Minecraft magic

Since game developer Mojang released Minecraft in 2011, sales figures have sky-rocketed. But this startup still only has a little more than 20 employees. Perhaps the entrepreneurial spirit is one of the keys to its success.

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Minecraft magic

Since game developer Mojang released Minecraft in 2011, sales figures have sky-rocketed. But this startup still only has a little more than 20 employees. Perhaps the entrepreneurial spirit is one of the keys to its success.

Minecraft – child’s play

Minecraft was Swedish programmer Markus ‘Notch’ Persson’s one-man hobby project. He hoped to earn the equivalent of a programmer’s salary from sales of the game – a very modest hope, as it turned out. By the end of 2011, Persson’s startup Mojang had nine employees and a turnover of SEK 540 million (EUR 61 million).

The beautiful simplicity of the game – basically digital Lego – is that a 4-year-old can have as much fun playing it as a 24-year-old. Understanding and realising the mechanics behind this is one of the strengths of Swedish game developers.

Mojang is the developer that came from nowhere and in record time created a game that became a cultural, social and economic phenomenon. Sold only through digital channels, Minecraft contributed to Mojang’s 2013 record profit of SEK 325 million.

Mojang’s office is located in Stockholm’s ‘gaming district’, Södermalm.

Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/imagebank.sweden.se

The Mojang office – or where the magic happens

The Mojang office is what happens when, by some remarkable alchemy, a bunch of young guys (and a couple of girls) work out how to turn their idea of having fun into a global business phenomenon. The work space is open plan and relaxed – no reception, a large and well-provisioned kitchen, an open area with a pool table and big leather chairs and sofas, then that absolute necessity for every working environment, a movie theatre.

The conference room looks a lot like where the bad guys plan world domination in early Bond movies. Basically, all it is missing is an enthusiastic studio audience and cameras, because it could be the set for a glossy American sitcom: The Big Bang Theory meets 30 Rock.

‘Swedes love technology’, Mojang’s Lydia Winters says, as one of the explanations for why Swedes are so successful at developing games. She also believes that people’s relatively high level of English makes the export of games easier.

Photo: Max Photography for GDC Online

Flat structure, few managers

Lydia Winters, aka Minecraftchick, is Mojang’s Florida-born ‘director of fun’ – in itself, a job title that epitomises the non-traditional, free-spirited mindset that drives Sweden’s booming games industry. With a job description that ranges from organising and attending events and appearing on Mojang livestreams to brand management and ‘just coming up with things’, Lydia has been working at Mojang since 2011.

As an American at the heart of one of Sweden’s biggest hitters in the games industry, Winters is well placed to explain what it is that has made Sweden such a global powerhouse in computer games.

‘I think it’s a lot to do with the way companies are structured here, especially this sort of company, where everyone’s young,’ she says. ‘There’s a much flatter structure than you’d find in the US, with no hierarchy and few managers. It means it’s a very open environment for input and ideas to bounce around, which makes for a more creative atmosphere. Add to that a strong entrepreneurial spirit and you have a perfect environment for businesses like this to start up and succeed.’

Computer savvy

Winters also sees Swedes’ computer know-how as a success factor. ‘People are comfortable with computers from a really young age in this country’, she says. ‘Most of the guys here at Mojang were coding from when they were kids.’

And she speculates about whether the Swedish winter may have something to do with it.

‘When you spend 40 per cent more of your time indoors than you would in, say, Florida, it’s got to be good for creativity.’

Winters had been working for Mojang for a year before she moved to Stockholm, and one might expect that to have been a difficult move for someone used to the subtropical climate of Florida. So will she stay?

‘Yes, absolutely,’ she says. ‘In fact, I’m going to apply for Swedish citizenship.

Last updated: 7 March 2014

Hugo McEwen