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Interview: Markus Persson On Bringing Achievements to  Minecraft
Interview: Markus Persson On Bringing Achievements to Minecraft
February 25, 2011 | By Mike Rose

February 25, 2011 | By Mike Rose
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More: Console/PC



[Gamasutra talks to Markus 'Notch' Persson about the future of hit online indie title Minecraft, as he explains why achievements are in his plans, and how sales went up after a price rise.]

Gamasutra's UK editor Mike Rose had a chance to visit Mojang headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden last week, and along the way, sat down with Markus Persson, known online as Notch, about the future of his surprise indie smash Minecraft.

The open-world 'sandbox' title, which started as a one-man project, has ended up selling 1.4 million copies to date at anywhere between 10 euros ($13.75) and 15 euros ($20.60), and this has allowed Mojang to hire people and expand its vision for the blocky hit.

By way of introduction, Persson told Gamasutra that he's really excited about the mods being created by the community for Minecraft, which runs in a browser as well as as downloadable PC, Mac, and Linux versions.

In fact, the Swedish native hope that one day the Minecraft modding scene will be as popular as Half Life 2 mods, and that people will approach him in the future with ideas for commercial mods for Minecraft.

Ideas for mods? Persson himself would like to work on a Capture the Flag-style game set in the Minecraft world, and said that it would be "the best idea ever" to build on the game's retro-style framework, citing Team Fortress Classic as an angle he'd like to approach the idea from.

Along the way, Gamasutra also had a chance to ask Persson a number of additional questions about the smash title, which is nominated for awards in both the Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Choice Awards at this year's Game Developers Conference, which kicks off in San Francisco next week:

Will you ever host your own servers [to play Minecraft collaboratively with others]? Right now third parties host their own servers.

MP: We might. I mean, if we controlled the servers, then we could give out badges and things like that.

So you're thinking of adding achievements?

Yeah, I like achievements. I know a lot of people don't, but I like them. I've had the idea to make achievements kind of like the in-game questing. So you'd be able to see the first achievement in a tree of achievements, and you have to unlock the top ones first before you can unlock the ones further down.

So the first one might be to chop down a tree, or kill a chicken, and then these branch into more things you can do. Hopefully it would encourage people to try new areas.

So what would happen when you finish an achievement tree?

Well, it could converge into a big task, like kill a dragon or something, which would put a kind of narrative into the achievement tree.

Are you worried that when you put a tutorial or narrative into the game, then it will make new players think 'this is the way I'm meant to play the game', rather than finding their own playing style as happens now?

Yeah definitely. I'd want these achievements to feel like things that you can try, rather than these are things you have to do. People can follow them, but only if they want to.

How has the game has changed since the popularity boost, and what we can expect from Minecraft in the future?

We thought that when we moved the price up from 10 to 15 euros, we thought sales would decline by a third. But it was like the opposite -- it went up from four to five thousand sales a day to ten thousand sales a day. It kind of went against everything that I'd be told by other developers.

Do you think there will be a point where you'll think "I'm done, I don't want to do anymore"?

I think so. I'm surprised it didn't happen a long time ago. I suspect I'll eventually get bored of it at some point, but then I'll just hire other people to work on it.

Will Minecraft become a franchise?

I want to work on other games, but I think it would make sense to turn Minecraft into a franchise. I think it's important that there should be a point to any future Minecraft games. So if we make an Xbox version, there should be a point to it being on Xbox.

You've mentioned bringing in outside support for user inquiries/community management in the past. Is there going to happen anytime soon?

Yeah, we've just hired someone actually who starts soon. The most crucial thing is that people who have paid money for the game get the support they need, if for example they need a refund or something.

But do you miss being able to talk to the community intimately?

Yeah, I kinda do. As the community grows, some channels close for me. So like with IRC, I can't go on there anymore because I immediately get like ten messages. I think the way I use Twitter now kind of works. It gives me an average of what people are currently thinking.

I also like the forums -- if there's a really popular topic and lots of people are discussing it. For suggestions, I try not to read them too often, because they can kill my inspiration. But I still read the popular threads.


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Comments


Sebastian Bularca
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That man is almost more naive than me. I love his way of being. A happy man.



I also love his sincerity. No producer/manager bs, even if it may hurt his "sales" on a such a complex, intricate and professional market .



I still wonder why the word consumer makes me feel like some sort of a zombie...

Helder Pinto
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Well, he's a programmer not a manager or a producer! :) He needs to leave that kind of work for others.

William Ravaine
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Judging from his success, it would seem "others" are not required at all.

Mark Venturelli
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I believe that adding "achievements" and "badges" to Minecraft is a travesty. The fact that Notch did not provide a better reason than just "I like them" just gives me the impression that he does not clearly understands what made MC so compelling in the first place.

Sebastian Bularca
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I don't think anyone really, really understood. If anyone really did, from now on we might see some really awesome games on the market (no offence intended).

