Saturday, December 21, 2013

Minecraft books are now a thing—about 500 of them!

Back in the days of bookstores you used to be able to tell what was hot in technology by looking at the shelves in the relevant section of the store. The current trend or fad would have dozens of associated titles filling the shelves, to the point that it became difficult to choose one.

Even though there aren't as many bricks and mortar bookstores as there used to be, the publishing industry still reacts to trends.

The trend being written about now is Minecraft.

Naturally there are the first-order books about Minecraft itself, or biographies of Notch or Mojang. Some examples:

Friday, December 20, 2013

Don't put harmful code in your Minecraft mod

It's a fairly rare occasion when Mojang addresses modder conduct in Minecraft, but it has once more:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A long time ago in a big MMO

Once upon a time back in March, 2005 I subscribed to World of Warcraft and started questing. This was in the days of patch 1.3 before things like battlegrounds, fishing contests, and the Darkmoon Faire existed. Molten Core was the endgame instance and Diremaul was brand new. WoW was a little more than four months old at that point, so it was still early days.

Although I'd been a gamer for many years, WoW was my first MMO. As I approached level 20 I began to think about joining a guild so as to better experience the multiplayer stuff. I don't recall how I was recruited but I ended up a member of a large levelling guild on my server. It accepted anyone and everyone and most members were well below 60, the maximum level at the time.

The guild was very disorganized and although a couple of people could invite new recruits there were few officers online. As I began talking to other members I was surprised to find out that our GL (Guild Leader) was an absentee—although he was actually online and playing a lot, he was using another character which was a member in another guild.

Within a few days most of the guild members realised that the absentee GL was not only hurting the guild, but our experience of WoW. Because of his irresponsibility we weren't getting the full benefit of our subscription fee to WoW. Something had to be done.

Someone approached the GL about the situation. He offered to sell the guild to us for a rather large sum of gold. He was firm that a buyout was the only option.

Because the price of the buyout was far greater than the cost of incorporating a new guild (and tabard fee), we found his offer repugnant. In addition, we couldn't afford his high price.

However we could easily afford the fee of 10 silver to start a new guild. And so there was a massive mutiny where the majority of members quit the old guild and joined the new one. Back then you needed ten people to sign a guild charter, which we had, and soon the new guild was formed.

People really wanted a tabard and made getting it a priority. Choosing a tabard design in WoW costs 10 gold. It's hard to believe now with all the inflation in WoW, but back then raising 10 gold was a huge hurdle for us as we had only one or two level 60s. Many of us were below level 30 and were a long way from even getting our first mounts. (You got your first mount at level 40 back then, and mount costs were so significant that players often opted to play as Warlocks or Paladins due to receiving "free" mounts from quests rather than gold.) But we managed to scrimp together the 10 gold and were proudly wearing our new colors within a few hours after we formed the guild.

But this isn't a story about our new guild. This story is about the GL of the old guild.

You see, we found something out about the old guild's GL that influenced our decision to leave.

We knew that the old guild's GL was irresponsible in abandoning the first guild to play on another character in another guild. What we discovered was that the main reason for his behavior was that he was twelve years old.

Back then WoW was the hot new game that gamers of all ages were eager to play. Even though a subscription required a credit card, WoW still managed to have a fair number of younger players.

This isn't the case today. Even though 60 day pre-paid time cards can be purchased for cash in stores, nowadays you aren't as likely to run into a twelve year old when playing WoW or any other MMO.

It's not because of the changes that have been made to WoW over the years, or anything about WoW or any of the other MMOs.

There's one reason you don't see as many kids in MMOs these days:

They're all playing Minecraft.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Notch on TV—more mainstreaming of Minecraft

On November 7, Notch appeared on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson:

Notch has previously appeared on Swedish television of course, since he's basically a national hero these days in Sweden. This is his first appearance on network television with a nation-wide audience in the United States.

During the interview Craig Ferguson, speaking about Minecraft, says, "Anyone below the age of 20 seems to be obsessed with this thing." And there we have the reason why Notch was asked to appear on the show.

