Minecraft launched in 2009, and has quickly become one of the world’s most popular video games. In five years, it reached 100 million registered users.
The story of how the game became a worldwide phenomenon is a fascinating story of innovation, ingenuity, and creativity.
Markus Persson, a Swedish computer programmer, had been playing the popular game Dwarf Fortress. In the game, players help dwarf warriors build their fortresses. Players control a collection of warriors, having them do tasks such as cut down trees, fish, mine, or cook, all while fending off marauding monsters.
For Persson, there was something deeply satisfying in the game play. He had been searching for inspiration for a video game of his own. Before he started coding, he wanted to find concepts and structures that would compel him to do the hard work to come.
Dwarf Fortress did not have the complex, CGI-generated graphics that popularize most video games today. A giant spider in the game is represented by an S. Minerals are the British pound symbol (£) and meadows are green dots. Game players shared that the simplicity led to a greater immersion experience. Practically, by simplifying the graphics, the game’s designers had more time to devote to game play and mechanics.
Persson had worked at the two top Swedish game development companies, but he preferred the independent, user-driven game development scene to the large corporate studios. As a result, he took a job as a web developer at Jalbum.
Shortly after starting work at the company, he collected the inspired elements he liked from Dwarf Fortress and other games. One of the other big influences was Infiniminer, which let players build castles, houses, and other structures. After work, he started working on his own game world where he wanted to focus on creating and exploring with a top-down view of three-dimensional environments. After a few days, he realized that the digging, exploring, and building were better when viewed from a player’s avatar’s point of view.
His girlfriend (and future wife), Elin, became Persson’s alpha tester. As each working version was completed, he sent it to Elin to play. Her feedback was invaluable, as was the way she intuitively began to understand the gameplay and features.
Persson wanted the game’s development to be a collaborative effort. He documented the game’s progression and shared it with players. He asked those early players to send him suggestions and feedback. New updates appeared frequently, almost impulsively.
The game’s first playable version launched on May 17, 2009. Players began sharing their insights on the game as well as their constructions – bridges, fortresses, spaceships, and boats. That community has become a hallmark of the game, now enjoyed by millions the world over.
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