As Minecraft takes its 25 millionth registered account, we present our profile of the company behind it, which appeared in E237.
On a dark, drizzly December morning in Stockholm, 12 of Mojang’s 13 staff members are hard at work in its Åsögatan studio on the many projects they’re juggling nowadays. Jens Bergensten, who’s now lead developer of Minecraft, is figuring out the best way to build an API for game mods. Business developer Daniel Kaplan is finalising the roadmap for the release of the Xbox 360 version of Minecraft with Microsoft, while Aron Nieminen adds survival elements to the mobile versions of the game, including pigs and a day/night cycle.
Jakob Porser, Mojang’s co-founder and the lead on Scrolls, the studio’s second game, is working on the interface for building its decks of cards. With him are Daniel Frisk, who’s developing logic in Scrolls’ engine for the actions when cards are played, and Mattis Grahm and Henrik Pettersson, who are working on animations and graphics for new characters.
Fellow artist Markus ‘Junkboy’ Toivonen is working on Web graphics for the first game to be published by Mojang: Cobalt, Oxeye’s 2D multiplayer platformer. It’s due to launch in public alpha today. Tobias Mollstam has been working all hours trying to unify Minecraft accounts with a general Mojang one to allow the game to release, Patrick Geuder is considering how to manage traffic flow between Cobalt’s site and Mojang accounts, and Leonard Axelsson is at work on fraud prevention.
Carl Manneh, as seen on the cover of a Swedish business magazine published as we visit
Meanwhile, Mojang’s CEO, Carl Manneh, is with an interior decorator, who’s helping him plan the company’s new studio – an ex-tobacco factory that will accommodate new staff he’s been recruiting. The concept is a British gentleman’s club, so think Chesterfields, pool tables and whisky. And Mojang’s now-legendary creative lead and founder, Markus ‘Notch’ Persson? He’s taking time off to recharge his creative batteries. He’s doing this by playing Skyward Sword and making a Christmas game for himself entitled Santa Vs Cthulhu, a tribute to UFO: Enemy Unknown and Dune II that he kickstarted in an overnight programming binge. He’s also decided to participate in the Ludum Dare 48-hour game creation jam, which begins tomorrow, making a 2D rendition of Minecraft called Minicraft. He will livestream the entire process.
Mojang is about a year old. It’s difficult to mark the specific date it really began, because although it was founded by Persson in May 2009 as Mojang Specifications, coinciding with the release of Minecraft’s initial alpha, it wasn’t until mid-October 2010 that he signed the papers that would establish the company. And it wasn’t until the following month that the team had a studio. It’s difficult to understand how such a small band of people have fitted so much into the time. Not only has the team developed games, but it’s also established one of the largest gaming communities in the world, organised November’s MineCon in Las Vegas, and been fighting a legal case with Bethesda over Scrolls’ name.
The street on which Mojang's studio is currently situated
The company’s pattern of a quick launch – Minecraft itself went from nothing to alpha release in a matter of days – and then constant incremental development based on community feedback is now an indelible part of its culture. Formed from a blend of indie liberalism and keen Valve-style business pragmatism for the online age, it’s served spectacularly well, using the very act of making a game to fund and promote it. Minecraft now counts 18 million registered accounts – just today it sold 9,510 copies at £16.95 each, and thus generated £161,195 in revenue. While hardly the only example of the model in gaming – or software development in general – Mojang’s fusion of production with marketing is now an exemplar in the game industry, a vision of the future. As such, this small bunch of Swedish indies with an unabatedly casual and yet intensely committed attitude to their work has the world paying tribute. Over the past year, Mojang has fielded 150 venture capital proposals. Last spring, it was being approached daily by the largest investors in the world, including, in Persson’s words, “a rather spontaneous rich guy” on March 29. It turned out to be Napster’s founder and Facebook’s first investor, Sean Parker, who whisked Persson off by private jet to a party in London for the night.
“Strangely, I’m more excited by the fact that the oscilloscope I ordered last week finally arrived,” Persson wrote the next day, perfectly encapsulating his company’s cultural attitude to all the attention. But that also disguises some of the incredible pressure success has laid on Mojang’s shoulders. “We’re still getting business proposals from the gaming industry and any other industries on a daily basis,” Manneh tells us. “It’s one of the hardest things we have to handle. We have so many opportunities, so it’s about prioritising them.”