Television shows are constantly competing for viewers in order to do well in the ratings and thus charge more for ads. The TV industry is so old-fashioned that the ratings aren't gathered continuously—they're only tallied during certain sweeps months. November is a sweeps month.

Since Minecraft has sold over 33 million copies across all platforms (12.6 million copies on PC), that's a lot of potential viewers for Craig's show. Since most gamers and people under 20 don't watch live TV, it's a lot of potential new viewers for Craig's show. Even if only for that night, every viewer helps during sweeps month.

Did Minecraft players approve? His appearance was received quite well on Reddit.

As expected, Notch's TV appearance was well-reported in the gaming press—joystiq, GamePolitics, the escapist, Kotaku, PCGamesN, and StrategyInformer all had items.

This TV appearance by Notch is another indication that Minecraft is going mainstream.

The TV site Zap2it had an item: 'Minecraft' creator Notch visits 'Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson' for first talk show appearance. This piece isn't written for gamers, it's aimed at a general audience who might not know who Notch is.

In addition to mentioning his TV appearance, the tech site CNET has an interview with Notch and says Minecraft is "…becoming a cornerstone within video gaming's greater assimilation into pop culture." It also points out the recent South Park episode in which Minecraft is a central theme (full episode viewable here).

As Minecraft becomes a household word it's showing up in more and more places.

This article is an extended version of an earlier post I made to the Minecraft forum. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Notch doesn't really mind direct ripoffs of Minecraft

Notch said something of interest while being interviewed onstage as part of Minecon 2013:
Q. When I kind of look around on Xbox or PC, or any platform, really, there's a lot of games which are kind of inspired by Minecraft. There are some games which are arguably kind of clones of Minecraft. Where do you draw the line between those things? Where do you think the--when does it become something which I guess is a direct ripoff of Minecraft?

A. I don't really mind direct ripoffs either. I think if you start to use the name or imply that it is Minecraft and things like that then it's, then it's wrong because we need to protect our product. But if you take the game ideas or the look and stuff like that without taking the exact textures, then I think that's cool.

Some of them, maybe, they get a little bit, eh, confident and start [garbled] saying that the game is better than Minecraft and trying to justify cloning it. And that's when you get into a weird area. I think just saying 'Yeah, I cloned that game because it's an awesome idea and I want to make one.' Then yeah, go ahead and make it. That's how games and all products get better. You get inspired by someone else and do your own take on it.
(This can be seen on starting at 5:15:20 (5 hours 15 minutes and 20 seconds) in to the day's stream. Any transcription errors are mine.)

Two years ago I wrote A statement on Minecraft mods copying features from each other. What Notch said at Minecon echoes what I wrote.

My other Minecon 2013 coverage:
Text of Jeb's slides from The Future of Minecraft panel at Minecon 2013

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Text of Jeb's slides from The Future of Minecraft panel at Minecon 2013

Last year at Minecon 2012 Jeb gave a presentation about the plug-in API (see Jeb's Minecraft API slides from Minecon 2012).

This year, since there hasn't been much perceptible progress on the plug-in API, Jeb opted to fill the majority of the time with a retrospective of the Minecraft releases since Minecon 2012. Thus although the panel was called The Future of Minecraft, it was a look backward. The panel can be watched on starting 5:39:30 (5 hours 39 minutes and 30 seconds) in to the day's stream.

The major news came near the end, when Jeb announced that Mojang has hired two more developers to replace the two former Bukkit developers who have since left.

Here is the text from Jeb's slides:

Today's Agenda
  • Minecraft updates since Minecon 2012
  • Minecraft under the hood
  • The new launcher
  • Plug-in API news
  • Other stuff

Minecraft Updates Since Minecon 2012
  • 3 major releases (1.5, 1.6, 1.7)
  • 6 patch releases (1.4.6 etc)
  • ~49 snapshots

Minecraft Updates Since Minecon 2012
  • Contributions (commits) per release:
  • 1.4 -- 820
  • 1.5 -- 617
  • 1.6 -- 834
  • 1.7 -- 1109
[In addition to the number of commits for the releases, this slide also has a graph showing lines of code (click to enlarge)]:

[Yes, you read those figures right: 600,000 lines committed, 200,000 different lines. That's a lot of code! Minecraft is now a large program.]

