Let's celebrate TechRadar's PC Gaming Week 2020 by taking a look back at the history and popularity of Minecraft from its humble beginnings until it became the most popular PC game ever.
"I don’t consider myself a game developer. I make games because it's enjoyable, and because I love programming and games."
It all started in 2009. There were many people back then who had very good ideas. Zach Barth was one of those people. He set out to create the puzzle maker Zachtronics. Zach coded and released multiplayer mineral-emup Infiniminer in a matter of months. After its source code was leaked, he abandoned the freeware project.
Another was Swedish coder Markus 'Notch' Persson who, after previously helping develop sandbox MMO Wurm Online, was working in his spare time on a kind of Dungeon Keeper/Dwarf Fortress/Rollercoaster Tycoon combo (as odd as that may sound) named RubyDung.
Also, see: How to unblock Minecraft at school and work
He tried to bring a first-person perspective into the game but was not satisfied with his results. Then he discovered Infiniminer.
Persson wrote "My god" on his Tumblr. (opens in new window). "I realized that this was the game that I wanted to play... I tried to implement a simple, first-person engine in that style using some art and code (although it wasn't as much as you might think).
Even his first Java-coded version is instantly identifiable today: even if it wasn't formally named, this was Minecraft.
Notch wrote a few months later that "the response was very positive" and "I was blown away [by] its framerate and how it ran in a web browser, so I decided I would go for it."
He pulled in character models from a previous game idea called Zombie Town , and put the first alpha version, now sporting the iconic name, up to test.
It received an immediate positive response. Minecraft's creativity and freedom were a fascination for players, so Notch quickly set to work adding new features.
Minecraft had sand and water, lava and rudimentary dynamic light within a month. The first multiplayer tests were completed in two months and the development speed increased even more.
The development quickly moved to a paid Alpha version. This required access to a premium account.
"I thought, If I don't charge, I'll never get compensated," Notch explained later in a 2012 PC Gamer interview. (opens in new window). "If I wait for the game to be finished, it's never going in the final form because I won't be able to sustain the development."
Minecraft's Alpha sales started on June 13th 2009. It was released on June 13th 2009.
In 2009, Minecraft's Creeper-toting survival modes began to be tested. This transformed Minecraft from a toy to a real game and allowed Persson to quit his job in May 2010. Persson had been working as a programmer for a year following the initial testing. By June, 20,000 accounts had been paid.
A rapid development explosion, which saw a Friday update adding features like redstone and minecarts to Minecraft in rapid succession, led to another explosion of sales and Persson expanding the number of brains involved in Minecraft.
Mojang Specifications became Mojang AB. It was founded by Notch and other Swedish coders. Valve, at the time, was still interested to produce its own games.
PC Gamer was told by Jakob "JahKob" Porser, a game designer. "Notch was like, "I met with them. They want to hire me. Evidently, I'm not interested so let's make it happen." Let's get started. I was like, "OK, I'll quit work tomorrow."
Soon, Daniel 'Kappische" Kaplan, a business developer, joined the duo. Next, Carl Manneh (on his own advice), was hired from Persson’s previous employer jAlbum. Jens 'Jeb’ Bergensten and Markus 'Junkboy’ Toivonen were hired by Carl Manneh. As Minecraft's sales continued expanding, the team would also continue to grow.
"Minecraft was a huge success, and people are saying it's changed their games. It didn't do that.
Even though Minecraft is still in its early stages, it can now be played in its own browser-free client. Our friends at PC Gamer magazine named Minecraft their game of the year for 2010.
Jaz McDougall wrote that Minecraft is one of the best games because it allows you to play so many different games within it. It's a primal urge to build a hill fort on a hill - in gaming form.
The snowball continued to fall. January 12, 2011 marked the one millionth Minecraft account registration. Six months later, 10 million accounts were registered. This was a hot property and it was time to expand its reach.
Java was the fundamental problem that Minecraft faced. Although it was awkward at first, Notch's original choice for programming language was perfect for Minecraft's needs at the time.
It had already helped to foster a growing scene modders tweaking Minecraft for their own ends and facilitated cross-platform playing between PC, Mac, and Linux.
These mods, although not supported, greatly extended the game. Some (including pistons or horses) impressed Notch enough to be included in the game's official game.
The Java overheads, which were not made for games as heavyweight and complex as Minecraft, were an obstacle on every platform.
Minecraft Pocket Edition is a new branch of Minecraft that was created to make Minecraft more accessible to the masses. It is now coded in C++ and designed for smartphones.
Minecraft Pocket Edition was not a quick success. It has always lagging behind mainline Minecraft in terms if features since its unveiling. However, it brought Minecraft to Android (specifically to the Xperia Play), and then to iOS.
Five days after the unveiling of Pocket Edition, another C++ branch was revealed during an E3 presentation: the console edition. It was originally an Xbox 360 exclusive title. However, it was developed in-house by 4J Studios in Scotland .
