In the absence of top-down initiatives from Mojang, once again the community has done something to fill the gaps. “After MineCon, a project started called the Minecraft Parents Association, and they have a logo and stamp they put on servers that are family-friendly,” says Manneh. But it’s an arrangement that requires parental engagement to work. “For now, if you want to play multiplayer, it’s impossible for us to regulate, because we don’t own the servers. If we, in the future, build our own multiplayer environment, hosted by Mojang, we would probably need some monitoring, especially if we want children playing. We haven’t really figured it out; we’re discussing different options, but in general we try to involve the community.”
Although it reached final release status on November 17 and Bergensten is currently its only developer (he’s soon to be joined by a new recruit), Minecraft’s ongoing development is still a major endeavour. Right now, though, Bergensten isn’t following a longterm road map, working instead on a week-by-week basis. “Of course, I have a few ideas, but the path from idea to implementation is quite short, so that’s why I haven’t really made a plan.” In fact, he hasn’t written out a plan since the beginning of last year, when he and Persson penned a defined idea of the path that would take Minecraft to its 1.0 release.
However, even this contravened the development tenets Persson laid down from the game’s earliest stages, given that he once wrote on its site: “There’s no design doc, but there are two lists: one for bugs, and one for features I want to add but I think I might forget.”
Minecraft lead developer Jens Bergensten
Some elements of last year’s plan, such as friends lists, have dropped out, though, so Bergensten is looking back over what’s been omitted. Loose and informal this approach may be, but don’t confuse flexibility with disorganisation. “They’ve not been around for a very long time, but they understand software development and the processes that go on behind that,” says Paddy Burns, chief technology officer at 4J, the Dundee-based developer handling Minecraft’s Xbox 360 iteration. “They’re very quick to make decisions, and once they’ve made them, they’re very good at sticking with them.”
Also on Minecraft’s menu are significant – if not particularly sexy – improvements, such as changing the file format so that worlds take up less space and load faster, adding language support (translations will be provided by the community), and creating an API for mods. What’s missing is new content in the form of new mobs, animals and block types – which is, of course, the sort of stuff the broader community is constantly clamouring for.
“No matter what I do, there are always people who disagree with my changes,” Bergensten says matter-of-factly. Language support is the most recent point of conflict – the bulk of Minecraft’s current playerbase speaks English natively, and doesn’t see changing the language as important. That’s why the mod API is so vital: it allows the community to more easily build the content that will keep established players engaged, and frees Mojang so that it can look after practical concerns. “Even if we increase the Minecraft team to ten people, we won’t be able to compete with the whole community when it comes to game content,” Bergensten says.
Daniel Kaplan, business lead on Minecraft's mobile and XBLA versions
But while he’s been working on the game since 2010, which means engaging with all of the player feedback, he doesn’t have a set policy for filtering it. “I think that right now I don’t really have a line. Most of the suggestions I get are in the sense that they want more of something – more mobs, more ore, more items – and I don’t find those very important to do at the moment. When I actually do add content features, I do it a little for my own entertainment. I do small things that I would find fun in the game.”
And, rather than new suggestions, he prefers retroactive feedback. “One of the very recent changes was that sheep need grass to grow wool, and then I got emails wondering whether they should only eat tall grass or any kind of grass. Such discussions I find far more interesting than discussions about completely new things.”
If Bergensten sounds confident, it’s more a result of dedication than self assurance. “Actually, I’m not sure if my confidence has improved!” he says. “It’s actually very hard to see what part of the game we should focus on. Minecraft is a sandbox game, so all features are in some way optional, so I can add almost everything, but whatever I add there will be people who are pleased and people who will complain. It’s hard to please everyone.”
Although it’s already approaching two years old, Minecraft’s future is still a blank slate. “Sooner or later, it’ll turn into a maintenance project, I suppose,” Bergensten says, emphasising the even more active role that the mod community is expected to take in a future powered by the forthcoming API. “There’s no real plan for how much we’ll add to the game. I think we’ll continue to for as long as it feels reasonable and as long as there are players interested in more content from us.”