Interview: Notch On The Future Of Minecraft

By John Walker on March 8th, 2011 at 1:54 pm.

Notch, surrounded by the luxurious Mojang offices.

In the last of our Mojang splurge for now, comes a revealing discussion of what comes next for our favourite blocky digging game. While visiting Mojang’s headquarters, I took the opportunity to ask Markus ‘Notch’ Persson about his future plans for Minecraft, as well as some more immediate plans for Scrolls.

Below you can find out why Notch thinks Minecraft will sell more copies in 2011 than 2010, what it’s like to have some money, plans for quests in Minecraft and the villages of NPCs who could dispense them, and how a survival mode might work. Oh, and also why Notch doesn’t think he’ll be the one to develop Minecraft 2.

RPS: Do you plan to continue releasing games in the same way as you have with Minecraft, putting out the alphas for people to play?

Markus Persson: For Scrolls it’s not as good of a match because you need a lot of content before it’s even fun to play. But for the next game which I will be the main developer for, I think I’ll try to do it a similar way. Because then you get immediate feedback if it’s a fun game.

RPS: How do you manage that feedback?

Markus Persson: When I started out it was just emails and IRC. But it grew and became unmanageable. Especially email – it doesn’t scale well. I skim through the titles of emails to see if there are common problems, big things occurring. And I really like going into communities and seeing the threads. If there’s a big popular thread I’ll read it to see what people think, because then I’ll get the condensed version of it. Twitter is really great too – I check the recent mentions of me, and if there’s a lot of, “We need beds,” then people probably need beds.

RPS: Bearing in mind your current sales, and a plan to have the game go gold later this year, do you think Minecraft is going to be the first game to sell fewer copies after it’s released than before?

Markus Persson: Yeah, I think it might be! Part of the draw to buy the game is that it’s being constantly updated. So you’re buying what the game is now, and what it’s going to be. We’re going to do a release, mostly to satisfy my urge to actually have finished something, and so reporters know when the game was released. There’s been a lot of discussion when we were nominated for rewards – the game wasn’t started in 2010, and wasn’t released in 2010! Having a release date is a good thing. We’re going to keep updating it, releasing expansion packs for as long as people buy it.

RPS: Will 2010 prove to have been the biggest year for Minecraft?

Markus Persson: I think there’s going to be more interesting content for the game in 2011, but I think the huge growth in 2010 will be really difficult to replicate. The game grew by many, many thousand percent in 2010. We won’t see that in 2011! But in terms of sales, it will probably be more.

RPS: Did you have any idea of the success you’d have?

Markus Persson: No! I thought it would work for half a year, and perhaps fund the game and the next one, and then keep doing that as my day job. But it hit a nerve I guess, and had a really nice viral effect. There’s now, like, half a million YouTube videos of it.

RPS: What’s it like to be an indie game developer who is suddenly a rich man?

Markus Persson: The part that’s most fun is the realisation that I can keep doing this for the rest of my life. In day-to-day life, well, when I was about 26 my salary became more than my expenses, so I didn’t have to choose, ‘Do I want to buy this game console?’ Because my hobbies were so cheap anyway. I could save up and spend it all on a crazy computer, or a trip. So I have basically the same life as before. I’m slowly starting to get used to flying business class, things like that. But it wasn’t like, “Oh shit, I’m rich! I’m going to buy a horse.”

RPS: when Minecraft comes out, will it be feature complete? Will it be the game you were setting out to make?

Markus Persson: It’s going to be very close to the game I originally wanted it to be. We’ve thought of new stuff as we’ve gone, but those are things that can be expansions. For me, personally, I think it will be the game I wanted to do.

RPS: You talked about wanting an adventure mode. Is that something you want to have done by release?

Markus Persson: It’s a bit difficult to add a proper narrative in a randomly generated world. So we’re thinking about achievements and quests. The first thing would be opening the inventory – ding! – wow, you’ve opened the inventory. And it then gets more complicated, and branches out into different things to do, like having separate paths. And then perhaps have it all converge at the end, to kill the dragon, or something. That’s going to be something that drives things forward.

The difficult part from a story perspective – it’s very fun when the game feels like it has some kind of a conflict in it. Like, you’re on this island because this happened, and to fix it you have to do that. I’m not sure how to present that yet. I don’t want to have huge text for people to read. And I can’t really do a CG movie – that would be a thousand times larger than the game. I’ve been putting off figuring that out.