The Java edition was not neglected. It officially left its Beta stage at Las Vegas MineCon in November 2011, and jumped up to twice the price of its original Alpha release. However, it continued to be the bearer for new features. Version 1.0 introduced The End which added a formal end to the game.
It marked Notch's final role as project leader. He handed the reins to Jeb, who is still the project lead to this date.
Notch stated that he is more interested in the development of new games than maintaining an existing game.
"I get bored or frustrated with things after three to 5 years. Jeb was a great game developer and was very compatible with my vision of how Minecraft should be developed.
Notch moved on to other projects. However, he reduced his efforts to hobbies and challenges that interested him after a creative block caused his first major follow up project, 0x10c to fail.
The team behind multiplayer mod Bukkit joined Mojang shortly after Minecraft's official release. They helped to improve the multiplayer experience as well as develop a mod API.
This, along with a continuous scheme of updates and additions, meant Minecraft's official release was not the end of its development story.
Minecraft's popularity with children and its insane sales figures fueled an increase in extra-curricular activities. Toys and branded merchandise were flooding the shelves. The first Minecraft LEGO set was created just one month after the Xbox edition.
As expected, the latter was a huge success. It sold over 400,000 copies in five days and averaged 17,000 copies per day.
The Pocket and Java editions had sold more than 10 million copies each by April 2013, just a few months after the release the Raspberry Pi edition of Minecraft.
In 2013, the exclusive Microsoft-Microsoft agreement was canceled and Minecraft versions for PS3, PS4 & PSVita were released. Minecraft had long outgrown its status as an indie game. Persson, the much-maligned leader of the largest gaming phenomenon the world had seen, was suffering under the pressure of online pressure.
He tweeted, "Anyone want me to buy my share in Mojang?" in June 2014 , "so that I can continue my life?" It is not my job to get criticized for doing the right thing.
CEO Carl Manneh immediately received calls from interested parties asking if Persson was serious. He was: Activision Blizzard, EA, and EA expressed interest in buying Mojang. However, the company's previous relationship with Microsoft (and, presumably a superior monetary offer), saw a deal being struck.
"I'm not an entrepreneur. I'm not a CEO. I am a geeky computer programmer who enjoys sharing my opinions on Twitter.
Redmond had not always been interested in Minecraft, if Peter Molyneux, a former Microsoft-contracted developer, is to be believed.
GamesRadar: "I can recall going to things like [Gamescom] back when I was a Microsoft employee and talking to Microsoft," he said. They thought it was rubbish. It didn't feature a character, a story, or a tutorial. The graphics were dated 1980s graphics...they totally missed that.
They didn't miss the launch in late 2014. It was announced that Mojang would be sold to Microsoft by Notch and co. ten days after Realms, Minecraft's paid-for online option.
The deal was completed on November 5, 2014. Persson, Porser, and Carl Manneh left Mojang.
New leadership, but the same dev team that drove it since Notch's original sidestep back in 2011, Minecraft's expansion continued.
The Guinness world record was broken at London's Excel Centre by MineCon 2015. The Pocket edition was portable to Wii U and Windows 10, Samsung's GearVR, Apple TV, and many other platforms. In 2016, Minecraft had sold 100 million copies on all platforms.
Microsoft was not done with Minecraft. The Education edition builds on the creative and problem-solving qualities of Minecraft that have made it so popular among young people and adults. It was launched in November 2016.
Pocket Edition finally reached version 1.0 after five years. In 2017, a Chinese beta was released, just before the Bedrock Engine, the most important behind-the scenes update in Minecraft's history.
The Bedrock Engine was released as part of the "Better Together" update . It brought all platforms running Pocket Edition, from mobile to console, to Windows 10, in line under the hood and over it.
Cross-platform multiplayer and unification DLC items were landed, along 4K graphics and planned upgrades for the non-Java Minecraft.
There is still a division in Minecraft. The now-explicitly-named Minecraft Java Edition continues development under its own internal Mojang team.
It is now owned by Microsoft in one sense. It's been a long-standing property of all of you, and that will not change."
What's next for Minecraft? Minecraft is on track to surpass Tetris in the top-selling video game ever. It boasts 144 million active accounts and 74 million simultaneous users as of January 2018.
The Twitch launcher integration continues to help the mod scene thrive. YouTube continues to be a major draw for the game.
Despite the fact that merchandise sales have not dropped, Minecraft has become a staple in Lego's commercial efforts. We do know that there is an infinite world out there. One man's idea and another man's experiment have evolved into something that has thrilled a whole generation of children and changed the way we think and play games.
Minecraft isn’t a graphical masterpiece and it’s not a game with a AAA storyline. It's a game that is as relevant today as it was nine years ago. How many games can say that?