trying to inspire you to do different things. Minecraft, on the PC version, on the other hand, doesn't tell you anything."
[This story was originally published on Gamasutra, written by Christian Nutt.]