Minecraft 1.4.6 (and 1.4.7)
  • December 2013, January 2013
  • Fireworks!

Minecraft 1.5
The Redstone Update

  • March 2013
  • Boosted beacon, nerfed bone meal, harder skeletons, new lava texture, improved lighting on stairs, new death messages...
  • Scoreboard system
  • And...

Minecraft 1.5
The Redstone Update

  • Nether Quartz
  • Dropper and Hopper
  • Redstone Comparator
  • Etcetera...

Minecraft 1.6
The Horse Update

  • July 2013
  • New resource pack system and launcher (more about this later)
  • Switch to Java 6
  • Game balance changes, Block of Coal block, new clay blocks
  • And...

Minecraft 1.6
Mo' Creatures' Horses

  • Developed by John Olarte (DrZhark), Kent Cristian Jensen, Dan Roque

Minecraft 1.6
The Horse Update

  • Hay Bales
  • Leads and Name Tags
  • Carpets
  • Etcetera...

Minecraft 1.7
The Update that Changed the World

  • October 2013
  • New biomes
  • Better biome placement
  • Improved fishing
  • New flowers
  • Commands support NBT data on items and creatures
  • More options for improved visual quality

Minecraft 1.7

Minecraft 1.7

Under the Hood

  • Resource packs
  • The scorboard system
  • NBT data in commands


NBT Data Commands

  • /summon
  • /give

NBT Data Commands

  • Pretty complex! Check YouTube for examples
  • Looks like this:
  • /give @p minecraft:iron_sword 1 0 {display:{Name:"Sting",Lore:["Found in a cave.","Very pointy"]}}

New Launcher

Plug-in API?

Plug-in API

  • Michael 'Searge' Stoyke
  • Minecraft Coder Pack founder
  • Game developer since 2001
  • Twitter: @SeargeDP

Plug-in API

Plug-in API?

  • High hopes for 2014
  • No promises :)

Other Stuff

Other Stuff

Other Stuff

[One-click streaming to integrated into Minecraft, announced earlier.]

Other Stuff

  • Minecraft Realms

My other Minecon 2013 coverage:
Notch doesn't really mind direct ripoffs of Minecraft

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Minecraft Generation: A distinct demographic cohort

Roughly every other year I travel a few states over to visit my sister's family. I enjoy visiting with her and my brother-in-law and seeing my two nephews. I usually bring something for the kids, often in the form of a computer game. I recall in late 2011 thinking that on the next visit I'd introduce my nephews to Minecraft.

I never got the chance—early in 2012 my sister emailed me saying essentially, "What is this Minecraft game and where do I get it? The kids want it because their friends are playing."

The story in a nutshell: Minecraft has gone viral among children of all ages, but particularly middle schoolers.

Minecraft has sold 26 million on all platforms, but as far as I know Mojang has no data on the age of the players. While many adult gamers have bought Minecraft, kids make up a large percentage of players. Apparently the autograph lines at Minecon have consisted mainly of children and their parents.

As with any activity that becomes massively popular with children, parents become concerned. Below are some examples of this concern:
The Children Online newsletter devoted its October, 2012 issue to Minecraft: Is Minecraft the Next Parental Concern?
In the section Concerns for Parents the Internet Safety Project's wiki entry for Minecraft says:
Due to the immense popularity of Minecraft, pirated copies of the game are easy to find online. Besides being illegal, pirated software can often be a disguise for malware.
I've included the above links as anecdotal evidence about how pervasive Minecraft is among children. I'm certainly not alarmed at how much kids are playing it, but I do support parents who make sure that their kids get outside to run around. (As far as computer games go, I can't think of a more appropriate game than Minecraft, since it gives kids both a creative outlet and practical experience in planning and carrying out projects.)

