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Interview: Notch On The Future Of Minecraft

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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John Walker

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One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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