The future belongs to the makers.

Cave Tasmania

Image by SplutterBug via Flickr

Today I was assigned a task by Thoughtfaucet apprentice Brett Chalupa to watch a video about Mojang, the company that makes the game Minecraft. Brett wanted to know what I thought was the most important thing in the video. This post is my response.

Change and control

The video contains a number of useful insights on business, team building and creative control. But the thing that kept coming back to me while watching and while reviewing and doing some light editing on the mindmap (which, if you’re in a hurry, you can find by scrolling to the bottom of this article) was the distinction between making and production.

You can see a convergence in the mindmap around ideas of change (gaining momentum, adding team and facilities, sharing control, improving the game). In the midst of the change there are issues of success and failure, people liking something or not liking something.

In this case, there are the issues that Markus “Notch” Persson has with liking or not liking the work of his team mates after having always been in control of the game. And there are also the issues of whether or not the game’s fans will like changes that are implemented.

It would appear that Mojang is working to manage the stressful nature of change through their core company culture.

Making vs Production

Each time in the video when issues of success or failure comes up, the standard rules of engagement for the individuals in the video seem to be that they need to do what they feel is right, what they would enjoy the most. This approach is at odds with many of the standard “production-based” creative (and non-creative) organizations.

The goals of the people at Mojang appear to be to make something they like and not to produce something that fits within constraints (time, finance, audience response). Certainly they want their work to be commercially successful and they want it to be enjoyed by others. But they have made an organization which allows them to pursue those ends by means which allow them to make choices they are comfortable making.

Their organization is about making things. It is not about producing results.

The future belongs to the makers, not the producers

Creating an organization that is not centered around production or producing results probably seems absurd to any “results-driven” professional or company. But the future belongs to those who can successfully ignore the “results” long enough to create an environment where making things is a fun, enjoyable and worthwhile experience.

The values-driven sideshow?

We see this a bit in the discussions about “values-driven businesses” that take place in magazines and blogs and conferences. The idea that there is something other than or in addition to the profit-motive. It’s an important movement because it starts to align humanism with capitalism. But the “value-driven” approach may not go far enough.

For one, if the values aren’t honestly and actually the values of the people in the organization then it’s just putting a different coat of paint on the same old fence. And second, having shared values alone doesn’t speak to how the organization is helpful to the audience. Not by default anyway.

For Mojang, the video presents how values are aligned and a focus on making, not producing, is occurring within the company. There is a conscious effort to create the kind of company they want to work at for some time. Businesses like this also find it easier to resonate with an audience because they are clearly focused on making something enjoyable. Even when they miss, their heart is in the right place: make a game that they enjoy.

I suspect that the approach of making something has some strong advantage over producing results:

  • More risks can be taken because everyone is working towards a shared value, not just a shared goal.
  • Greater willingness to contribute fully because a team has values, not just shared financial hopes.
  • Greater resonance in the marketplace with audiences who share the same values.
  • It’s easier to share something you believe in, something that expresses your values.

As I go through that list I’m reminded of a conversation I once had with my college music advisor, Stan Charkey. We were discussing the something about how some people appear to be making music for “the Music” or “for Art.” But that really, it’s about people. People make music. People make art. A double-bass is just a piece of wood until someone picks it up and makes some sounds with it.

I believe it’s the same with “results-driven” organizations. The results are just an idea in some person’s mind. I think the same is true for weak approaches to a “values-driven” organization.

Only a few strategies come to mind when attempting to resist the inevitable commoditization of products that happens in a production-oriented business environment. One of them is to build fierce loyalty to the organization both with your audience and with your staff.

How Mojang creates a maker’s environment

The nice thing about this simple, handsome video is that it provides a tangible case study window into a company that is dealing directly with ideas of values, production and making. Even better in that the video approaches these concepts obliquely, perhaps without even knowing it.

Here are some specific things happening at Mojang that create an environment where makers can thrive:

  • Company leadership is not focused on short-term financial gain or growth.
  • Company is self-funded, thereby having the freedom to pursue values and make things aligned with those values.
  • Leadership empowers staff to make things and is self-aware re: how to make that easier, emotionally, for all parties (For example, see game changes in action, not just in conversation/documentation)
  • Values of play, exploration and a genuine concern for their audience are shared among the staff.
  • Physical space is open and connected.
  • Agile coding practices have been adopted (a process related to “lean” processes and the OODA loop)

By watching the video, you can see a bit into how the organization is living their values. I suspect they don’t view it in such a formal or corny way. In fact, I’d be pretty surprised if there was a company handbook at all. But the shared values and shared ethic of being makers supersedes that anyway.

For the results-minded here are some numbers. For everyone, consider your current approach and results and see how you stack up. Note in particular the evidence of audience engagement.

