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Building Blocks

Mojang's Daniel Kaplan talks about his role on Minecraft, what's next and how hard it is to say "no"

Mojang's one-man operation is a thing of the past. After Minecraft exploded onto the PC scene last year, the profits from Notch's experiment in selling pre-alpha code on the promise of free updates was proven to be a huge success. Money was in the bank, the company's name was on the lips of both public and press. What Mojang needed next was a payroll.

Alongside a small team of new coders, Markus Persson hired Daniel Kaplan as business development director. But when the world is already knocking at your door, how hard can that job be? Well, as Kaplan has discovered, it largely consists of saying "no".

GamesIndustry.bizI was taking a look at your previous project earlier, Ludiosity, what can you tell me about that?
Daniel Kaplan

It was my last project - I hired an indie developer called Daniel Remer, who created lij, Hero core, and had huge success with both those. We knew him from before, at university. So I told him, come work with us, we love your work and we'd love to work with you. So we co-published Garden Gnome Carnage, for flash.

It was basically a download version at first, so we turned it into a flash game. It turned out quite successfully actually, we got around three or four million plays. It was nice to work with him because he's a really talented guy so he made everything himself and I was just supporting him.

GamesIndustry.bizHow were those projects monetised?
Daniel Kaplan

The flash games were purely advertising, but we have done some consultant work for the Swedish rescue service agency and Volvo in Gothenburg. We've created some serious games, it's been nice. So it was the old monetisation model.

GamesIndustry.bizAre you splitting your time between that and Mojang now?
Daniel Kaplan

Nope, I'm not working on anything at Ludiosity now, I'm just working full time at Mojang. But I still have dealings with them from time to time, we catch up, let each other know what we're doing.

GamesIndustry.bizAnd how are things at Mojang? You've had the staff ramp up, there's plenty of cash and resources flying around, you have no deadlines... It's pretty much the dream situation isn't it?
Daniel Kaplan

We are in a great spot right now, we can basically do whatever we want to. The hardest thing for us right now is to say "no" to all the deals we're being offered. There are tonnes of opportunities out there for us right now. But we have to wait it out and figure out what's the best thing for us to do.

We get requests every week, it's quite hard to sort them out, to figure out, okay, this is what we're going to do. If you take one path then you can't take the other, you know?

GamesIndustry.bizSo are these offers from developers looking for a publisher?
Daniel Kaplan

Well they're from hardware manufacturers, other publishers, ad networks, all that stuff. We're looking into publishing our own games too though, bringing indie games under our own brand. We're still having to figure out how that's going to work out.

We hope to have something out this fall at least, some co-published games.

We hope to have something out this fall at least, some co-published games.

GamesIndustry.bizYou're working on Scrolls as well - is that the main development focus at Mojang now or is it still Minecraft?
Daniel Kaplan

The biggest team is the Scrolls team, but that's just three people, it's still very small. We like to work in small teams, because we believe we can make decisions faster, or have shorter meetings, more creative freedom for the teams. So they're small but very multitalented.

But the focus is still really Minecraft, that's the core business right now. Eventually we'll, not phase out, but, eventually Minecraft will have to start going down, then hopefully Scrolls will start to take the pace at that time and cover it up.

GamesIndustry.bizI don't think it'd be unfair to say that there was some luck involved in the success of Minecraft - will you be pursuing the same business model again?
Daniel Kaplan

I truly believe that model will work for some games, but for others it won't. The whole Minecraft game is based around one specific core, where you remove blocks and add blocks. So you just add different kinds of blocks for more content. The core game was finished after about 2-3 weeks, and we just kept adding on top of that. So that worked really well with that kind of model.

With Scrolls you have to build up a huge catalogue of cards before we can launch it, because that variation is important, when you're playing. But absolutely, yeah, we're hoping to use the same kind of paradigm - we'll release early and then update it. It's like a service.

GamesIndustry.bizSo a free alpha to start?
Daniel Kaplan

At first it'll be a closed alpha, yeah. I don't think we'll take any money at all to start. I'm not sure about that though!

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