RPS: So how would you give missions in Minecraft?

Markus Persson: I’m not sure. Having it based in achievements gives it some meta-gameplay. I also have this really silly idea of the mob villages, with a parody of MMO quests. A quest board, maybe with a picture of a pork chop and it says “four”. Right, so I have to get four pork chops. I think that could work if you made it silly enough. You don’t have to do it to progress, but if I do it I get a diamond. Then you would get tiny mini-quests, and you could get more favour with the town.

RPS: Villages would be quite a dynamic shift from the loneliness of the rest of the game.

The NPCs would definitely feel alien by design. They wouldn’t feel like players. When you first see it, it would look like a town. But then you’d realise they’re just walking around randomly. It would be weird, creepy. Villagers like in JRPGs who stand there and say only one line, except these would pathfind around randomly. I got that disconnect in Oblivion. After a lot of gameplay, it started to feel very creepy. “Okay – I’m feeling very lonely here.”

RPS: Is this something that will be in the game when it’s complete?

Markus Persson: I think it might be pushed up to an expansion. It could get added before, if I suddenly realise how to make it.

RPS: You’ve also talked about a survival mode.

Markus Persson: I have some vague plans, like when you start you get to choose the level of realism, and perhaps the difficulty. Food right now feels a bit wrong. You can’t stack it, and it heals instantly. So instead we could have a food bar. I really love the food bar in Dungeon Master. It went down really slowly, and you got this really satisfying GULP when you ate. I think when you’re in the highest ten percent you can regenerate health, and if you’re in the lower ten percent you start losing health. Then people who really care about their health have to keep it high, but people who don’t really get hurt don’t have to eat as often. I don’t know if that’s going to be fun, as it’s fairly easy to make lots of food right now.

RPS: Regarding Scrolls, CCGs can be perceived as being a bit difficult to get into. How will you welcome in outsiders?

Markus Persson: There are two sides to that. They’re inherently multiplayer, which is a huge scary step to take for most people. And the other part is it’s a bit nerdy and complicated. You have to understand the rules. To fix the first problem we’re going to have a single player game. But that’s not going to be in the first version, because we’re going to start with the nerdiest parts. The hardcore multiplayer stuff, and get people who are early adopters into that.

The other problem I don’t think we can fix. Games like this are inherently nerdy. We should just run with it.

RPS: Have you played a lot of CCGs?

Markus Persson: I had a Pokemon Gameboy Color game, which was a card game – I really liked that one. And I played Magic a lot – I played it once, then I quit it, then I played it again. I used to play crazy amounts of Magic: The Gathering Online, before the new client. Especially the 8th edition draft.

RPS: What are you going to do that’s different?

Markus Persson: The card collecting is going to be very similar to other games. But the game itself is a board strategy game – you don’t see that very much. The only random part is which cards you get, and from that you can understand what’s going to happen on the board – the strategy gets really complicated. It’s more about the board game, which gets fed from the cards you play. It’s an interesting mix.

RPS: People were probably expecting you to surf on the Minecraft theme. Why did you step so far away? Was it because you wanted to make this idea you’d had?

Markus Persson: Partly that. And partly because I want to work for a company that makes new games. I don’t want to get stuck making Minecraft 2 and 3. It might make sense for the company – I understand that – and we can get other people to make Minecraft 2. But I personally want to make new games. It’s more interesting.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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40 Comments »

  1. Afro says:

    After all this talk I´m definitely buying a horse when I get rich.

    • 12kill4 says:

      horses arent THAT expensive… buy a Bigdog instead!

    • Afro says:

      The BigDog is cool, but lines like; “Get on my BigDog” or “I got a BigDog outside” sounds kinda dirty and strange compared to the regular classics.

  2. crainey92 says:

    Notch is a legend and so is Mojang, I follow them wherever they go and whilst I’m not really a fan of CCG’s if they make their own unique version I may be intersted.
    It’s now time for Mojang to prove itself, well they have massive success with Minecraft alone or will they continue to put out epic and unique games that go down in gaming history? only time will tell.

    • Tyshalle says:

      I suspect that they’ll continue to put out unique games, but I kind of doubt they’re going to be able to recreate the success of Minecraft. It’s nothing against them, you just never see that kind of success with indie developers, and expecting lightning to strike in the same place twice seems kind of a lot to ask for.

      That said, I do think that they’re smart enough to fill a niche that they’ll be able to capitalize on and keep their company afloat and successful on. I’m not really looking forward to the CCG, but the other ideas from the other articles sound interesting.

