Minecraft To Introduce Subscriptions, Y’know, For Kids

By Alec Meer on March 13th, 2013 at 6:00 pm.

Moo mooooney mooo problems

I think I’m right in saying that we all often worry about how Minecraft could possibly make any money. The poor folks at Mojang must be starving, freezing and wearing each other’s skin as thermal underwear by now. How many more developers must die before Notch comes up with a business model for his absurd, costly vanity project?

But what’s this? Now there is a new way for Minecraft to earn a buck or two. Mojang are planning to introduce Minecraft Realms, a paid monthly subscription service which allows the easy creation of private, controlled servers. The main aim of this is apparently to help parents keep their kids safe when playing Minecraft together online. And for said parents to pay $10-15 a month, of course.

They’re not making any bones about the latter, with Mojang biz-boss Carl Manneh telling GamesIndustry that he reckons Realms will be “Since we have about 10 million paying PC gamers and, soon, as many mobile gamers, there’s definitely potential. And yes, if we look ahead, I do think [Realms will] the biggest source of income in the future, and bring in more money in total than the game itself”. He’s probably not wrong, presuming of course that parents – if that is indeed the main audience – have a clear understanding of what Realms is and how it works. Infamously, a great many parents don’t seem to have a blind clue what their kids are and aren’t doing online and in games, after all.

The idea is also that “Minecraft would become a huge MMO, a really vast universe consisting of very many small worlds. That’s kind of a dream we’ve had for a while.” Realms aren’t planned to big massively multiplayer individually, instead containing just a handful of friends, or perhaps private worlds rented by schools.

Of course this does exist, in a fashion, already, as third-party Minecraft servers already abound. The idea is here is a) making it easier and b) making it profitable. The monthly fee isn’t fixed as yet, with that $10-15 being an estimate, but Realms is in Alpha already, with a beta being targeted for May.

It’s a bit scary, but it’s also fascinating. If any game can resurrect the ailing subscription model, it’s probably Minecraft. Much as I do currently have my doubts about whether this is wisest step for the game, the little building game that could is a big-business trendsetter these days. If this works, publishers will be looking at Mojang with even more open jealousy than they already do.

More on how Realms works and how much money it might make here.

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77 Comments »

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  1. Vinraith says:

    I’m honestly surprised there are enough people still playing Minecraft for this to have any credibility at all. I got my $15 worth out of it, and enjoyed my time with it, but it didn’t really take that long to see everything it had to offer.

    • iucounu says:

      Kids absolutely love it.

      • Vinraith says:

        I guess that makes a measure of sense, it’s basically digital legos. I still think it’s a shame that the survival side of the game never amounted to anything, though.

        • Ich Will says:

          You should try the better than wolves mod, it’s pretty much fixed survival

          • MrLebanon says:

            there’s mods for every kind of playstyle… really..

            I’m 99% sure that real life engineers get together friday nights to play FTB MIndcrack mod

          • MadTinkerer says:

            Then there’s Tekkit Lite, a compilation of mods that adds tons of technology / “magic” stuff to gather, refine, and build. You can make oil refineries, volcano-powered geothermal generators, nuclear power plants (and bombs), factories with assembly lines, actual in-game computers and robots, etc. It will make you neglect porn for weeks on end.

      • LintMan says:

        Yep, all 3 of my kids are minecraft fanatics. I think it’s huge with the 8-14 yr old set. Some of their friends run private internet servers they connect to, and my kids have been begging me to set one up for them. If this Realms thing is mainly a hosting service, it might almost be worth it if it was cheaper.

        The likely other problem, though, is mods. There’s also a pretty vibrant minecraft mod community out there, and my kids would want their server to be running all sorts of mods, and I’m not sure how that would work.

      • goettel says:

        Not only kids.

        Or at least also kids with paychecks.

        I’m still loving running vanilla, hardcore, seeing how far I come before I fuck up. Then start over. It’s all quite autistic, really.

    • Brun says:

      It can be compelling if you really like sandbox games.

