Minecraft: Meet the Men Behind Microsoft’s New Game

3 minute read

Minecraft has been called up to the big leagues: Microsoft has purchased the franchise and the Mojang, the company that makes it, for $2.5 billion.

But, though Microsoft has said that they’ll maintain and grow the franchise that gamers love, it’s already clear that things are changing in the world of Minecraft. And it’s not just a matter of the size of the company: Markus Persson, who founded Mojang, has also announced that he’s leaving.

Last June, Harry McCracken traveled to Stockholm for TIME to meet the men behind Minecraft, and he made it very clear just how personal the project was for Perssen:

Four years ago, Mojang didn’t exist, and Minecraft was a personal project by game developer Markus Persson, whose personal site says, “You can call me ‘Notch.’” (Most Minecraft fans do, and so will I.) Notch, who would become Mojang’s co-founder, public face and resident visionary, created Minecraft for one simple reason: he wanted it to exist. “I designed the game for myself–that’s an audience I know,” he told me recently, when we met in an intentionally gauche, James Bond-inspired Mojang conference room decked out entirely in gold materials.

Bearded, cherubic and self-effacing, Notch looks like a gamer, though not necessarily the leader of gamers he has become. Like most programmers, he began young, writing an adventure game for his father’s computer at the age of 8. Now 33, Notch cheerfully admits that he didn’t summon the concept that became Minecraft out of thin air. He says he drew crucial inspiration from Dwarf Fortress, a famously innovative, idiosyncratic and opaque fantasy simulation released in 2006. (Tech site Ars Technica called it “the most inscrutable video game of all time.”) An even more direct ancestor is Infiniminer, a 2009 game that was much like Minecraft–except for the fact that its inventor lost interest in it almost as soon as it was finished. Unlike Infiniminer’s creator, Notch kept plugging away. At first he worked on the game in spare moments while continuing in his job at a Stockholm company that made photo-album software. But long before the game was finished, he found that people were willing to pay for it. “The idea was to be self-sustaining,” he says. “I started charging for the game a couple of weeks in.”

The trip from deciding to charge people for the game to selling it for billions of dollars was, in the scheme of things, a relatively short one — but short doesn’t mean uneventful. The story of how and why Minecraft has attracted so many fans, and the role Persson played in that journey, is now available free of charge in TIME’s archives.

Click here to read it in its entirety: The Mystery of Minecraft

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Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com