How Minecraft was Born

Someone on the fringes might regard what Markus did as intellectual-property theft. He didn't hide his inspiration. He even called Minecraft a clone. Game developers are more creative than other types of artists. They often find their starting point in an idea they already have, which they then modify and polish.

Markus found a home among the colorful letters and numbers that filled the computer screen. Dwarf Fortress was the game's name and was a popular indie title. Markus downloaded the game to test it and was captivated by the simple text world that was created in front of his eyes.

Markus had been working at Jalbum for a few weeks and his thoughts were racing full speed around the game that he promised to work on. He spent most of his time at his computer, much like when he was younger and used to run home from school with his LEGOs. He searched the Internet for inspiration, but the hard work of coding could only begin once he had decided what kind of game he wanted. His encounter with Dwarf Forttress was the catalyst for Minecraft's conception.

Dwarf Fortress is where the player helps a group of dwarf warriors to build a fortress out of bedrock. The player can control a group of dwarves who can be assigned various tasks, such as cutting down trees, mining ore from a mountain, cooking, making furniture, or protecting the fortress against monsters like evil vampires and giant spiders. The game mechanics are similar in many other strategy games, such as The Sims, which allows the player to manage a household, and FarmVille on Facebook, where the goal is to grow a farm. Dwarf Fortress is a different game than most of the other games in this genre in a few ways.

First, the graphics are very stylized. The Dwarf Fortress world is entirely composed of letters, numbers, symbols, and other symbols that can all be typed on a regular keyboard. A terrifying giant spider is not a 3-D model, but a simple gray letter "S" for minerals. The British pound sign represents the British pound sign. Beds are pale-yellow crosses, meadows are grassy meadows, and trees are green dots, triangles, and so forth. The dwarves are small, smiling faces of various colors. Dwarf Fortress players believe that the simple graphics make it more immersive. After all, what giant spider could be scarier than the one you see? But for beginners, it is a deterrent. It takes a lot of work to understand the information on the screen, and most people who download Dwarf Forttress give up after just a few minutes.

The simple graphics aren't there to scare away the most dedicated players. They allow the game's creator to concentrate on other things. Tarn Adams, Dwarf Fortress's creator, believes that great game play and interesting mechanics are more important than good-looking graphics. This is why he spent many years tweaking Dwarf Forttress's balance and the almost infinite number of situations that can result from the thousands of objects, creatures, or occurrences. It almost seems to have a life of its very own for those who take the time to learn the game's mysteries. Adams spoke out in an interview with The New York Times about his surprise to discover that the carp he had programmed into the game were dangerous monsters with a hunger for dwarf warriors.

"We had written them as carnivorous, roughly the same size as dwarfs, so it just happened. It was amazing."

The popularity of the game-Dwarf Fortress is more than a million times downloaded. Many agree.

Dwarf Fortress, secondly, is a game that is almost entirely open-ended. The game ends when the player dies. This is common in the underground, cruel world of dwarves. The player decides what and how to build it. The game brings together a group of happy dwarves, tools and opportunities and asks the player to have fun. The rest is up the player.

Markus quit his job at Midasplayer because he wanted to do this. Have fun. He was a fan of the indie scene in the gaming industry. Although it was difficult for him to pinpoint what attracted him, he felt at ease there more than he did as a developer at one of the industry's established studios.

He found his favorite online hangout at the TIGSource game forum, a place for indie developers. There Markus (known as Notch) quickly found friends and acquaintances to chat about games. He was drawn to the indie scene's passion for creativity and its emphasis on innovative gaming concepts, rather than elaborate graphics or expensive manuscripts. He loved that each programmer was in control of his own projects.

A person outsider would probably be shocked to see his career at this point. Markus, who dreamed of becoming a game developer from childhood, had the opportunity to work at two of Sweden's most successful games companies. Avalanche created productions that were Hollywood-like, with almost unlimited budgets. Midasplayer was at the forefront of web development and explored vigorously the new possibilities of the internet. Markus hated them both so much he quit. What was it that made Markus feel so bad?

Perhaps it was more than simply getting rid of his boss who dictated what he should do every day. "Indie" means independent. This means that an individual can create a game without the help of a large company. Markus has a slightly different interpretation of the concept. Markus believes that indie is a matter if self-image. It's about creating games that are enjoyable for their own enjoyment, with the goal not to make money, but to create the best possible game.

This is in many ways a more accurate definition. Except for some exceptional exceptions, the gaming industry is not like other creative industries in that the most prominent game designers are rarely recognized for their work in a similar way that musicians and film directors are. After a game's success, it is the studios or publishers that are recognized, and not the individual. Because game development is often a team effort. It's difficult to identify the brains or visionaries behind a project that has hundreds of programmers. A single programmer in the indie scene can create a game on his own and oversee the entire process, from the initial vision to the final implementation. The indie scene is closer to art than systems development and has given each game developer an identity. Markus does not see himself as a Java programmer or graphic artist. Markus sees himself as a game creator, straight and simple. He found that the only place he could do this was indie.

