Dec 13, 2019
Minecraft Welcome to the History of Computing Podcast, where we explore the history of information technology. Because by understanding the past prepares us to innovate the future! Today we’re going to look at one of my daughter’s favorite things in the whole wide world: Minecraft. Oh, and it’s also one the most popular games ever. Modding games had been around for a long, long time. Before Minecraft, there was Dungeon Keeper and Dwarf Fortress. A lot of people my age don’t really get Minecraft as a game. I mean, it’s not that far off from the world-builder aspect of World of Warcraft from 20 years ago. But there, you built a world to play in. Even before World Of Warcraft, when it was all about building and controlling a village of orcs or humans and conquering another. By the late 90s, a lot of people were tinkering with the Ultima world builder and building new games The Unreal Engine ended up getting used to build another dozen games. World building was going commercial. A few years go buy and in 2009, Swedish video game programmer Notch, known as Marcus Persson in the real world, writes a little game called Cave Game. Persson had been born in 1979 and started programming on the Commodore 128 at 7. He built his first text based game a year later and would go on to write software for others and co-found Wurm Online, a massive multiplayer online role playing game. Cave Game was more a world designer than a game, but the stage was set for something more. He added resource simulation so you could generate resource tiles and manage resources. Suddenly it was becoming a game, which he renamed to Minecraft. Then you could build things with the resources you collected. Like buildings. They were intentionally blocky. The world is generated based on code that seeds objects based on the clock when the world is created, giving it a nice random allocation of resources and areas to explore. You can travel in a 30 million block radius in a biome. These biomes might be deserts or the snow according to how the terrain is laid out. Since people could collect things and build things out of what they’d collected, the creations took on a new sense of meaning. That specific game wasn’t exactly unique. It was common going back to before even Civilization 1. The difference is you built buildings as a whole unit. In Minecraft you laid out the blocks to build things and so the buildings took on the shape you gave them. If you wanted to build a house that looked like a famous castle, go for it, if you wanted to design a dungeon like we used to do in Dungeons and Dragons, but in three dimensions, go for it! Other games eventually integrated the same mechanic, allowing you to design buildings within your worlds. Like Skyrim, which made an Axe named after Notch. And just as you can fight in Skyrim, Minecraft eventually added monsters. But famously blocky ones. You could craft weapons, mining tools, crafting tools, and all kinds of things. Even a bed for yourself. You could terraform a world. You could build islands, chop down trees, take eggs from chickens. While the game was still in an alpha state, he added modes. Like Survival, where you could get killed by those wacky zombies, Indev and Infdev. Today there are 5 modes: survival, creative, adventure, hardcore, and spectator. Bugs were fixed, gameplay tweaked, and in 2010, it was time to go beta. Notch quit his job and started to work on Minecraft full-time. Notch founded a company called Mojang to take the game to market. After another year, they took Minecraft to market in 2011. That’s when Jeb Bergensten became the lead designer of the game. The sound design was given to us by German composer Daniel Rosenfeld, or C418. By the way, he also produced the Beyond Stranger Things theme, an inspiration for what we use in this podcast! They added servers for better coop play and they added more and more areas. It was vast. Expansive. And growing. Notch made over a hundred million dollars off the game in 2012. Kids watch YouTube videos of other kids playing Minecraft, and many make money off of showing their games. Not as much as Notch has made of course. And the kids watch the game for as long as you’ll let them. Like for hours. You default as Alex or Steve. By day you can build and by night, you run away from or kill the zombie, spider, enderman, creeper, or skeleton. The blocky characters are cute. If they weren’t so simple and cute, there’s a chance the game never would have gone anywhere. But they were, and it has. In fact, it grew so fast that, check this out, Microsoft ended up buying Mojang for 2 and a half billion dollars. And since 2014 they’ve made well over half a billion dollars off Minecraft and they have over 90 million active players every month, just on mobile. In 2016 they crossed 100 million copies sold. Now they have nearly that many people playing consistently. One of which is my kid. And they’ve crossed 176 million copies sold. Microsoft took a beating from certain investment There are books to help you play, costumes so you can dress up like the characters, toys so you can play with them, legos because they’re blocky as well, apparel so you can show your Minecraft love, sheets to help you sleep when you’ve played enough. Pretty sure my kid has a little of all of it. The modding nature of the game lives on. Your worlds and mods follow you from device to device. You can buy packs. You can make your own. You can make your own and sell them! You can make money off Minecraft by building packs or by publishing videos. Probably the best summer job ever! The beauty of Minecraft is that you can build worlds and it unlocks a level of creativity in kids I’ve rarely seen with video games. It feels like Legos that way, but virtual. It can be free or you can pay a nominal fee for certain things in the game. Nothing like the whaling you see with some games. It can be competitive or not. It’s even inspired tens of millions of people to learn a little basic coding. It’s funny, Minecraft is more than a game, and the return on investment Microsoft continues to receive from their acquisition shows just how smart they are. Unlike you dear listeners, for wasting time listening to me babble. Now get back to work. Or trying to get a block of Obsidian in Minecraft. But before you do, thank you so much for tuning in. We’re so lucky to have ya!