Read an Excerpt
Three, Two, One . . .
It’s November 18, 2011. An old man in a faded gray sweater looks up from his slot machine. A long and steady stream of children, teens, and grown-ups flows through the casino. Their outfits are odd, even for this place. In Las Vegas, you can count on seeing pretty much anything: Elvis impersonators lined up on the sidewalks,
gigantic fake-gold lions, drunken weekend revelers, and fountains shooting water hundreds of yards into the air synchronized to the tune of the national anthem.
The people streaming through the casino at the Hotel
Mandalay Bay are wearing cardboard boxes on their heads. Some are in full cardboard-box bodysuits with armholes that look uncomfortable and make their elbows stick straight out, like cubist comic-strip characters with the posture of bodybuilders. The cardboard suits they’ve squeezed into are painted in large colorful squares, some green, some black. Others are light blue, brown, and pink. The man at the slot machines, clueless, returns to his game, his cigarette, and his morning cocktail.
The cardboard-box people aren’t there to win money.
They continue toward the convention facilities that are next to the casino, where in a few minutes they will be cheering as they watch a thirty-two-year-old Swede pull a lever and release the finished version of their favorite game.
Minecraft. A computer game as incomprehensible to the uninitiated as it is wildly adored by tens of millions of people. Those who’ve traveled here are among the game’s most devoted fans. Not only have they paid airfare but also, before embarking for Las Vegas, they cut and glued their suits, modeled on the game’s primitive block graphics and shapes.
And there are thousands of them, representing a total of twenty-three countries. The youngest is four years old and the oldest is seventy-seven. Of the many parents, some have made the trip just for their kids and are now observing in awe a world their offspring adore but that is alien to them. Others are just as passionate as their children.
“We play together constantly,” says a dad with green-tinted hair, wearing a suit sprayed green, his face covered with black bars as he poses for pictures with his identically decked-out son.
A few minutes later. The convention hall where we’re seated is the largest at the Mandalay Bay. It’s completely packed and the lights are off. All eyes turn toward the stage and
Lydia Winters, who—impossible not to recognize with her short, shocking pink hair—is firing up the audience.
“This weekend is going to be awesome!”
Giant screens are mounted on both sides of the stage so that those sitting farther back can see what’s happening.
They all show Lydia’s happy, glowing, almost cartoon-
“So many people’s . . . lives have been changed by this game!”
Next to the stage, just to the left, the weekend’s big star is waiting for the signal to step up into the spotlight: Markus
Persson, dressed in jeans, well-worn sneakers, and a black polo that’s a bit tight around the middle. As always, he’s wearing a black fedora. Markus doesn’t know what to do with his hands while he waits. He pulls absentmindedly at the hem of his shirt before his hands land in his jeans pockets, thumbs out.
There is an ocean of five thousand people seated before him—if seated is the right word, because many of them stand up as the first of Markus’s colleagues arrive onstage. Lydia Winters calls them up and one by one they trudge onstage, shyly wave a little at the audience,
and line up beside her. Jens Bergensten—the programmer,
tall, lanky, his red ponytail hanging down his back. Carl Manneh—the CEO, who is perfectly okay with
Lydia keeping the microphone. Jakob Porser—Markus’s old friend and the cofounder of his company. The graphics guy, Junkboy—no, his real name is never given in public—who leaps onstage wearing a cardboard box on his head and making victory signs for the audience.
They’re all Swedish men, all in their late twenties and early thirties, and they all work at Mojang, the company that produces Minecraft. Most days they sit and work at their computers in a shabby apartment on AÅãsoÅNgatan, in
Stockholm. But this is no ordinary day.
This is the moment when the final version of Minecraft will be released to the public. Which means that until today, the five thousand people in the audience—and several million others around the world—have been playing an unfinished game. A kind of prototype, which has earned Markus close to $70 million and created one of the world’s most admired companies.
This is MineCon, the first convention dedicated entirely to Minecraft. The event began as a random idea at the Mojang headquarters on SoÅNdermalm, in southern
Stockholm. Markus Persson asked on his blog if anyone would pay ninety dollars to go to a Minecraft convention in Las Vegas. Within a few weeks more than 43,000 people said they would, and the Mandalay Bay was booked.
The hotel is a forty-four-story monumental monstrosity built entirely of gold-tinted glass. In its twenty-two restaurants, smoke-filled poker dens, and meandering indoor malls, you can easily spend several days without leaving the hotel—exactly as intended. As a rule, casinos in Las Vegas have no windows or clocks, so that gamblers will continue to feed money into the machines throughout the night. The desert gambling mecca is no place for people with regular circadian rhythms.