Markus accepted the fact that his monthly income wouldn't come from developing games while he was working in web development for Jalbum. However, it was better to do something else during the day to have the opportunity to invest his weekends and evenings in his own projects. He initially saw Jalbum as his ticket out Midasplayer. He was enjoying it a few weeks later. He had made a friend with Carl Manneh (the CEO). Markus recalls his first impression of Manneh as a typical businessman. Although Markus wasn't interested in business, Manneh's enthusiasm was inspiring. Manneh was young and quick-thinking, and had already started three companies at the age of thirty. The first was a shoelace company, while the second was a central Stockholm recording studio. Jalbum was the third.

Markus said that he managed the company very well. Carl was an entrepreneur with a great head for the business logic of Internet. He understood Markus's desire to create games. He was interested in the projects and offered his thoughts. Carl was a different kind of boss than the Midasplayer bosses. He encouraged Markus and made it possible for him to have the time and opportunity to do what he wanted.

Dwarf Fortress was not the only game that Markus enjoyed at the time. RollerCoaster Tycoon simulates amusement parks and allows the player to build roller coasters. Dungeon Keeper, on the other hand, is a strategy game where the player digs cave passages, populates them with monsters, and creates traps to protect against plunderers and adventurers.

Markus loved the ability to quickly and easily build unique, impressive constructions in RollerCoaster Tycoon. He could spend hours designing intricate roller coasters and wanted to bring that same creativity to his own project. Dungeon Keeper's contribution was primarily about atmosphere. Markus loved the atmosphere of fantasy-style, torch-lit catacombs. Although they are a cliché in the game world, it was still a great environment. Bullfrog's 1997 classic strategy game, Bullfrog, was the only one that captured the thrilling feeling of exploring dark, haunted caves and dungeons. He wanted Dwarf Fortress to convey the same excitement and depth that Tarn Adams's cult-game was so great at conveying. His game would feel more like an adventure to discover and a place to survive in, than a story with pre-made challenges.

Wurm Online was created, of course. It is easy to see the similarities between Minecraft and Markus's game with Rolf Jansson, a few years ago. Both games allow the player to modify the world to their liking. Wurm Online is not like Minecraft in that there are no pre-made tasks or challenges. The player is expected create their own goals or work with others to achieve them.

Markus quit Wurm Online in spring 2007. Rolf had moved from Stockholm, Sweden to Motala several years before, and Markus knew that the major decisions regarding the game's development were increasingly in Rolf’s hands. His Midasplayer job kept Rolf busy.

Rolf was disappointed. Wurm Online had just started to make enough money to pay him a decent salary. It was a devastating blow to Markus when one of the game's founders resigned. He had worked with the friend for more than 3 years. Markus initially had a bad conscience. It was hard to not feel like Markus had abandoned his friend. He retained a small portion of the ownership in the shared business, but he gave the rest to Rolf. He thought it was a band-aid for the sore.

Markus was now glued to the computer, Dwarf Fortress displayed on the screen. Markus was now focusing on the next project, which was about amusement parks, medieval catsacombs, or dwarf warriors. The only thing that was left was to create something new and entertaining.

Markus first sketched a world that could be viewed from above, much like other strategy games. Markus's game would allow for building and exploring in a three-dimensional environment that is more inviting and easier to understand than Dwarf Fortress. The player would still be able to control the action as an omnipotent god using a mouse and not see the world through one's avatar.

This all changed a few days later. Markus was working on his computer after work when he came across an indie game that he hadn’t tried before. It was called Infiniminer. Markus downloaded the game, installed it, and almost fell off his seat. He thought, "Oh my God!" "This is genius."

Infiniminer is similar to Minecraft in that it involves digging and building. Each play generates a square, blocky world. Each block can be taken out of the environment and reassembled into something new. Rare minerals are often found in blocks that are deep below the ground. Others are simply dirt and rock that can be dug up in the hunt for treasure.

Recognize it? It's not surprising. Anyone who has ever played Minecraft will be familiar with Infiniminer's first encounter. It was created by Zachary Barth, an American programmer, and released in late April 2009. This was just weeks before Minecraft was even released. The graphics of the two games are almost identical. There are brown dirt blocks and gray stone as well as orange bubbling lava that flows slowly over the ground.