The Minecraft phenomenon is now a couple of years old and shows no sign of waning. Mojang keeps adding features to the game which keeps it fresh, and there is innovation both in server game styles and Minecraft's lively mod scene. I think this means that the game will remain popular with children for the foreseeable future.

Thus in the next several years there will be a large number of people entering adulthood who grew up playing Minecraft. It may prove to be a defining experience for this group of people as a result of their pervasive and intense play of the game. Skills that they learn while playing Minecraft will be applied throughout their lives, and their outlook on life may reflect their experiences in the game.

Demographers look for shared experiences such as this when defining demographic cohorts (e.g. Baby Boomer, Generation X, and Generation Y). One name assigned to the cohort of kids currently of middle-school age is Generation Z. It may not be long before there will be a solid case to be made for calling it the Minecraft Generation.

I think the Minecraft Generation will have a profound impact on the real world since its members will have cut their teeth modifying their virtual ones.

The game industry will definitely feel the impact.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Minecraft is the third largest city in the world

Sales of Minecraft continue and the number of players keeps climbing. Here's the latest tally:
Minecraft — Pocket Edition: 10 million
Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition: 6 million
Minecraft PC: 10.3 million

Total: 26.3 million
Let's remember that these figures are paid sales. We're not talking registered accounts on some free-to-play title here.

We can put these numbers in perspective by comparing Minecraft sales to the largest cities in the world.

It turns out that ranking cities is a bit confusing because there are many criteria that can be used to order them. Wikipedia's entry for world's largest cities describes a number of ways of ranking, so we'll pick a couple which seem to be applicable in this case.

One method is city proper, which is defined as "an urban locality without its suburbs" with the result that this method results in the smallest populations for each city.

Since the PC version is canonical in terms of features, we can consider that to be Minecraft's city proper.

Where does Minecraft PC place in the List of cities proper by population? With 10,368,365 sold it just squeaks into twelfth place ahead of Shenzhen, China:
  1.  Seoul, South Korea (10,575,447)
  2.  Minecraft PC (10,368,365)
  3.  Shenzhen, China (10,357,938)
Minecraft PC sales are larger than every city proper in North America. In the Americas only Sao Paulo, Brazil is larger. In Europe, only Moscow and Istanbul are larger.

Another way to rank Minecraft is to use the total sales of all versions, the 26.3 million figure calculated at the beginning of this article. The total of all versions is perhaps analogous to the concept of a city's urban area.

Where does Minecraft place in the List of urban areas by population?
  1. Tokyo-Yokohama (Keihin), Japan (37,239,000)
  2. Jakarta (Jabodetabek), Indonesia (26,746,000)
  3. Minecraft (26,300,000)
  4. Seoul-Incheon (Sudogwon), South Korea (22,868,000)
  5. Delhi, India (22,826,000)
So when ranked by urban area, Minecraft zooms past many of the other Asian giants and even moves past Seoul into a solid third place.

A couple of other rankings:

List of U.S. states and territories by population:
  1. California (38,041,430)
  2. Minecraft (26,300,000)
  3. Texas (26,059,203)
Minecraft would be the second most populous state in the U.S.

List of countries by population:
  1. Nepal (26,494,504)
  2. Minecraft (26,300,000)
  3. Afghanistan (25,500,100)
  4. ...
  5. Sweden (9,566,945)
Minecraft is the 46th most populous country in the world. Now 46 may not seem like a very impressive rank until you peruse the list and see how many familiar countries rank lower than Minecraft.

The most notable country is Sweden, Minecraft's country of origin. Minecraft easily outranks it by more than a factor of two. Eventually there may be three copies of a version of Minecraft sold for every person in Sweden!

Any way you look at it, there are a lot of people buying and playing Minecraft.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Minecraft is going mainstream (vote for Notch in the TIME 100!)

Signs are everywhere that Minecraft is going mainstream. I'm not talking about mainstream among gamers—most gamers are aware of Minecraft, whether or not they play it.

I mean that Minecraft is going mainstream in the sense that non-gamers are becoming aware of it. Just in the last few days two major old media outlets have recognized Notch (Markus Persson) for Minecraft—both TIME and the New Yorker magazines.