  3. Zogtee says:

    I’m not sure about villages with NPC’s that are my “equals” in the game. It just doesn’t feel right to me. A race of primitive people would feel more appropriate. Some could be friendly, some neutral, some hostile, some frightened, etc.

    I always think of my character in Minecraft as a guy from Earth who has crashed his spaceship on an alien planet and is now trying to survive. This could make for a suitable endgame, btw. You craft or repair your ship and leave the world behind…

    • 12kill4 says:

      or build a beacon so your fellow earthmen can colonize the new world you’ve established (i.e. transition the SP world into a MP world).

    • 3lbFlax says:

      I like this craft-your-escape idea a lot, but without scaling difficulty I don’t know how well it’d work, and I don’t see scaling difficulty working very well with Minecraft.

      I guess you could make certain components naturally hazardous, perhaps only spawning under lava or being dropped by dangerous creatures, but… I don’t know, I doubt I’d ever bother building the craft. There’d need to be a substantial reward – maybe new features with each successful escape? Yeah. that’d probably do it, but eventually it’d have to end, and what I love most about Minecraft is its resolute lack of end.

      That’s Minecraft; it means something different to every player, and it succeeds because it can do that. And in my case, with the appeal it holds for me, I worry that any attempt to impose a structure other than my own on the game will have a detrimental effect. I don’t want to be able to win – if anything, I want to be able to lose. Give the the option to have my world erased if I die (I can’t be trusted to do it myself) and every time I go to bed alive it’ll be a sweet triumph. Give me a dragon to defeat in order to win the game and I’ll just avoid it, or build a cage for it and then throw the key into a lake of lava.

    • realityflaw says:

      There was talk of big scary boss type monsters, perhaps those could be used to craft the endgame “win” condition, in general making you leave your world that you’ve spent dozens or hundreds of hours crafting is a bad idea, maybe you could become the king or unlock god mode or something.

    • Urthman says:

      I’m pretty sure that whatever Notch does, a big chunk of people will want something different and some of them will make mods that satisfy that desire.

      At this point, Notch can still give us some awesome new stuff, but I think his ability to ruin the game is pretty limited, especially if he keeps his promise of releasing the source when he’s done working on it.

    • Zogtee says:

      The build-your-ship-and-make-your-escape idea would technically work pretty much like a dragon end boss. You wouldn’t have to fix or re-build your ship any more than you would have to kill the dragon. Choosing to stay and build things like a madman forever fits my marooned spaceman scenario just fine. But *if* we’re getting an endgame at some point, then the spaceship is the one that appeals to me personally. A dragon is too clichè for me.

    • nuronv says:

      I agree the NPCs should not be on par with the player, it will just feel odd. My suggestion would be to roll with something similar to the pigmen that are already in the nether. That level of being that doesn’t appear to be on the same evolutionary level.
      I also like the idea of the end goal being perhaps opening a transport to somewhere else be it a rocket or portal, perhaps this could actually be down to the player! If the player collects quest items whatever the quest items are placed in to becomes the transport.
      The quests themselves should be tasks built around the games core gameplay. Tribes of pigmys that want to dance to your music blocks. Treasure maps that require you to dig things up. Patterns in ruined temples that need to be completed with rare blocks.

  4. 12kill4 says:

    A nerd after my own heart.

  5. pakoito says:

    He has the same TCG experience as I do. I may have played (not bought) a couple more game but the M:TG timelapse we played it’s the same, and it was one of the best moments of it.

  6. clownst0pper says:

    The more I hear from him the more I think Minecraft was a complete fluke. Every new idea I’ve ever heard him talk about not only sounds predictable, but entirely unoriginal.

    I love MC, but I don’t believe he’s as a creative genius as people like to make out. Maybe I’m just cynical.

    • Xocrates says:

      There is very little difference between being original and being the first to do something.

      It doesn’t really matter if people had similar ideas before, he was the one that brought them all together in coherent quality package.

    • Urael says:

      To borrow from Trek lore, perhaps Notch just “caught lightning in a bottle”. I imagine it would be very difficult to do that twice. The only developer I can think of right now who demonstrated a clear ability to do profound things on a regular basis were Looking Glass, but if their games didn’t sell very well can they really be said to have “caught lightning” at all?

