Markus ‘Notch’ Persson Talks Minecraft

By John Walker on November 23rd, 2010 at 5:50 pm.

Let us in! It's cold!

As Minecraft fever still possesses the internet, we grabbed creator Markus “Notch” Persson to ask him about the experience of going from hopeful indie developer to ruler of the gaming universe. What’s it been like to go through all those changes that accompany success? He tells us what difference (or lack of a difference) money has made, the experience of starting a company, and plans for in-game video recording. And why he’s not ready to retire just yet.

RPS: Before you started on Minecraft, you’d quit a fulltime job to work as an indie developer. That must have been a terrifying decision – what inspired you to make that change?

Markus Persson: I was working for king.com, making smaller Flash games. When I started my job there, we were just eight people, and managing my side projects (game development competitions and hobby programming) wasn’t a problem. As the company grew to almost 100 people, stricter policies meant I kind of had to choose between staying there or doing my own thing. I started working for jalbum.net and started working on Minecraft. I dropped down to part time after just a couple of months, and on June 1, I quit it totally to focus on Minecraft.

RPS: What lessons did you take with you from having worked on Wurm?

Persson: I learned that striving for photo realism is hard work and probably not worth it unless your game relies a lot on atmosphere. I think the art style of Wurm works great for the pace in the game, but for something quicker like Minecraft, you can really get away with more iconic abstract art.

RPS: Clearly you saw a lot of potential in Minecraft, but presumably you hadn’t envisaged the scale of its popularity. Where had you seen the project going?

Persson: When I started work on Minecraft, I expected it to be about 6-12 months of work, and that it might hopefully earn enough money to fund development of the next game, whatever that would be. I never expected it to do this well, and I’m trying to learn as much as I can from the success. I do think there’s a small amount of luck and timing involved, though.

RPS: It’s been extraordinary to watch. It must be remarkable to have lived. We vicariously sneak a peak at how many copies you’ve sold, and then imagine the castles we’d buy. Can you describe your own reaction to the success of the project? How has your life changed?

Persson: The biggest step was probably once it started making enough money to make a comfortable salary. It felt really nice to have made something on my own that I could live off. It kept growing after that, though, so I got a bit cautious and just stuck all the money in the bank. Other than starting up a self-funded company with a couple of friends, my life hasn’t changed much. I still live in a suburb just outside of Stockholm, I still don’t own a dishwasher, and I still spend my free time playing games. I have a nicer watch now, though, and I get to eat at fancier restaurants.

RPS: You’ve recently found an office. And we understand that you’ve been recruiting staff. How has this process been?

Persson: As I’m writing this, it’s actually our third day in the office. It’s not fancy, but it’s got lots of charm, and I think we can really make this place feel great once we paint the walls and replace the carpet flooring. For recruitment, I talked a bit about us looking for help on the blog, and we got many hundred emails. We looked through them as closely as we could, and managed to find two people willing to move to Stockholm who are perfect for the job. Early next year, we’ll be six people; three programmers, one artist, one business developer and a CEO. We’re going to need more people soon, though…

RPS: Are you nervous about starting a company? Is there not a part of you that considered buying a yacht or flying back and forth to Hawaii for the rest of your life?

Persson: I’m too young to retire, I’m much more interested in being able to work with talented people, making games in a small team where everyone’s will can shine through. I’m trying to save up money though, so I’d be able to retire in the future if I ever should feel the need in like ten years or so. I was more nervous about starting the company before we signed the great people we’ve got on board now.

RPS: As your player-base has increased, and the community has grown, it must be increasingly difficult to introduce changes without there being a great deal of noise. Are you taking any steps to avoid letting this influence your decisions, or are you embracing this democratic imposition?

Persson: I try not to worry too much about it, and I think the players have gotten used to me making fairly large changes to the game. There’s always been a certain element of not wanting to remove the parts that people enjoy, however, which is the reason Minecraft Classic (the free-to-play creative mode only version) is still around. The game itself is fairly forgiving, too, so if there’s a new feature some people don’t enjoy, they can usually just ignore that feature and they will never notice it.

RPS: With success of course comes negativity too. How do you handle the criticisms you’ve received?

Persson: If it’s openly hostile, I just ignore it. I’ve gotten much better at not getting upset by it. If it’s a legitimate complaint, I try to think about the reason, and see if I agree. Often I do. I try not to apologize for every single missed deadline or new bug in the code, but instead focus on the positive parts.

RPS: Talking of changes, the Halloween update has mixed things up. What do you see as being the new elements that will most affect how Survival Mode will play?