Luke Mazza
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I disagree. I know numerous players that feel like they've simply run out of things to do in Minecraft. After you've found and crafted every item there is in the game, and built a few impressive structures, there isn't much to see or do that feels exciting anymore. Obviously this isn't true for every player. Some are content to just build more and more in the game, but for others I think things like achievements and/or a basic story could draw them back.

John Grumbles
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I think he could make "achievements" exciting if there was an element of randomness to the them. That way the game would stick to the whole "I'm entering a new world again!" type feel whenever you play.

Nate Logan
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I have to say I kind of agree with Mark here. Even something as simple as adding an achievement track to Minecraft could completely change the mindset the game lures you into.



We have plenty of games that give players a finite series of challenges to complete and a concrete definition of success. I always felt that much of Minecraft's magic is that you feel like you define success for yourself (or as a group, if you're playing with friends.)



Achievements could completely change the way Minecraft comes across.

Jeff Stolt
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I think it could change the way Minecraft is played, but it doesn't have to do that.



For example, there is no reason why Achievements would need to be available or obvious from the first moment someone starts playing the game. It could be an optional setting, or it turns on after an optional tutorial, or maybe it simply turns on after a set period of time.



Granted, if you're the type of person who is compelled do achievements, then you'll have a hard time ignoring them. But at this point, I've played the game enough that Achievements would be welcome.

Zachary Hoefler
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I found this line particularly intriguing: "For suggestions, I try not to read them too often, because they can kill my inspiration."



Why would suggestions kill inspiration rather than bolster it?

Martain Chandler
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Information overload. After reading about 10-20 (mostly badly written) suggestions you get to the point where you have trouble separating the really good suggestions from the average ones. Then, next, you begin to second guess your own private plans for improvements. It's like swimming in syrup.

R G
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I think achievements/trophies/badges wouldn't be a necessarily good OR bad decision. Yeah, it does give some players a checklist of things they can do but....the sense of discovery and what you can do is one of the things the game is about. If you don't care about the badges or awards....then it's not going to change anything. It's simply that: A representation that you did *insert task here*. Doesn't change the game at all.



@Jeffrey

Minecraft's success is from it being an original, fun to play game. It makes headlines because of that fact and the level of creativity that users have demonstrated, similar to the Forge mode in Halo 3 and Halo: Reach. I see where you are coming from though.

Bart Stewart
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I'm working on an article that, as part of making a larger point, discusses what gives Minecraft its unique appeal. But the quick version is that where most of today's games are designed with a strong Achiever element, and few games have anything at all of interest to Explorers, Minecraft flips that around completely.



Specifically, Minecraft's design highlights two playstyles: Explorers and Killers (or, as I prefer to call them, Manipulators). No other game I can think of has Minecraft's combination of exploratory and survival play, where the cerebral fun of discovery and creativity are tightly connected to the visceral pleasure of potentially being blown up at any moment by a rogue creeper.



There just aren't any games like that, and darned few games that cater to Explorers at all. So the initial community has been mostly people who like crafting and walking for miles just to see what's over the next hill. These gamers have virtually no other game that understands and respects their preferred playstyle and rewards it with actual gameplay content. IMO, Minecraft has been successful (thus far) to the degree that Explorer-types have heard that there's finally a game for them, and their voices (thus far) have been the ones that Notch has heard.



That is likely to change completely with the addition of achievements and other features of the highly directed, concrete, "here are the rules, here's what to do next" variety as exist in the great majority of today's games. As more Achiever-oriented features are added, more Achievers will come to the game, and they'll come to the game with their own expectations of the kinds of features it should have... and, quite naturally, those features won't be about exploration and discovery and puzzle-solving and creativity and surprise. They will be about clearly-defined quests, and weapon stats, and competing for high-end loot drops, and PvP, and rules for leveling up that control what you can and can't do in the game.



This has happened with other games. Star Wars Galaxies started off not unlike Minecraft as an open-world, "find your own adventure" kind of game. But the more Achievers who played it, the more the developers heard only the Achiever "this game is broken without more loot and guided quests!" voices, eventually turning that game into something so utterly different that its initial community of fans and players felt abandoned and left the game.



This is not to say that the preference for achievement is "bad," or that Minecraft can't tolerate the addition of any features that Achievers can enjoy without crashing like SWG. Some judicious inclusion of certain Achieverish features might help the game be more fun for more kinds of gamers without too radically changing the nature of the game and its primary player demographic.



But it's a fine line to walk. It's always easier to add concrete features for Achievers and Manipulators than the sorts of abstract features preferred by Explorers and Socializers. So it will be disappointing but not surprising if Minecraft changes over time into a conventional "kill it and take its stuff" game.



We'll see.

R G
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Well said Bart. I believe there was an Opinion piece a while back about Explorers and how there was a sort of meta-game to find everything....



