Alpha geek Markus Persson
Click on the rest of the thumbnails to see some of the amazing things designed by Minecraft players.
Illustration: Physical Fiction
Big publishers like EA and Activision have teams of hundreds working on their blockbuster games. But Markus “Notch” Persson created a moneymaking smash hit all by himself. The 32-year-old Swede coded Minecraft, a downloadable PC title that has racked up several industry awards and almost $75 million in sales. There’s even a conference for fans in late November at the glitzy Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Oh, and all that while Minecraft is still in beta.
More and more game designers are making and releasing their own titles. But no one has experienced a success like Persson’s. It’s an especially dazzling feat given that Minecraft Classic simply challenges players to dig tunnels and stack blocks into structures in a pixelated lo-res sandbox. “I developed it for people like myself,” says Persson, “who grew up in the late ’80s and early ’90s, back when smaller game studios were just exploring the boundaries.” Turns out there were a lot of players like him: Minecraft enthusiasts fell in love with the game’s charmingly retro aesthetic and the easy-to-use toolkit that gave them the freedom to create whatever they could imagine. Persson released a free prototype in May 2009, and since then he has kept fans abreast of updates and tweaks. (He has more than 400,000 Twitter followers.) Millions happily forked over when he started charging 10 euros for the alpha version, then 15 euros for the beta.
The Vegas MineCon event marks the official release of Minecraft 1.0. Several thousand fans will bask in the glow of Notch’s bearded geekiness, but nearly 4 million paying customers worldwide will eagerly download the update. Persson will continue to work on the game when he isn’t managing the company of 13 employees he has now assembled, most of them focused on new titles. (He’s overseeing versions of the game for Xbox 360, iOS, and Android.) And while he has bought himself a nice watch and a bigger apartment, he largely maintains his coder-geek lifestyle. In fact, most of his fortune remains unspent. “I play games, and it’s not that expensive a hobby,” he says. “I am slowly learning how to be less frugal.” Better be careful in Vegas, player.