Infiniminer was originally designed as a multiplayer game where different teams compete to collect the most valuable minerals in the fastest time. To sabotage the progress of competitors, buildings were used. Players discovered that building was much more fun than competing for points, and began to build houses, castles, or other structures. Infiniminer quickly gained a loyal following, including Markus. In the spring 2009, all signs pointed to Zachary Barth’s game being on its path to success. It didn't make it because of a very unhappy turn of events.

The game's source code was leaked to the Internet just a month after Infiniminer had been released. Anyone with enough programming skills could make modifications to the game. Soon, Infiniminer was available for download in countless variations and downloadable copies. Zachary Barth said that the problem was not economic. He had never hoped to make a lot of money from Infiniminer, but that he lost control over how his game was developed. There were small differences between the different versions of Infiniminer that circulated on the Internet. Two players could not be certain that they would be compatible with each other if they had different versions of Infiniminer. Zachary Barth's plans to create a large, living multiplayer community around Infiniminer fell through. American programmer Zachary Barth made the best of it and released Infiniminer as open-source code. He also gave his blessing to the game's developers to continue to develop it as they pleased.

Markus was familiarized with Infiniminer and immediately began to code his own game. Markus changed the perspective from a third-person to a first person view and made the graphics more blocky. This was a departure from the traditional strategy game he had chosen from his models, and a move towards an adventure-oriented set up. Markus sat down in his chair after a few days of frantic programming. He was happy to see the puzzle pieces begin to fit together. When players could see the world through their avatars' eyes, building, digging, and exploring were able to take on a whole new dimension.

Markus uploaded an early version of Minecraft to YouTube in May 2009. It was a half-finished system to generate worlds, and Markus was gleefully playing around in it. But, it gave an idea of how the game might look once it was complete.

"This is an early test of an Infiniminer Clone I'm currently working on. Markus describes the clip as "It will have more resource management, and materials, if ever I get around to finishing it."

Someone on the fringes might regard what Markus did as intellectual-property theft. He didn't hide his inspiration. He even called Minecraft a clone. Game developers are more creative than other types of artists. They often find their starting point in an existing game that they then modify, polish, and work on. All studios, big and small, keep an eye on their competitors and often borrow from their games. Game developers rarely accuse other game developers of plagiarising. Nearly all platform games are based on the mechanics that Nintendo introduced in Super Mario Bros.' 1985 release. Most role-playing games are based on the same structure as The Bard's Tale. Zachary Barth doesn't believe Markus is a thief. He even talks about how he used Team Fortress 2 as well as Motherload, an indie game, to inspire Infiniminer. He's tired of being asked if he feels ripped-off considering the millions of dollars and players Minecraft has attracted.

"The act and process of borrowing ideas is an integral part of the creative process. There are games that were before Infiniminer, and there will be games after Minecraft. Barth says that's how it works.

Markus decided to name his game Minecraft after he had discussed the matter with friends at the TIGSource forum. The name of Minecraft was a combination the words mine (for mining ore in shafts) and craft (for building or creating something). The name is a nod to Blizzard's strategy games Warcraft, StarCraft, as well as the immensely popular online role-playing game World of Warcraft. The original title of the game was Order of the Stone. This was a reference to the Order of the Stick online series, which Markus loved. However, that idea was dropped before the game was released to the general public.

Markus was certain that he was onto something, but convincing the rest of the world of the quality of his game was difficult. It was difficult to explain the many ideas that went into Minecraft without demonstrating them. Markus tried to explain the new project in broad gestures while having coffee with his mom. He described the building, the exploration, the atmosphere, and then explained to his mom how the game would be both accessible and complex. He thought aloud that it might become something great. Perhaps he should take a break from work and concentrate on Minecraft. Ritva smiled slightly. She said it to her son. Maybe he should work only part-time. It wasn't easy to make enough money from game development alone. He had said it before.

Markus's idea was actually all Greek to her. She also remembered the year after highschool, when Markus didn't look for work or study and rarely went outside for days at a stretch. What if he became as obsessed as he was with another project? Something that could be just the same as building LEGOs in elementary school, but that paid him very little? She was worried, but she could see how his eyes lit up when the game was mentioned. He became confident and self-assured.

Elin understood Markus's thoughts better than Markus. Elin was one of the first to test a working Minecraft version. Markus sent it to Elin as soon as it was complete and asked her to start playing. She logged in to the world and launched it. What she got was a tech demo, a world of blocks under a blue sky. Markus's intentions were obvious to her immediately. After a few minutes of digging and building, she was firmly rooted in the game.

She said to her boyfriend, "This is SO much fun!"

Elin became Markus's game tester from that point on. He sent Elin the latest Minecraft version every time he added a feature to Minecraft. Markus would often watch Elin play, and listen intently to her comments. Elin would likely like something he did, and Markus would often watch over Elin while she played, listening intently to her comments.