      The word genius has been horribly over-used, to the point where it’s in danger of losing it’s original meaning. I prefer to think of him being in the right place at the right time. Serendipity allowed Minecraft to blossom, but I do love his attitude and the way he’s handling his newfound power.

    • Urthman says:

      Notch’s main creative genius was looking at Infiniminer and realizing that a subjective cubic meter was perfect for procedurally generating landscapes and dungeons using current hardware, and then being able to implement that so well.

      Has anyone else come close to generating procedural 3D dungeons as good as Minecraft’s? Or even landscapes? I know there’s been a lot more work on procedural outdoor environments, but I haven’t seen anything but videos of tech demos.

      He’s made a lot of other good design decisions.

      I’m not sure how much of the wood/stone/iron/coal tech tree Notch borrowed from Infiniminer, but that whole thing is implemented really well. The dark=danger, light=safety dynamic is brilliant. And of course creepers.

    • Pointless Puppies says:

      That’s the feeling that I’m getting, and I really don’t want to come off as one of those idiot haters who are just jealous that an indie dev got this much success.

      I love Minecraft, but I really don’t think Notch knows why people love it. Every time he talks about something he wants to add I wrinkle my nose and think “Really? THAT’S the direction he wants to take it in?” Quests? Towns? NPC’s? Endgame goals? Those are so pedestrian. Why Notch thinks it would add to the game is beyond me.

      He keeps saying he’s getting very close to getting the Minecraft he wanted to make, and yet all his major additions sound completely against what I loved about it in the first place. This tells me two things: either he doesn’t know what direction to take the game from this point (which means he’s lying, which I doubt. He sounds like a nice enough guy and I doubt he’d lie), or the success and unique appeal of Minecraft was simply accidental. I sure as hell wouldn’t have loved Minecraft if it had been a game with NPCs, endgame goals, towns, quests, and narrative, and yet that’s the direction he’s taking it and he keeps saying this was his intention since the beginning.

    • BurningPet says:

      i believe that notch actually saw this:
      http://www.flickr.com/photos/tigsource/2224777118/ (note when that “photo” was taken).
      aswell as infiniminer.

      dwarf fortress 3D worlds are more advanced than minecraft.

    • Xocrates says:

      @Pointless Puppies: I very much doubt he isn’t aware of why Minecraft is so popular, but he also seems to be very much aware that the pointlessness of it turns a lot of people off. Heck the lack of a tutorial is a terrible design decision no matter how you look at it (unless you’re an elitist who thinks that games should only be enjoyed by the hardcore that are willing to work for their fun) and he mentions how the achievement system would give some guidance without requiring a lot of handholding.

      Honestly, I’ll wait an see. Most of the ideas seem either work in progress and/or speculation, so I see no reason to start complaining about them until there is something concrete.

    • Dominic White says:

      Seriously, much as the hardcore may dig their heels in at the idea of tutorials and goal-oriented gameplay, I’ve been walking through hell trying to get my non-gamer girlfriend into this. I basically have to teach her every little detail, and she doesn’t have the intuition from a decade+ of PC gaming to know what does what and how/why/where.

      Occasional non-hostile settlements, a gentle walkthrough mode and maybe some overarching (optional) goals aren’t going to destroy Minecraft. Well, not if you’re a reasonable, sane human being.

    • bastronaut says:

      @BurningPet I think Dwarf Fortress is a huge success just waiting to happen.

      If there was a one-click install for Dwarf Fortress including a dynamic 3D visualizer, an in-game tutorial and a sliding scale of difficulty, Dwarf Fortress would go viral, too. I tried it out, but the default config is just not right for casual play. Minecraft is easy to pick up once you learn the basics (which usually means watching a YouTube video or scanning the Minecraft wiki).

      If Dwarf Fortress scaled smoothly from casual to hardcore, it would be very successful. Those guys should seriously consider finding some funding, a user interaction specialist, and a web designer and taking it to the next level.

  7. skinlo says:

    I fear apart from Minecraft, the games he wants to play aren’t the games I want to play.

    • Clean3d says:

      Same. Minecraft was a breath of fresh air for me – I was really hoping Mojang would build its identity on that aspect instead of trying to build games in well established genres.

    • bastronaut says:

      I think the thing to remember is that Minecraft isn’t necessarily a total fluke. It represents the potential for fun without requiring a multi-million dollar budget.

      Maybe the Minecraft ethos was the last frontier of fun that hasn’t been exploited by big game companies, but I highly doubt it.