Persson: The Halloween update meant a bunch of changes to the code, which was great. I hope to make the game much more about exploration, and that will require interesting areas to explore, and some way to travel there faster. Hopefully the portals and the Nether can fill both those roles.

RPS: Do you have a particular place you’d like to see Survival Mode have reached by the time you reach a 1.0 build of the game?

Persson: I definitely want the modding support to be in place, and I’d like to see some competitive multiplayer modes like Capture the Pig or Team Furnace. I’d also like to have some kind of narrative built into the game so people know what’s (supposed to be) driving their character. You can ignore that narrative, of course, but at least it should help get people started in the game.

RPS: You’ve mentioned an interest in building an end-game. Do you have any idea how that will eventually work?

Persson: No, heh… Hmm… I probably should think about that.

RPS: What’s surprised you the most about how people have approached the game?

Persson: The number of videos on YouTube is pretty stunning. There are more movies about Minecraft than about Quake on there, and trying to understand why is very interesting. It’s probably related to people wanting to show off what they do. It would be really interesting to add in-game video recording capabilities.

RPS: Thanks for your timecraft.

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69 Comments »

  1. Brian Manahan says:

    I want to know why he hasn’t added a plethora of hat-crafting features to his game. Give the people what they want! RPS is afraid to ask the tough questions. Poor interview.

  2. Zombie Pig says:

    Oink?

  3. Conor says:

    “Than you for your timecraft.”
    Very punny.

    Jolly interesting read, interesting to know about the origins of t’game and some ideas for it’s future.
    I would never have guessed that it was basically a holdover project. Good stuff.

  4. Berzee says:

    “Thanks for your timecraft.”
    Thimecraft.

    I look forward to the narrative tremendously. :) I hope it affects the game a bit and is not just some words on a title screen.

  5. CMaster says:

    So far, the nether is a complete failure in terms of exploration. 2 block types, one of which is constantly having massive holes blown in it by Ghasts does not make for interesting exploration.

    • Urthman says:

      I think he doesn’t mean “explore the Nether” but rather “use the Nether to quickly jump to a completely different biome that would take forever to get to the regular way.”

      It’s not much fun as a destination yet (although gathering sulfur blocks is a pretty difficult challenge, even on peaceful mode), but it’s a great way to dump yourself into a completely new part of the world. I’ve had some awesome moments where a portal has dropped me in the middle of a huge cave, sprawling darkness in all directions — it’s quite different from inching your way into a cavern with a nice safe trail of torches at your back.

    • DestinedCruz says:

      It’s also not very useful for fast travel either. I have four portals, all a long long distance away from each other, and they all lead to the exact same place in the nether. Plus, that one portal is surrounded by lava.

    • Clovis says:

      Yeah, I recently ran as far as I could in the nether and ploppd down a gate. I brought no tools with me, so basically it was like creating a new world but in “hardcore” mode. If I died, I’d have no idea where I was, especially since navigating the Nether is difficult. I can’t keep track of where I’m headed. Who knows, maybe I’d stumble on my old fort one day.

      Anyway, after living in my new world for awhile and surviving some close, heart-pounding adventures, I decided to go home by using my compass. Nothing better than a long trek home! So I headed off, climbed a mountain …. and I was basically home!! I must have walked in circles in the Nether! Suddenly discovering that my far off camp was just a short boat ride away from my spawn was quite the revelation.

    • Urthman says:

      It’s also not very useful for fast travel either. I have four portals, all a long long distance away from each other, and they all lead to the exact same place in the nether.

      Yeah, it’s nearly impossible to use it to create a travel system between existing places, it’s mostly useful for launching out on a new settlement while being able to revisit your existing one.

      Also, what would be “a long long distance” in most games is a tiny little sliver of the possible world in Minecraft.

  6. Simon Dufour says:

    I’d have prefered a “what’s planned into MineCraft” than a “talk about your success”. It might be just me.

  7. Urthman says:

    I’d like to see someone ask him what it’s like to have tons of people proclaiming “BEST GAME EVAR” about something that you thought was just a rough draft of your final intentions. Is he worried that his final vision for the game may end up being not as good as what he’s got right now?

    And has there ever been a game before that people were modding and adding features to while it was still in development? There’s no way he can keep up with all the features dozens (scores? hundreds?) of modders are already adding. Is he worried about mods undermining or pre-emptively creating something he was planning to do? It’s one thing for the Oblivion modding community to transform the game into lots of other things after it’s been released, but it would’ve been really weird for fans to be re-balancing the combat and leveling and making new content before the original game was even finished.

  8. JazzFlight says:

    Yeah, I love Minecraft as much as the next person, but I definitely see a need for an official in-game mod enabler. I love the official support for texture packs that was recently added. It lets me alternate between painterly and whatever else I might want to try out.