Mindmap of a video about the making of Minecraft

The image below is the mindmap I created while watching the video. I spent a few minutes cleaning it up and making some arranging adjustments so that it more accurately represented what was in my head, having seen the video. Click the thumbnail for the larger image.

Mindmap of "Minecraft, the Story of Mojang featuring Markus Notch Persson"

Mindmap of “Minecraft, the Story of Mojang featuring Markus

  • Minecraft, the story of Mojang
    A documentary by 2 Player Productions ::: Teaser Reel

    • Game making
      • Team
        • The early additions feel happy to be part of something fopm the beginning.
          • Internet fame
            • 600 twitter followeers in two days after joining the company
            • A thread on reddit about the person after joining the company
          • Who knows how big it will become
        • Initially built entirely by creator
        • Difficult emotionally to let other people work on the code
          • It’s a matter of letting go because it’s good for the game.
          • When you make changes
            • People will say it was better before
            • Focus on what you feel about the change yourself
      • New Minecraft ideas
        • Now the other programmers can add their own
          • Hard to accept when just talked about
          • Easier to accept when it is seen in the game and it works
        • From the community was relatively easy, emotionally, to add
      • Make a game you want to play
        • Can’t go wrong
        • If you try to guess what other people want and try to adapt then failure is more painful
      • Unsure of when it will be complete
        • Perpetual beta
        • Don’t know what the finished game is
          • I wonder what the need to “finish” it is.
    • Business
      • Business development
        • Haven’t had to take funding
        • No marketing funding, all driven by word of mouth
          • Players discuss on forums
            • They describe addiction
            • Not just numbers
            • Suggestions and ideas for the game
            • They describe the emotion
        • PC Game UK Game of the Year
      • Experienced a big popularity spike
        • Made it to beta
        • Luck was involved
        • Office
          • Private office for Notch
          • Open studio layout
            • PC section
            • Mac section
            • Business developer
        • Hired 7 people
      • Self funding is an advantage
        • People wanted to invest but it wasn’t rally needed.
        • It’s great because we own ourselves
      • Beyond minecraft
        • People may not be happy that the next thing is not like minecraft
          • Maybe don’t like the genre
          • This is a little stressful
        • Going into the game with a cash investment changes the comfort level–demands a different level of success.
        • People may be happy that the next thing is not like minecraft
      • Culture
        • “We want to build a company we can work at for a long time”
          • Not a VC type of pump and dump company.
          • Build something we really like to work with.
          • No other job we’d rather have.
          • It’s fun to go to work and work on the game.
    • Gameplay
      • All you could do is place blocks
      • Minecraft is
        • Exploration
        • Building
          • Build anything you can imagine
        • Toy
        • Nonlinear
          • No level, script funnel
          • Encourages use of imagination
    • Audience
      • Kids
      • Adults
      • Game genre
        • Gamers are not one dimensional, they like different kinds of games
    • Markus “Notch” Persson,
      Minecraft creator

      • Had been working making games and then left to make Minecraft.
        • It was going to be a six to twelve month project
        • Turned into Minecraft
      • In the north of Sweden, in the country for the first seven years.
      • When did you know you wanted to make games?
        • Early on in school.
          • Told guidance counselor and was told it probably wasn’t going to happen.
        • Started programming when he was young
          • There were no schools for that really
          • Now there are schools
      • Playing games
        • Imagination/combination with the game
        • Happy to think of other kids having that experience with his game.
    • Mindmap by Gahlord DewaldPresident/Janitor, Thoughtfaucet

It seems only right that I embed the 20 minute Mojang documentary as well. It’s very handsome, with a pleasant score and makes me want very much to ski. If you made it this far through this article then I’m sure you will enjoy it. Do yourself a favor and watch it full screen once the advertisement (not mine) is done.

And how could I resist?

I that in heill was and gladness
Am trublit now with great sickness
And feblit with infirmitie:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Our plesance here is all vain glory,
This fals world is but transitory,
The flesh is bruckle, the Feynd is slee:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

The state of man does change and vary,
Now sound, now sick, now blyth, now sary,
Now dansand mirry, now like to die:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

No state in Erd here standis sicker;
As with the wynd wavis the wicker
So wannis this world’s vanitie:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Unto the Death gois all Estatis,
Princis, Prelatis, and Potestatis,
Baith rich and poor of all degree:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

He takis the knichtis in to the field
Enarmit under helm and scheild;
Victor he is at all mellie:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

That strong unmerciful tyrand
Takis, on the motheris breast sowkand,
The babe full of benignitie:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

He takis the campion in the stour,
The captain closit in the tour,
The lady in bour full of bewtie:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

He spairis no lord for his piscence,
Na clerk for his intelligence;
His awful straik may no man flee:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Art-magicianis and astrologgis,
Rethoris, logicianis, and theologgis,
Them helpis no conclusionis slee:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

In medecine the most practicianis,
Leechis, surrigianis, and physicianis,
Themself from Death may not supplee:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