The TIME recognition is currently only a nomination, but it's for the TIME 100 list of the most influential people in the world! The final list is selected by editors; it appears that they're guided by online voting for the 151 nominees. Thus it seems safe to say that Notch will make the cut from 151 to 100, since what other nominees will have so many middle schoolers and teens around the world voting for them? Or gamers of any age, for that matter?

I looked quickly through the list of nominees and it appears that Notch has the youth vote sewn up. Plus, voting is yea/nay for each candidate, so it appears you can support multiple people. Not the most rigorous poll.

You can vote here to approve Notch's appearance on the list. As I write this he holds seventh place(!) with 16K votes. There are four more days of voting. Given the millions sold it will be interesting to see how many votes he gets when the polling closes on Friday. Whatever the total, it's possible that the Minecraft and gamer communities will mobilize to the point that people will be a bit sick of hearing about it by the time Friday rolls around. [Update 4/11: A huge surge of votes has lifted Notch into second place, passing Kim Dotcom. Mohamed Morsi, the President of Egypt, who still holds first place by a large margin has more negative than positive votes, so Notch now holds the top spot for positive votes after deducting votes against.]

It's even more of a sign of becoming mainstream when you make the New Yorker magazine due to its exclusive readership. This is particularly true for games since they're not often covered. Will Wright was profiled in the New Yorker prior to Spore's release in what now seems like a masterful bit of PR and marketing work by Electronic Arts considering how the game turned out.

Unlike the profile of Will Wright, the New Yorker piece about Notch doesn't appear in the print issue. It's a blog entry on the web site, which greatly diminishes its impact. Titled The Minecraft Creator Markus Persson Faces Life After Fame, it's a well-written profile of Notch and how he's coped with the fame and fortune brought on by Minecraft's unexpected success. While not long, it does touch on some fairly personal things such as Notch's relationship with his father, and his divorce. It made the front page of Hacker News where it triggered a lively discussion.

This sudden spate of coverage is coincident with Minecraft sales on PC hitting 10 million copies, which ties it for seventh place on Wikipedia's List of best-selling PC games. My post that Minecraft is still selling like hotcakes holds—in the run up to the 10 million milestone, @jeb_ (Jens Bergensten) tweeted "Not slowing down...":

@jeb_ tweeted: "In January I estimated Minecraft (PC) would hit 10,000,000 on April 8, but now it looks more likely to be on April 5. Not slowing down... :o" 2 Apr

It's also in the wake of Minecraft's sales on all platforms hitting 20 million back in January, which was noted in The New Yorker piece which linked to an earlier tweet by Jeb:

@jeb_ tweeted: "About 10 hours ago, Minecraft (PC) hit 9,000,000 sold copies! Which should bring the total for all platforms to... 20 million?" 22 Jan

If it were any other company I'd assume that PR work was involved in getting this old media coverage, but since it's Mojang I'd be surprised if it was the case. But one never knows.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Twitter is broken—tweets are missing

Currently the following is displayed prominently at the top of Twitter's I'm Missing Tweets or DMs page:

Bug Alert:
  • Some users are not currently able to see all Tweets posted within the past week from accounts they follow. These Tweets might still show up in third-party applications or in your Mentions tab.
  • Some users are currently experiencing an issue with direct messages disappearing, without the sender or receiver deleting them from their inbox.
  • Some users may experience a delay in DM delivery. A notification may arrive to your email inbox, but the DM won't appear for some time after the email delivery.
Our engineers are hard at work to solve these issues. Follow @Support for updates!

There has been no mention of missing tweets recently on the @Support account, unless those tweets have themselves gone missing *wink*.

Unmentioned in the bug alert are lists.

For the last several hours my Twitter list for Minecraft hasn't been showing all the tweets:

Missing tweets in list @Stratagerm/minecraft (Click to enlarge).

Note the gap between tweets from 2 hours ago and February 16. This list should show dozens or even hundreds of tweets during that time. Notably missing is the tweet made by list member Jens Bergensten 12 hours ago announcing the Minecraft 1.5 pre-release.