    However, I use a few different mods that need to be re-applied every time there’s an update. Ambient Occlusion, Simple Map, and one great mod called Hoverboat (I think) that makes boats into flying carpets. Not having to re-install each of these every time would be handy.

    • Kid A says:

      I’m fairly sure he’s gone on record on his blog that he’s against mods that change/add anything to the game. Texture packs are cool with him, but that’s about it. He’s already asked (more politely than most devs would, to be fair) the maker of a minimap mod to cease and desist.

    • CMaster says:

      He’s not against mods that add behaviour to the game.
      He’s against mods that alter the core client code and are made by reverse engineering – which is, sadly, almost all of them at the moment. Hence why he wants to add proper mod support.

    • Mistabashi says:

      Actually that’s not true – what he is against is modders re-distributing his code. The guy who made the minimap / AO mod spoke to Notch about it and uses a patcher to distribute it now instead of distributing the whole modified Minecraft.jar so there’s no problem.

      Unfortunately Notch made a rather confusing blog post about it, plus a load of people on the Minecraft forums seemed intent to stir-up trouble that never existed.

    • CMaster says:

      @Mitsubashi – On his twitter, he said (about a different mod) that he couldn’t approve of that kind of thing either.

    • Tei says:

      Asking if you can mod minecraft to notch, is like asking the father of your girlfriend if you can have sex with his daughter.
      Also It open to the option to get a “No, you cant f*** my daughter”. Time to walk out of the house, and never ever meet your girfriend again :(

      You are going to have sex with your girlfriend anyway. His father may hate the idea, but is not his call.
      Notch may love or hate some mods, but is not his bussines if people make and distribute things (gray area or not) and he can’t stop it more that he can stop warez (black area).

      Is even more ridiculous because he has to make the distinction server mods vs client mods, because minecraft can’t survive on the net withouth decent mods for admin’ds, banning, disabling some feature (like fire or tnt), etc.. some servers runs as much as 26 mods, lol.

    • Dominic White says:

      Notch has specifically said that he’s working on an official mod API and plugin system. He isn’t against mods – he just don’t want people hacking his game to pieces before there’s even basic mod support implemented.

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      This is why Tei is my favourite.

  9. believeinurselfok says:

    backlash already? not even mount and blade got this much ire. just give it time folks. what we have is already good!

  10. Navagon says:

    One of the downsides of the game being so popular in alpha is that it will only take one change too many and a lot of the things people have built become nothing more than a collection of screenshots, videos and memories.

    That said, I think that Notch should just press on and make the best possible game he can. It’s an alpha after all. People should know the risks.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Carra says:

    If they keep updating it this looks like a game that I’ll get out and play once every half year :)

  12. Tei says:

    I wanted the interview to ask him about his Elk pet, and his big astronomica data.
    Wait.. that wasy tycho brahe.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tycho_Brahe

    @Notch:
    New target on life: be more awesome than Tycho Brahe.

    I think you will look back, and lament the day you decided to work for a living with the fortune you made with minecraft. Seriusly. Life is a fanstastic adventure (for rich people), full of pretty womens (for rich people) and fanstatic food… (for rich people) … and soo on.
    Suggestion: don’t talk about your future game to the minecraft people. People is jealous. Also, we all love you for some reason :-D

  13. Sic says:

    My interest in Minecraft has started to falter, it’s not because I’m tired of it, or that I dislike the newer changes, but because I want to do what I can do in single player with my friends on my server.

    Single player is still excellent, but after playing the game with a handful of my closest friends, and crossing our fingers for the inevitable multi player update for what seems like forever, it just feels wrong to go back to single player. Just the thought of full survival mode on a server is too brilliant to comprehend. Whenever I fire up single player right now, all I do is go around thinking: “Wow, this would be so awesome if [friend1] and [friend2] were here; we could have done [x] and [y] and [problem] would have been solved in the most awesomest way.”

    The long and the short of it: Notch, pretty please with sugar on top, work on multi player! I’m begging you!

    • Wilson says:

      @Sic – I’m kind of waiting for multiplayer to be fully working with friends at the moment as well. But more than that, I think the game needs more dangerous enemies. It needs foes who will attack your base. Obviously this might be hard, and definitely hard to do well given that players can build a huge range of constructions. But until something like that is in, there’s just not much danger after you have a nice house and some decent equipment. Creative mode is still fun though, that just needs an option to let players add in blocks of their own creation so people can make more detailed/varied things.

    • Sic says:

      Indeed. Some sort of difficulty settings must be implemented for multi player to make any sense. Preferably with oodles of variables.