      Also, yes. It’s very popular with kids.

    • nekoneko says:

      It’s not really a subscription model as far as I can tell. For the price you get your own (probably small) Minecraft server that you can share with your friends, and the ability to connect to other official Realms servers.

      I’m not sure if I’m right, but that’s what I got out of the tiny bit I’ve seen and read about it.

      • Hmm-Hmm. says:

        That’s also what I understand to be the case. I don’t know how expensive it is to rent a server elsewhere, but the idea seems nice. That is, if you can’t do it via lan.

        • AngoraFish says:

          Having rented a server for the kids for about 12 months, this is definitely in the same ballpark as to what I was paying.

          • Groove says:

            Yeah, I think this sounds great, since only one person needs to pay for all their friends to connect to it. The group I played with rented our own server for a similar amount, and it ran like shit. If this is even remotely smooth then it would be a no brainer.

    • Phendron says:

      It’s a creativity toolset, there is potentially no limit to what it can offer if it grabs you hard enough.

    • Premium User Badge

      Gap Gen says:

      I think if you play with people it’s better; we have a server that is well over a year old. It’s a nice change of pace from a lot of other games, which are more frantic or conflict-based. Plus it’s difficult to nail down what it is that appeals, beyond being a huge sandbox.

    • mistermaddog says:

      It hugely expands with mods. The fun, variation and creativity that comes with them made me play it for years.

    • Shivoa says:

      I’d say my continued enjoyment comes more from exploring a mod or mod pack and seeing where they take the tech tree and added twists on the generated expanses rather than the pure love of building stuff from the blocks in the current game. That said, every patch adds more block types and behaviour to the base game to make new things possible so even without mods there is still new things to try and explore beyond the Lego/infinite world of blocks.

      Because of my focus on mods then there ins’t much incentive for me to rent a server (oh, and as I’m tech savvy, have spare hardware on a passable net connection, and the server is given to anyone who wants to run one then I can just create my own and deal with any of the learning curve of maintaining it) but it definitely seems like an ok service to offer on top of letting people ignore your offering (so as long as they keep the spirit alive and don’t drop support for their standalone server everyone wins).

    • aepervius says:

      I play it on regular basis, between games, patch and so forth. But I do not play vanilla I play it for the mods (BC3+IC2+VOLTZ+EE3 ;) FTW). I am not surprised a lot of kids or even adult play it onr egular basis. There is an enormous depth of gameplay not found in any game on the market.

      • KDR_11k says:

        Isn’t EE3 still so early in development that there’s practically nothing to it yet?

    • Joshua_Anderson says:

      just as Carlos implied I am taken by surprise that a student can get paid $5186 in four weeks on the internet. did you look at this site… http://zapit.nu/312

    • ludde says:

      I still come back to it every so often — partly because it’s updated frequently.

      If you play it like a survival game then I understand that the appeal is limited. If you however enjoy the building aspects then there’s really no end to it. I especially like building and coming up with contraptions.

    • QualityJeverage says:

      As has been mentioned, it’s an utter phenomenon among kids. But even beyond that, I still play it semi-regularly thanks to mods like Tekkit and such. Since I first got it way back in Alpha, it’s never stopped having some presence in my gaming life.

    • running fungus says:

      I’m curious if you played single player or multiplayer. My impression is that those (of us) who played single player eventually tired of it. But the magic is still there. It’s like one of those albums I’m never in the mood to hear unless I catch one track and then I’m off…

      My nephew’s addiction, otoh, never wavers.

    • Dominic White says:

      In addition to selling a metric ton on PC – and it just got a major update earlier today, so it’s hardly abandoned, the 360 version was (and continues to be) the fastest-selling digital release in the history of the platform.

    • Nesetalis says:

      one word: mods.
      The number of amazing mods out there, that heavily change the minecraft experience… make the game still playable after all these years.

