"At first we looked at Minecraft as the basis for an interesting case study about how the Internet has changed things for entrepreneurs,” said Linus Larsson, coauthor of Minecraft: The Unlikely Tale of Markus “Notch” Persson and the Game that Changed Everything (which is coming from Seven Stories Press this month), during a phone call from Sweden with his coauthor, Daniel Goldberg. “But the more we looked at the game, it wasn’t about making a lot of money, it was about creativity; it was a personal story about the creator.”
If you’ve never heard of Minecraft, a quirky video game developed in 2009 and now played by more than 40 million people around the world, then you’ll find out all you’ll need to know in the book. As the coauthors explained, Minecraft is an unusual video game that abandons typical game-play conventions and does not depend on super-slick graphics or predictable strategic goals. In the game, players enter a virtual world where they can create almost anything—from a replica of the Eiffel Tower to stunningly detailed cityscapes— by digging up and using pixelated blocks. Minecraft has revolutionized the gaming industry; generated tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue; spawned its own convention; given its creator, Markus “Notch” Persson, a cultlike following in the gaming world; and made him an unlikely multimillionaire.
Objects in the game have the blocky look of Legos, another Swedish creation, and the graphics are particularly attractive to children, though Minecraft has players of all ages and is popular among women as well as men. The book surveys the life of Persson, a low-key individual who is obsessed with video games and devoted to creating simple online games in an industry devoted to blockbuster franchises. It details how this game, and Mojang, Persson’s company, changed the way new video games come to market.
Mojang, which was founded in 2010, started with “five guys” and now has 30 employees with assets of “several hundred million dollars,” according to Goldberg. MineCon, the annual convention, draws nearly 8,000 fans and was launched in Las Vegas, Nev., in 2011, before moving to Paris last year; it was held in Orlando, Fla., this past weekend.
Seven Stories publisher Dan Simon says Larsson and Goldberg’s book, which was initially released in Sweden, is the first title about the game in English. Simon acquired it after his 11-year-old son heard him talking about the book and told him he wanted to read it. “We’re doing something we’ve never done before,” Simon said, “which is to create a book simultaneously for an adult and a YA audience.” The book has a section with color photographs of eye-popping Minecraft creations that were submitted and selected by players. “We didn’t choose the images; the six million people on the Mojang/Minecraft Facebook page picked them,” the publisher said.
Simon said that Seven Stories has already received 5,000 advance orders for the book and is planning a 10,000-copy first printing. While Persson “likes the book,” he isn’t helping with promotion. But Simon is bringing the authors to the U.S. and plans a “mix of store and library events,” including stops in New York and Seattle. He is also sending the authors to MineCon 2013, and Google has invited them to give a talk at its New York headquarters.
Mojang and Minecraft reflect a new “indie mentality” in gaming. Goldberg noted, “They don’t want to be seen as businessmen, but as artists. It’s a new way to look at a game developer—more like a musician or a painter.” Persson has stepped back from running Mojang and wants to develop a new game. “He’s wrestling with where he goes from here, and it’s a dilemma. Everyone wants to know what he’s going to do next.”