      The sucess of Minecraft (as a home-grown indie game) may not be exceeded for a long time, but it says that people are willing to go out on a limb, that a game doesn’t have to cost $50 to be worthwhile, and that sometimes, simplicity is the thing. Also, sandboxes rule.

      There are plenty of lessons to learn from Notch’s approach to design, marketing and sales. As with all great things, it’s the total package, not any particular thing.

      I think the card game will do well, because I think the model Notch has chosen for customer relations will ensure that those interested will help make it a better game. It’s still a game, though.

      Minecraft is game-like, but it’s open-ended. It’s a lo-fi simulator. The only rules are the rules of the simulation. There are a million YouTube videos because the simulation means an unlimited number of crazy possibilities, while the smooth, gradual learning curve means there is no obstacle to discovering crazy things except time. There is no wrong way to play Minecraft, and I think a lot of people like having a game (toy) like that. Not everyone, and not always. The card game won’t have that going for it, but maybe it will just attract a lot of people who like card games.

  8. Wulf says:

    Scrolls is sounding a little like the new Gamma World approach.

  9. Urael says:

    Having only just jumped into Minecraft at Christmas there I have to say I’m looking forward very much to seeing how the game develops, both towards release and afterwards when it gets expanded. I can see myself inhabiting this amazing world for a good long while to come.

    And fuck me, that Castle is amazing!

  10. Oneironaut says:

    The Pokemon Trading Card game on Gameboy was my first trading card video game. I loved it, but haven’t really found anything I could get interested in since then, so I am looking forward to seeing how Scrolls comes out.

  11. WebFusion says:

    The truth is….all those additional features for MC would be unnecessary – IF he would jsut finish the game, make it (and his auth servers) stable, and build a strong API for Bukkit to plug into.

    THEN…..all the features/modding in the world could be generated by the community through plugins, etc.

    Frankly. I’d be happy if he locked the current features down, and just got rid of all the bugs/stability issues. Do that, and give us the API you promised, and you can make all the silly card games you want.

    • Pointless Puppies says:

      Exactly. I’d be perfectly happy if all the issues would be ironed out and the game released in a final state as it stands. Everything he plans on adding to me feels between unnecessary and downright detrimental to the current game. Better to just release the game as it is now and make the whole quest/goal/achievement junkola part of a separate expansion.

    • Cryect says:

      It be nice if there was a good API just so people didn’t have to use Bukkit or Modloader. And considering Bukkit’s API is constantly nonbackwards compatible, I sure hope Mojang won’t focus too hard them.
      At the moment I’m pretty fine actually with the Mod Creator Pack, which has allowed me to do everything I’ve wanted for my adventure style mod.
      http://www.youtube.com/user/Cryect2?feature=mhsn

    • Tei says:

      The MCP is one of the coolest mods of Minecraft. Too bad, like all other mods, has to start from scratch from every update. I stopped modding because of that.

      Your interpolation camera thingie is awesome. Consider doing a mod that bind F4 to moving the camera around the Gargamel map. This can be usefull, as some people can make bases in Gargamel, and using such mod show to others how difer/match other ideas about how to fill Gargamel.

  12. realityflaw says:

    Yes, this game needs more settings at world creation. I would love to play a DiD mode, diablo hardcore style, and just see how far I can go, even just a locked difficulty would improve my enjoyment.

    Sure I could decide to delete the world after I die, but hitting that delete key is really hard even if I’ve only been building for 5 or 10 hours, and I lack self discipline.

  13. banski83 says:

    I’d like more nasty mobs really. The worlds need more life in them. Not necessarily quests (eg “kill 10 creepers”), or anything RPG-like, but more of a reason to be constructing a home, somewhere to defend. Give me some grizzly bears to defend against, or something!

    Tribes of primitive NPC’s would be cool too, maybe if you could trade with them as well. It’d be nice stumbling across huts and tents.

    And also the ability to set the respawn point as a bed would be good.

  14. Jolly Teaparty says:

    Scrolls tentatively sounds like PoxNora.

  15. sakmidrai says:

    Never played Minecraft. Not sure if I ever will.
    Im happy for the succes of an indie dev though.
    I hope they come up with some great ideas.

  16. bastronaut says:

    Dungeon Master was my favourite game ever, in terms of how much fun I had playing it. Nothing has ever quite matched it, although I do love Minecraft. The bit-map text and some UI is definitely insipired by Dungeon Master, and to hear Notch praise it is really cool.