I'm not the only user to see this issue with lists but it hasn't been widely reported. I suspect that it is happening more but that people aren't noticing.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Minecraft is still selling like hotcakes

Both the Xbox and the Pocket Edition recently hit sales milestones recently, which allow us to easily calculate total sales across all platforms:

PC/Mac: 8.7 million
Xbox: 5 million
Pocket: 5 million
Total: 18.7 million

In early December it was reported that the XBox version was selling 40-60K copies every week, and Notch himself tweeted that Minecraft sold 453k copies on all platforms on Christmas day.

In November, 2011 Minecraft had sold 4 million copies; in the fourteen months since then it has sold another 14.7 million across all platforms.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

When Notch stepped aside, legions of young Minecraft fans missed daddy

[Another post exhumed from deep in the drafts folder.]

In December 2011, Notch announced that he was stepping aside from Minecraft development:

Notch tweeted "As of yesterday, @jeb_ is the lead developer on Minecraft!" [Link no longer works due to Twitter's link rot.]

So although it had been telegraphed for weeks, when Notch himself finally announced it on Twitter and his blog, these young fans were left in a state of shock. Many were caught blindsided; the news item on the Minecraft Forum received over 500 comments, many to the effect that they "didn't see it coming."

Note the first four choices in this poll on the forum:
  • I miss him. D:
  • I kinda miss him
  • I think it'll be okay without him
The abandonment issues raised by Notch's move were so strong that many young fans were in denial. This was perfectly illustrated by a comment to an item in Blue's News:

Hes not abandoning it ether, hes still going to do work on it in addition to his new project, its just he wont be the lead man anymore.

The meme that Notch would "still do some work on Minecraft" appeared many times in posts on Minecraft Forum.

Apparently one characteristic when a game's community has a large percentage of younger players is that they will reject news from credible sources. This not only includes gaming news sites such as gamespy and IGN, but even Notch himself.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Autograph lines at Minecon, is this a kid thing?

[This is one of several posts that's been sitting in draft form for way too long.]

One thing that struck me when watching videos of November 2011's Minecon was the large number of young attendees at the conference. Minecon 2011 was crawling with kids!

I'm not sure how Minecon 2012 compared to 2011 regarding the age of attendees. I only watched a single video from Minecon 2012 covering the API session, and during the Q&A there were a number of questions from kids. Being children they had a bit of trouble staying on topic, often asking questions about future developments in Minecraft itself rather than about the forthcoming API.

One blogger noted that the Q&As:

…meant sitting through a variety of children asking redundant things that have been answered a hundred times over, but you have to bite the biscuit on that sort of thing. The convention certainly opened my eyes to the volume and variety of people playing this game. Many of them are children, which just highlights the need for mindfulness, particularly when playing on servers. You’re probably surrounded by at least ten or so minors under the age of 12.

Here's a report from an attendee mentioning both autographs and kids at Minecon 2012:

Most of the panels were not informative at all, for example the Editing Panel were just them saying; “We use this software, and this” and answering questions from 10 year olds, asking why their video had black bars…Minecon is pretty expensive, but there were still a lot of kids around, but that is just a part of the Minecraft community. We spent a lot of time with Martyn (InTheLittleWood). And we could not walk for 10 min without 7 people wanting his autograph.

A year ago in Las Vegas the young fans at Minecon 2011 worshiped Notch like a god and stood in line for hours to get his autograph. Notch and other members of the Mojang staff spent considerable time signing autographs. (Minecon 2011 sold out with an attendance of 5000, and at the time I recall hearing reports of some disappointed fans who left Minecon without an autograph, but I can't find sources for that now.)

Apparently this year's Minecon 2012 had autograph lines too:

Oh man why did I stay in a line for an autograph while I could've attended Sethbling's panel

I've never attended any gamer-oriented gatherings. Do people wait for hours in autograph lines at QuakeCon, BlizzCon, or PAX, or is this only a feature of gatherings with large numbers of young attendees such as Minecon?