Not every game can enjoy quite the same path as Minecraft, of course, but as Manneh says, Mojang would still ‘prefer’ not to release games in a completed state. Cobalt is being released in an alpha state and is thus lacking a level editor, singleplayer and co-op campaign, and online multiplayer. These will be added as it reaches beta and final release.
Scrolls is a different case, though. Its nature as a competitive online collectible-card strategy game with purchasable extra content forces a greater level of completion before it reaches its alpha in a few months’ time. “There are tons of graphics that need to be done to be able to play it,” says Manneh. “But as soon as we have something that’s playable, we want to release it.” And even then, careful balancing and the fact that players will be buying scrolls – it’s hard to revert purchases if they end up not working as intended – means that its initial alpha release will be closed.
Cobalt, Mojang's first published game, developed by Oxeye Game Studio
“That’s a blessing and a curse – I mean, it’s really fun to get an audience to look at the game, but obviously it’s also a lot scarier,” says Scrolls’ lead, Porser, who started prototyping the game a year ago. The game came as something of a surprise as the second title from the company that made Minecraft – it’s certainly been getting a rough ride from the swaths of the community that simply wanted Minecraft II. So it’s hardly unexpected that Porser, while cheerful, is defensive about its prospects: “A lot of people have been asking whether this is the ‘difficult second album’, and in a sense it is, but at the same time we have to be real about this. I – we – don’t expect Scrolls to be the big smashing hit that Minecraft is. I think it would be a little too optimistic to think that over time it will be a huge success like Minecraft, but we have to stay true to the product we believe in.”
“I’d assume we won’t see millions of YouTube videos with Scrolls, because the users don’t have the same freedom of expression,” Manneh says. “It’s more like watching chess, so smart moves rather than creations. I think we need to find other mechanisms to build it up, and community involvement is going to be key again.”
There’s the word ‘community’ again. Though much of it has rallied around the innumerable Minecraft videos on YouTube, it’s also been built up by constant communication with Mojang. Which is to say, the cult of Notch (the first definition of ‘notch’ on Urban Dictionary is “another word for Jesus”). Manneh estimates the team broadcasts around 100 messages a day via Twitter (Persson has by far the greatest number of followers at over 525,000), its blog, personal blogs, on Reddit and Tumblr and so on. Openness is Mojang’s counter to fans disappointed that Bergensten is developing language support instead of new mobs, and angry at the presence of bugs in Minecraft’s final release. If it can explain its actions, then, for Manneh, fans will be more likely to accept them. “For companies that don’t communicate as transparently as we do, I think it’s harder,” he suggests. “We have a constant dialogue instead of formal messages coming out that can be misinterpreted. In our way, we can be more nuanced in our language because in the next sentence we can always explain if it was misinterpreted.”
Mojang on-stage at Minecon
November’s MineCon was the opening of a new dimension of community involvement, too, costing fans $99 per ticket. Its two days of presentations and game showcases were put together by Manneh; Minecraft Chick, a well-known community member and now staff member; and her friend; plus event organiser Meeting Expectations. “It was, er, quite stressful!” says Manneh, who spent several months planning the show, having never worked on anything like it before. “It was really fun and very stressful,” Bergensten agrees. “I’m not used to so many people wanting to talk to me.” He even had fans running at him for autographs. “I feel bad when I have to let people down, but on the third day people interrupted us when we were eating breakfast, and I had to tell them to please wait until later.”
Persson introduced the idea of MineCon on Twitter, a public musing that quickly became a reality through the weight of public enthusiasm. “That’s usually how it works – Notch tweets and I have to do it,” Manneh laughs. “We had talked about it before, but it really comes to reality when 200,000 people vote on it and we publicly say it’s going to happen. Then it’s up to me to make it happen.”