Markus made some important decisions before Minecraft was released to the public. He wanted to openly document the game's development and keep in constant dialogue with players, his semi-professional colleagues at TIGSource, and anyone else who might be interested. Markus kept his blog updated with information about Minecraft's progress and his thoughts on the future of the game. He invited all those who played the game, to leave comments and suggestions for improvements. He also released updates frequently, as per the Swedish saying "hellre a bra", which means someone who values spontaneity over perfection. He made sure to post any new functions or bug-fixes on his website, asking for feedback from players.

Second, Markus knew right from the beginning that he wanted people to buy Minecraft. He had been thinking about Jakob at Midasplayer, their dream of starting a game studio, and it was natural for him to set a price for Minecraft. It was better to do it quickly.

Although it may not sound controversial, Markus's decision was against the majority of current gaming trends. Many technology prophets believe that the best way to make money online is to charge as little as possible for your products, or even nothing. Most of the money that comes from the Internet, such as Google and Facebook, is mainly generated by ads. Micropayments are a growing trend in the gaming industry. Perhaps the most well-known example is Rovio's Angry Birds, which can be purchased at App Store for one dollar. Another example is Battlefield Heroes, an online game developed by Sweden. It's a variation of the popular game, and players can purchase new equipment and better weapons for just a few dollars each.

Markus ignored all of these things. The alpha phase of Minecraft would have cost about thirteen dollars. This was primarily because Markus was comfortable with the amount. The price would double when the game was complete.

"I released the game early because I wouldn't have been able finish it otherwise. It was the same as charging money. I knew it would never be enough to charge a price tag. Markus says, "So I charged from the beginning."

Anyone trying to find more sophisticated business logic behind the most lucrative gaming phenomenon of the past decade is on a fool’s errand. Markus is known for being disinterested in economics and business. He smiles and shrugs when asked to reveal the secret to Minecraft's incredible financial success. He simply followed his gut and did what was right for him. Markus answered the question "What was the most important lesson he learned from Minecraft's early sales?"

"I understood that an orange splash with the words 'half price' worked really well. That's what I saw on the site in the alpha phase.

Markus uploaded the first playable Minecraft version to the TIGSource indie forum on May 17, 2009. He warned that the alpha version of Minecraft could crash occasionally. Markus' blocky world was immediately explored by other forum writers. There was much digging, building, and discussion. Although the game crashed at times, it was clear that Minecraft was attracting a strange kind of attention to players even at this early stage.

It only took a few minutes for the first reactions. Someone wrote, "Oh hell! That's pretty cool." Another encouraged, "I hope you make something really great out of this, dude. I think it has lots of potential," another wrote. Markus uploaded the game about an hour ago. The first image of a Minecraft building was posted to the forum thread. This is way too much fun. The person who uploaded the image wrote, "I built a bridge." Others added their own constructions. It could be a castle, fortress, or secret treasure chest. Someone claimed that he had tried to build a boat but that the results were too ugly to publish. Another person built a huge phallus but didn't upload an image. He only gave a vivid description of his work: "It was so amazing that Firefox decided to pack that in before I could snap any shot of that mofo."

Markus kept up with the posts with great interest, listening carefully to bug reports and discussing Minecraft’s future with others on this forum. Friends and family will remember how enthusiastic he spoke about the warm reception Minecraft received. TIGSource hosts many games every day, but few of them strike a chord with the audience like Markus's game. A ray of hope appeared in his head. Perhaps he was on the right path this time.

Markus posted his pricing plan in June on his blog. All those who purchased the game were promised free access to all future updates. Although Minecraft's current version is only half-finished, a free copy of Minecraft will still be available. There was a discount for those who purchased Minecraft immediately. The price of the game would go up to $20 when it entered beta-development. The final version would cost $26. Markus opened orders on June 12. He clicked on the sales statistics twenty-four hours later and couldn't believe his eyes. The game was purchased by fifteen people. In less than 24 hours, more $150 had been deposited in his PayPal account.

Jakob and Elin were the two people who noticed the impact early sales successes had upon Markus. Elin recalls how Markus was obsessed with the increasing number of games sold. Although she hesitates to call him nervous, Markus was clearly very focused on the initial reactions to the game. Seven games purchased per day felt unbelievable.

Markus dismissed these sales at first as a passing fad. Markus dismissed these sales at first as a passing fad. But the number of Minecraft discussion threads on the game developer forum grew every day, and an increasing number of people visited them. The sales counter kept ticking up, slowly at first, and then faster. Markus, at home in Sollentuna made a quick calculation. If I can sell more then twenty games per day, that's enough to make me a decent income. Then, I'll quit my job. This is when I know I'm doing it right.