    • Premium User Badge

      JB says:

      I know where you’re coming from Sic. It’s still a lot of fun in both single and multi for the time being though.

      Also: http://notch.tumblr.com/

      “So.. Update tomorrow, with working SMP health, including fighting monsters and other players.”

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Check his DevBlog. Multiplayer Survival is being worked on right now. I’m itching to start a private Survival server myself, but knowing that Notch is actually working on it helps.

  14. nine says:

    sneak a peak

  15. Crescend says:

    Keep up the good work Notch :)

  16. Premium User Badge

    thesundaybest says:

    Nice interview with Notch here (audio):

    http://5by5.tv/pipeline/30

  17. NArwhaly says:

    IN GAME VIDEO CAPTURE WOULD BE THE BOMB!!!!!!!!!!

  18. HeavyStorm says:

    I believe that Notch should add objectives to the game, like, a bunch of gems or something that the user has to search and find. Maybe a prize or endgame when that happens.

    Of course, there could be increasingly difficult objectives and who knows, maybe something like Achievements, so that it will give motivation to some players.

    Not to say that it’s actually needed, since the game stands on its own as a sandbox.

  19. BAReFOOt says:

    Uuum, Notch… Quake was before YouTube times. There are tons of tons of Quake videos of all kinds on the net. From epic 30 minute trick jumping and speed running ones, to tutorials, funny weekly shows, and small clips, etc. And none of them are on YouTube, except when re-uploaded years later. There are file archives though. I recommend checking them out. :)
    (The works of Shaolin Productions and the Quake Done Quicker series are highly recommended.)

    • Fenris says:

      This. Quake was unfortunately before youtube. I almost cried when my old HD died with all the demos it had. Lots and lots of clanwars with my old QW Teamfortress clan, Vallasherra, who had fantastic players like Paralyzer from DMs Team Nine, etc.
      Demo of an amazing team game with some of the best players from europe vs UK that me and a friend organized(and played in .. :), players from Cute, Vallasherra, eLD, Spicegirls(uk, yeah.), EQ, etc.
      Ack.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Some of those really need redoing from the demo files to allow for modern bandwidth. It’s criminal that Quake Done Quicker (With a Vengage) only appears to be on the tubes in a ridiculously murky encoding. You can’t even read the level times.

  20. Assaf says:

    while i really enjoyed minecraft at the beginning, after a marathon weekend when i finished my greatly-beloved base i got tired of it and stopped playing the game altogether. there just isn’t much to do imo.
    i love exploring, but knowing i will only encounter the same old things makes me unmotivated to play the game. there is no surprise. of course that encountering amazing spots in the world is still pretty nice, but come on, it’s just a different formation of rock\dirt\lava\water.
    so i decided i shouldn’t play it for a long time – wait until there are a BUNCH of changes to game, to make it more interesting, and then i could play it with fun.
    i hope these will come asap.

    • Tei says:

      “i love exploring, but knowing i will only encounter the same old things makes me unmotivated to play the game”

      I think ruins, npc cities, underground lakes + dragons may make people like you interested in the game again.

      The problem with random generators, is that you get to a point that you feel you have see everything that the gen can create. With minecraft is a lot of time, because is a very good mapgen, but the point still exist.

      Maybe the game should look and play more like a medieval fantasy themed procedural game. Probably biomes are a step in the right direction…. may able biome sensitive mobs and structures (like the Castle of Ice on a frozen land, with polar bears and skyzo skimos).

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      Looking forward to content like this as well, or something similar at least. Perhaps also random events that happen in-game that you can choose to take part in or ignore. The trouble with Minecraft is most of us spend more time thinking of what to add to the game, instead of playing it!

  21. Skusey says:

    No “Persson talks about Minecraft” jokes? Sadface.

  22. sinister agent says:

    Someone should tell him that as soon as I am in a position where I can actually play this for the first time, having bought it and wanted to play it just as it was about to explode over the internet, everyone will suddenly lose interest, forever.

  23. Malagate says:

    I like the fact he doesn’t have a dishwasher, it just gives me the image of a normal guy who’s so paranoid with his new found wealth that he daren’t spend it lest it be gone. Good move actually, usually those who are suddenly wealthy will quickly become not-wealthy again because they go a bit mad with cash.

    It also makes me want to get him a dishwasher for christmas, but I spent all my money already :-(

    • Boldoran says:

      No I feel bad for having a dishwasher even though I have way less money than him. Makes me feel decadent.

  24. Minecraft Skins says:

    good stuff :) I love MC. if you need any skins, check out the site!

  25. Navagon says:

    We don’t want your forking shoes!