The coming days will be an unparalleled spectacle,
bizarre for those unfamiliar with gaming conventions in general and especially so for those who don’t know
Minecraft in particular. People will line up for hours to get Markus’s autograph. A costume contest will nearly degenerate into a riot. Two British men, known by millions of fans from their YouTube channel, will be greeted like celebrities when they play videos on the stage, showing functioning electronic equipment built entirely within
It’s not that surprising. Minecraft had grown into an unprecedented success story well before MineCon.
Sixteen million players had downloaded the game; more than four million of them had paid for it. Minecraft had been praised by pretty much every gaming magazine and website in the world. And after all, it’s a game so engrossing that thousands of its most faithful fans have traveled to Las Vegas to celebrate that it is finally finished.
We have come here to understand why. We want to ask the costumed men and women what it is about Minecraft
that makes them love it more than any other game. And not least of all, we want to know why Markus’s strange creation has earned him such enormous sums of money.
For it was, of course, the money that made us take note of Markus Persson in the first place. In late 2010, the unassuming programmer began to pop up in interviews,
describing how he’d struck gold with his remarkable game. He always displayed a modest, almost surprised demeanor in the face of his success. He didn’t seem to have any idea what to do with his millions.
It looked like an improbable business success, a story of a quick breakthrough and of sudden riches, a shining example of how the Internet can shake the foundations of an industry and create empires within months. But the closer we looked, the more difficult it was to fit Minecraft
into the usual frameworks. There was no successful marketing strategy to point to, no business plan that held the secrets to success. There was just one guy with his own,
slightly odd idea of what the gaming world needed. The story that emerged had very little to do with polished businessmen and fast deals. Instead, we found an idea rooted in Markus’s childhood, one that could only blossom outside the established framework of the gaming industry.
Actually, it’s only now, seated a few yards from the stage, that we fully understand what a star Markus is.
Lydia Winters continues her exuberant introduction as we scan the crowd. There’s a woman crying in the row in front of us, which is reserved for special guests. Her cheeks are pierced and she has henna-colored hair and red scars in intricate patterns on her arms. There is also a short girl holding a camera, beaming with pride. Right beside her, there’s an older Swedish gentleman and a lady with shoulder-length, pure-white hair.
“This all started because of one person,” says Lydia.
If anyone had entered the hall at that moment without knowing what was going on, that person would have guessed she was talking about a prophet. The room erupts in cheers.
“I think we need to do better than that. I think we need to chant to get him up onstage.”
The whole audience responds to Lydia’s suggestion.
The roar is deafening. “Notch! Notch! Notch!” Few people in the room know him as Markus.
Down beside the stage, thoughts race through Markus’s head. What should he say? He has always hated speaking in public. On Twitter, he writes for half a million people,
but this is different. Onstage, there’s no backing up and no erasing what he’s said. It’s all live, going out directly,
both to people on-site and to those following the event online.
Forty minutes earlier, he had asked for a drink to calm his nerves. Someone put a glass of vodka in his hand.
Now he’s standing there trying to figure out if he’s drunk or not. Shouldn’t he be more nervous? There was something about the stairs too—he shouldn’t look out at the audience when he walks up onstage, someone had said.
He might trip.
Markus carefully climbs onto the stage. He looks self-conscious, but breaks out in a timid smile when he holds up his hand to wave to the audience. The spotlights seem to blind him completely. Lydia, whose neon-colored hair is accentuated by her all-black clothing, tries to get a few words out of Markus. He says something about
“grateful” and “cool.”
“I love you, Notch!” someone from the audience cries.
The stage decor consists of paper models and figures resembling those in the game. One life-size human figure looks exactly like Steve, the Minecraft protagonist.
There’s a green monster, some boxes, and a column of blocks sporting a lever. The lever’s not actually connected to anything, but the energy level in the room rises when Markus approaches it.
“Are you ready for the official release of
Minecraaaaaaaaft?” Lydia roars.
The audience roars back. A techno beat begins to pump. But Markus hesitates, grips the lever, lets it go again. Camera flashes and the noise level in the hall begin to approach the limits of human tolerance. Finally,
Markus gives the lever a push. Fireworks explode and confetti shoots out over the sea of faces. The music gets even louder and the programmers onstage break out dancing, as Minecraft 1.0 is finally released to the world.
Markus, off to the side, just nods his head to the beat. At that moment, a technician behind the stage tells us, four thousand people are logging in to play Minecraft. Four thousand per second, that is.
Jakob, the old friend from an earlier time, dances up to Markus and receives a hug that lifts him off the floor.
Use the link below to read an excerpt of Minecraft!