    • notevenbotherered says:

      No other game has anything near what this game has to offer, especially if you have the uncynical mind of a child. My nephew was brought into the world of non-violent games by means of building a brick house in minecraft. Anything that can keep that feeling alive for others should be applauded. Clap clap clap

  2. Eddy9000 says:

    Ah why not, I can’t see it being the most useful service but if you don’t want it then don’t pay for it, it’s hardly dishonest profiteering.

    • Chalky says:

      Yeah, this is fine. I mean hell, there are hundreds of people out there offering to rent people private minecraft servers for similar prices it seems like an obvious step for mojang to get in on the action. As everyone knows, you can play and run your own servers free of charge if you have the ability.

      It’d be great to see more games go for this model, to be honest. Offering to host game servers for a subscription, but giving you all the tools you need to host your own if you’re willing to put in the effort. The market is clearly out there for both.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Martel says:

    Personally doesn’t appeal to me, but it’s no different than the 3rd party Minecraft servers, TF2 servers, CS servers, etc. I’ve had my own server hosted at home, but that’s really only feasible for say 2 players, then my internet starts to become an issue.

  4. Lev Astov says:

    That price, like what they are charging for Minecraft now, is ridiculous. $5/mo would buy you plenty of server space for such a Minecraft server.

    I still play and adore Minecraft, however.

    • Kamos says:

      Don’t forget that there is a price for convenience, too. I’d bet that most parents aren’t really interested in running / managing private Minecraft servers.

      • Premium User Badge

        Gap Gen says:

        Yeah, but that kind of thing scales, if you’re using the same setup for every single server you’re running.

        • Kamos says:

          Well, whether the price for convenience is too high is another matter entirely. ;-)

          • Premium User Badge

            Gap Gen says:

            OK, so you’re referring to the value to parents rather than the cost of running the service. I’d still argue that they have more to gain setting the price point lower.

          • Brun says:

            I doubt that. The market for this service, while not trivial, won’t likely be that big. That makes it more of a niche service which means the price goes up.

          • Premium User Badge

            Gap Gen says:

            Well, Mojang is claiming that it’ll make more money than Minecraft itself, so they seem to think it’ll be popular.

    • AngoraFish says:

      In my experience, servers offered at $5 are pretty abysmal, and most require a very high level of knowledge to use server-side. $15 is generally about the level that you can get something actually playable by around six people, that has actual customer service, and offers some ability to run a couple of mods.

      • Premium User Badge

        Gap Gen says:

        Right, I suppose if this is kids playing it might need some decent customer service.

        • AngoraFish says:

          Exactly. Most kids are hardly going to be in a position to fix it themselves if the server crashes, or they stuff up a setting and can’t reset things on their own. That, and in these cases it’s probably non-IT expert dad who’s paying the bills and therefore the one who has to manage the account.

  5. x1501 says:

    It’s good to see that instead of finishing work on that modding API that was supposed to come out a year ago, they’re concentrating their efforts on this far more important and widely requested feature.

    • Arkh says:

      >Notch.
      >Finishing anything.

      Nigga please. Do villagers do something or they are still useless? Notch put some half-finished features in the game and called it 1.0. If we go even back in time and what he originally promised you would see the game is 50% finished.

      • KDR_11k says:

        You can trade with villagers.

      • Premium User Badge

        Gap Gen says:

        It’s pretty good right now. The pre-release snapshot system means that each update is effectively alpha-tested and are generally bug-free (more or less). Villagers now provide trading, and you can build iron farms too, thanks to villagers spawning iron golems to protect villages.

      • Eddy9000 says:

        I think you got lost on the way to 4chan good sir.

    • Premium User Badge

      LTK says:

      While I agree with you that they didn’t fulfill their promise of getting the modding API done, keep in mind this is the CEO they’re speaking to. GamesIndustry.biz reports on Mojang’s business strategy, not their game development, and it’s not necessarily the first thing in the pipeline.