I see that makaris amang the lave
Playis here their padyanis, syne gois to grave;
Sparit is nocht their facultie:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

He has done petuously devour
The noble Chaucer, of makaris flour,
The Monk of Bury, and Gower, all three:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

The good Sir Hew of Eglintoun,
Ettrick, Heriot, and Wintoun,
He has tane out of this cuntrie:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

That scorpion fell has done infeck
Maister John Clerk, and James Afflek,
Fra ballat-making and tragedie:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Holland and Barbour he has berevit;
Alas! that he not with us levit
Sir Mungo Lockart of the Lee:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Clerk of Tranent eke he has tane,
That made the anteris of Gawaine;
Sir Gilbert Hay endit has he:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

He has Blind Harry and Sandy Traill
Slain with his schour of mortal hail,
Quhilk Patrick Johnstoun might nought flee:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

He has reft Merseir his endite,
That did in luve so lively write,
So short, so quick, of sentence hie:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

He has tane Rowll of Aberdene,
And gentill Rowll of Corstorphine;
Two better fallowis did no man see:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

In Dunfermline he has tane Broun
With Maister Robert Henrysoun;
Sir John the Ross enbrast has he:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

And he has now tane, last of a,
Good gentil Stobo and Quintin Shaw,
Of quhom all wichtis hes pitie:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Good Maister Walter Kennedy
In point of Death lies verily;
Great ruth it were that so suld be:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Sen he has all my brether tane,
He will naught let me live alane;
Of force I man his next prey be:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Since for the Death remeid is none,
Best is that we for Death dispone,
After our death that live may we:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

William Dunbar. 1465-1520?


  1. Posted July 1, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Your insights are spot on. I strongly believe that in a company that is making a product to be consumed (or played) that it’s key to enjoy, love, and want to make whatever it is you are making. Tailoring what you are making to the consumers, if it isn’t what you want, is only going to lessen the product, standards, and pride within that creative vessel. It’s key to first realize that Mojang, and particularly Notch, plays and loves games. When it’s not a corporate, triple-A title, the creators have the chance to make a game they like. Having that control is invaluable, and having that control is what’s making the indie gaming scene so popular and companies like Mojang succeed.

  2. Posted July 2, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    I think you get this too, Brett. And your enthusiasm for the indie maker ethos is right where it should be too. However, I would be remiss not to mention that Miyamoto Shigeru, the maker of Donkey Kong and the Mario franchise is more alike to Markus Persson in thinking and approach than not.

    Given that Miyamoto’s work is for Nintendo, it sort of gets in the way of your statement “When it’s not a corporate, triple-A title, the creators have a chance to make a game they like” Can’t get much more corporate triple-A than the Mario franchise.

    It’s the careful dance between the maker and the organization which helps the maker to thrive that matters most here. Shifting control away of from the maker is a tendency of organizations, but not a given.

    And if we accept it as a given that organizations must take away control from makers then we’re part of creating a dystopian creative future just as much as the large organizations are. It’s our right and obligation, as makers, to insist there are other ways of doing things which are better.

    Mojang AB appears to be just such an example: better for the makers, good product that inspires exceptional loyalty from their audience, sustainable revenues which allow them to maintain the control they need to continue operating.

  3. Bob Watson
    Posted July 2, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Loved this post, Gahlord. Dovetails nicely with what I was hired to do.
    I hope we can carve out some time to meet in SF.

  4. Posted July 2, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Bob: SF, absolutely. I get there Friday before the show and am there all week.

  5. Richard
    Posted July 3, 2011 at 4:21 am | Permalink

    Nice, you have managed to get notch to look at this and post it on his twitter!

    • Posted July 3, 2011 at 8:52 am | Permalink

      Richard: I’m very flattered that Markus Persson mentioned it–and the site traffic definitely spiked–but my primary goal in making this post was simply to give a good response for my apprentice. Everything else is just gravy.

      I was just going to email it. But when it got so lengthy I figured perhaps others would find it useful as well.

  6. Jeremy Springfield
    Posted September 25, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    I love studying Mojang and picking apart what they do well and what they don’t do well. They have been a great case study in bizdev for game companies. If I also become lucky enough to start a game company more than one lesson will have been learned from watching Mojang.

    At the moment, the big one is Customer Service. Being able to figure out at what point having a full time customer service staff, be it one or more people, is an interesting business issue which Mojang has completely missed. Customer Service and support has been their biggest failure and if left un-addressed might negatively impact the company some time far in the future.

    On my own Game Design Consultation blog I’m looking to do a more detailed estimate of Mojang total earnings. The analysis is taking some time, but coming along. Gathering the data has taken longer than anticipated.


    • Gahlord Dewald
      Posted November 29, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      It’s great that you are taking such a strong interest in Mojang and how they work. Especially given your goal to start a game company.

      Perhaps some of that energy could be diverted to simply making your first game.

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