Anyway, I agree. I don't think Minecraft will fall into the pit that SWG did because, by its nature, Minecraft is an exploration game, right down to what you make. You have to explore every avenue, and not just the enviroment but also how to build things.



Again, very well written. Always interesting to read your comments.

Tim Tavernier
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Actually, games were used to be made for Explorers. The good Ultima's, the first Zelda's, Final Fantasy's and what not just dropped you in an overworld and said "well...yeah, there's some evil out there...go look for it!". The 2D Super Mario's had tons of stuff to explore and discover.



I remember fondly my obsession to shovel every section of the overworld in Link's Awakening. Did it progress the game? No. There was nothing put in the game were shoveling was needed to collect something to progress in the game. Modern games would force you to shovel stuff to progress.



The reason Minecraft works is because it's indeed the complete opposite of modern games. Everything is an option in MineCraft and that's whats missing from Modern gaming. Modern games don't have options like that, it's always linked to the designer's vision or game progress even if it is a terrible terrible idea (hello planet scanning in ME2, hello you have to finish every sub-area in DA:O, hello you have to use the ice-suit in this level of Super Mario Galaxy).



Game designers have the bad habit to put in "options" in games but always link it to the game's "goal" (aka, their "creative vision"). That's actually bad game-design.

Alan Jack
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The achievement idea is genius - it combats the issue of new players feeling lost and overwhelmed but without them being constrained into tutorials or quests, and it gives end-game players something else to hit for.



I don't see why people are against the idea.

R G
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And what happens when those new players complete that checklist?



They're back at square one.

Dragos Inoan
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Given the nature of the game, it's almost infinitely extensible. So it's really no problem adding new stuff that is tailored for new content.

R G
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Again, I don't see adding these things as a good or bad thing. It's just there....but it's not needed. Instead of telling players "Hey, accomplish this and that" why not just let them be free? Maybe reward them for spending time in the game, but not necessarily for doing specific things.

Tyler Glaiel
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achievements should only be unlocked from crafting some sort of "achievement checklist", there now it's completely optional.



perhaps call it a "scavenger hunt" and it comes with 10 random achievements to unlock, when complete it becomes a diamond block or a new rare building material.

Bart Stewart
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Addendum#1: Tim Tavernier's point that early computer games (the generation after the coin-op arcade games) tended to be Explorer-friendly is a good one. Early computer gamers were more geekish and not representative of Western society generally. As gaming has gone mainstream, gamers now more closely resemble the mainstream population. So it follows that games have changed to meet the changing expectations of gamers. Seen in this light, Minecraft's exploration element is not so much something new as it is (in its current beta state, anyway) a love letter to the early days of computer gaming when the majority of gamers actually enjoyed discovering things for themselves.



Addendum #2: Jonathan Gourlay makes the important point (in "Fear and Gaming: Being and Nothingness and 'Minecraft'" at http://bygonebureau.com/2011/02/18/being-and-nothingness/ ) that in Minecraft -- unlike in most of today's games -- the reason why people ride pigs is to have ridden a pig. It's not to score an achievement, or to complete a quest for some other reward, or to earn experience points toward leveling up in order to get better at riding pigs -- it's simply for the pleasure in and of itself of riding a pig.



This is the (relatively) very old argument in game design over whether what really matters is reaching a specific destination, or the experience of the journey itself. Most gamers and game developers now take it as axiomatic that players must be provided with tangible rewards for in-game actions. But Minecraft appeals (so far) to that minority of the gamer population who've always felt that in-game actions ought to be designed to be fun in themselves so that external rewards aren't necessary. For these gamers, just being able to ride a pig is cool enough -- the experience of that journey is its own reward.



Especially if the pig decides to wander into a river of lava, setting both pig and rider ablaze as happened to my 12-year-old niece. That experience has become a story that we tell each other and friends... so how would being given an achievement checkmark for "rode a pig" improve that experience?

Tim Tavernier
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Good insights if somewhat not historical correct, but not everyone knows anything. the "Geeks" didn't define post 1983 videogaming, children and their parents did. The NES was something that only kids played on, but also their parents, not much different as the Wii does(did) now.



The argument of what is more important, the specific destination (defined by the designer) or the journey to it (defined by the player's actions) shouldn't be an argument to begin with. Videogames are games, the only thing that matters is the player's actions (which later become "stories" as a form of communication). The destination should be simple. Save the princess said SMB...if you destroy all the blocks in all the levels or not to get there...sure go right ahead.



That said, do not put Minecraft as some kind of trowback to ye olden days, it isn't (if you didn't mean that, sorry, it just kinda looked that way). It just seems that way because most of Modern game-designers don't know what games should be, so modern games miss a lot of good stuff that videogames in the olden days did had. I blame the transition from 2D to 3D for this because it multiplied the technical difficulty to just make...something enormously. it's not all bad of course, the racing and FPS genre benefited greatly from the transition.


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