      Though Mojang also isn’t particularly known to adhere to a ‘pipeline’…

      • AngoraFish says:

        Also, Notch is quite up front that he takes virtually no direct interest in Minecraft at all any more. New features and timing are more or less entirely left up to the judgement of his Minecraft team. Notch is one of those rare individuals who actually knows where his strengths lie. He is happy to focus on programming new games, while leaving game maintenance and updates, and running the business, to others.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      Not sure if you’re being ironic or what, but they’ve actually been making steady progress towards making the game more moddable. Instead of giving right away a half-assed API that would completely change in the future because of very much needed major changes, they harmonized the single player and multiplayer (huge boon for the community, since then all minecraft mods are multiplayer), raised the world height cap, split the texture into individual files, started rewriting the lighting, and countless other little changes that will make the game much easier to mod when they actually released the API.

      And they kept adding a lot of content and fixed a lot of bugs along the way. It’s pretty much stellar support from such a small team.

  6. Premium User Badge

    darkChozo says:

    I wonder if they’re going to allow any mod support for these servers. It might actually be worth the price if, say, there was a controlled, easy way of installing and deinstalling common mods without having to muck about in the filesystem. It’d kinda suck if you couldn’t touch the executable at all, though I guess the intended audience wouldn’t be doing so anyway…

  7. wodin says:

    erm….right. Well my daughter loves Minecraft and she has just read this. I’ve told her I can’t afford any subscription games no matter what they are..she is devastated..nice one Notch greedy bastard.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      Not to worry. Every Mincecraft game now launches as a “server”. It’s only a couple of commands to set it up and password it. Then send the password to a friend or two (and your Ip address, I forget how it works right now). Keep an eye on the kids playing, because it’s easy at that age to “accidentally” give out your password to a “friend”, and the wrong people end up on. But you can change the password or send the kids to bed without dinner if that ever happens.

      • Hmm-Hmm. says:

        Yeah, any world can be made multiplayer via lan (the open to lan option).

    • Premium User Badge

      Gap Gen says:

      You could look at running a private server, like people have said. $5 a month is much more reasonable, and I assume the maintenance required is fairly low.

      EDIT: Or indeed run it locally for free, as TechnicalBen suggests.

    • Premium User Badge

      HicRic says:

      You misunderstand, you still get the game at the normal price, they aren’t asking existing customers to pay a subscription to keep playing. They’re just offering a hire-a-server service as many third party companies already do. This doesn’t change your existing Minecraft at all. :)

      • Groove says:

        This is right, this is adding a new feature that they’ll charge for, everything existing will be unaffected.

    • AngoraFish says:

      Pent-up aggression, much?

  8. rakiru says:

    The way you start the article makes it sound as if this is a bad thing to do. Who cares if they start offering server hosting? So what if it’s got a different name and menu? Hosting companies have been offering something similar for years, but as soon as the company behind the game tries to do it, they get flak? I don’t get it. As long as they’re not holding anything back from anyone else (like other companies often do if they offer server hosting), there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.

  9. Mctittles says:

    I’ve always wondered why more games that support dedicated servers don’t also rent server space.

    Another feature that would be nice (and profitable) is having server rental for games (like TF2 etc) integrated into the game so you can just click and buy and it’s all set up for you.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      Hosting servers actually costs money. Requires hard work etc. Also requires a large server farm which developers don’t own. So it’s more cost effective for companies who own the hardware to offer the service I guess.

  10. TechnicalBen says:

    Ok, you can “open to lan” easily and use a port forwarding and Lan to Net third party program to do it (like Hamachi), so not as simple as I assumed. You can though download and setup a server for free if you wish to run it on your PC.

    So I can understand selling the service, as it does require work (some of us are willing to do it :D) . Although a quick Google shows other hosters offering hosting for as little as £3 a month. At £15 you can get a 60 person server! :O

    • AngoraFish says:

      £3 for a crap server with no extensions, no decent server management interface, long periods of downtime and customer service via email by a 17 year old who owns the ‘company’ with some space purchased on a server farm with daddy’s money. Seriously, not sarcasm.

  11. GunnerMcCaffrey says:

    Glad my niece has no lack of geeky grownups around. $15 a month is way more expensive than setting up a truly private server – like, a box and a router in the tool closet – and leaving it on half the week.

    Definitely not an option for everyone, though.

  12. mandrill says:

    “Infamously, a great many parents don’t seem to have a blind clue what their kids are and aren’t doing online and in games, after all.” Really? Is this _still_ true? I highly doubt it personally. I know exactly what my kids are up to online, but I only mention it if it worries me.

    • Everyone says:

      Yes, it is distressingly common that parents who are technology illiterate have no idea what their children are up to online, and worse, many don’t seem to care at all.

  13. nimzy says:

    A whole cottage industry of server hosting companies sprouted up around Minecraft. It must have sounded like a no-brainer for Mojang to sign a contract with one of them and turn around and resell servers to the public. And for many people, this is exactly what they are looking for: an access-controlled, safe, no-frills environment to play Minecraft in. Most of these people don’t have machines powerful enough to host a game for two players, much less three or four.

    The second you want to do something with Minecraft (education, large groups, custom modifications), you need to get a server of your own and learn the nitty-gritty details of Java-powered service hosting. Of course, this comes in varying levels of painless depending on who you decide to host with.

    I’ve got something to fret over though: now that Mojang has canonized an official hosting service, it is distinctly possible that they might begin providing exclusive features to players who choose to utilize their servers.

    • beowolfschaefer says:

      I sincerely hope not and Mojang don’t seem like that in general.

  14. rustybroomhandle says:

    One of the Minecraft servers we host at http://indiesquish.com/ is called Chunk Error – it allows every player to have up to 3 (border-limited) worlds of their own, of which they can control some basic settings and invite whomever they want to build on any of the worlds.

    It’s due for a complete overhaul, but in general it works pretty well. Once the new version is ready I might make the scripts and setup details available so others can run it too.

  15. rustybroomhandle says:

    Also, “resurrect the ailing subscription model” is misleading, since this is more akin to server rental. The payment model for Minecraft stays exactly as is.

  16. Uncompetative says:

    I never had to worry about paedos when I played with LEGO.

    Incidentally, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has just been hailed pope, which is kind of ironic as ‘hailed pope’ is an anagram of ‘paedophile’… creepy, eh?

  17. Innovacious says:

    from the linked article

    When Arnorth suggested that Mojang would need in the region of 100,000 servers to satisfy demand, Daniel Frisk, the company’s chief architect, replied, “Oh, we believe many more than that.

    I REALLY think that they think this is going to be much bigger than it will be. It mentions being aimed at families to be streamlined and only allow mods they can guarantee will be stable. I’m guessing the vast majority of server admins will stick with whatever they are doing right now. Then there are the tons of people out of the 10mil copies sold that just don’t play anymore, the tons of people who probably don’t care about multiplayer and then out of the rest only one person needs to pay to create one of these “realms”. Their friends do not need to pay the sub to join in.

  18. uh20 says:

    it seems my problem with minecraft is that i can make a server and play with friends, and its ok and theres no griefers, but theres hardly anyone online
    unless i manage to find 40 friends, then im practically forced into playing in a open server which has a fsck load of the so called “griefers”.

    the whole thing of obtaining a server for you and your friends is all right, but $15 per person is a little too much moneh.
    i think it would be a little bit better of a policy if you can have an easy server for $15, but you can invite all your friends for free.

    • Fartango says:

      The service they are proposing DOES allow one user to pay a subscription and invite friends for free, if you read the linked article it makes that point clear.

  19. lokijki says:

    I hope the tittle here was an intentional Hudsucker Proxy reference. Because I like that.

  20. aliksy says:

    I think this is the kind of thing I think I would like to see replace traditional MMOs. Instead of one stupidly big and static world, small worlds for you, your friends, and whoever else you allow in.

  21. tkioz says:

    They really phrased this badly… I’ve seen a number of people complaining online already about being “forced to pay a subscription fee!” thinking that they need to pay to play when they’ve already paid for the game… /sigh

    They really should have made it clear that you’re paying for servers not the game.

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