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Minecraft: A Complete History

We reflect on a decade of mining and crafting in Mojang's seminal game.

  • Ben LyonsBen Lyons

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Few games on the market have the ability to stay relevant for a decade. Usually, after a few years, a sequel is created to pass the torch and ensure the series survives, a digital evolution of sorts. However, some take a different route and fight tradition by creating a game so unique it can stand the test of time. Minecraft is one of those games, and since its creation almost ten years ago, it has sold hundreds of millions of copies and still maintains an average player base of over 90 million people per month. To celebrate a title that has influenced so many others, and to chart the course of the second best-selling video game of all time, we've put together a timeline of Minecraft's first ten years.

When Markus "Notch" Persson first began developing Minecraft, it was just a side-project influenced by some his favourite games, those being Dwarf Fortress and Dungeon Keeper. In fact, Minecraft was inspired by an earlier title, Infiniminer. This game was created by Zachtronics Industries but unfortunately lost its developmental support around May, which was approximately the time Notch began creating Minecraft. When Notch discovered Infiniminer, it provided him with such an experience that he "decided it was the game he wanted to do".

Around this time, Notch was working at - a site which allowed users to create and share photo albums - meaning the game wasn't his first priority. Still, this didn't stop him from consistently upgrading and improving what was the very first edition of Minecraft. On May 17, 2009, Notch felt comfortable enough with his work and decided it was time for a public opinion, resulting in a developmental release on TIGSource Forums, a site which allows aspiring developers to show off their work and get feedback). This edition of the game became known as Minecraft Classic, and it was the first stepping stone to it becoming a billion-dollar title.

We've come along way in the last ten years.

When developing Minecraft Classic, Notch described the process as "kind of a code-sketch". What he meant was he usually started by getting some code on the screen that he could play around with before deciding it was usable or could be implemented into the full game. "For Minecraft, it actually started with an isometric strategy game" Notch said in an interview when talking about the game's early development and how it was actually very fluid for a while.

For the next year, Notch worked even harder putting out multiple updates to the game, such as the introduction of survival, ultimately giving the experience more substance. Around this time was when we first started to hear about the potential end-game boss being introduced, that being the Ender Dragon. It was in 2010, around June 28, when development went to the next level as Minecraft was now in Alpha. Sales were skyrocketing beyond anyone's expectations leading Notch to quit his day job at jAlbum and begin working full time on bringing his dream to life. This new-found focus on the title meant even more updates which included new items, blocks, mobs, and even the crafting system we all recognise. On December 11, 2010, Notch committed entirely to Minecraft. He set up a studio called Mojang and employed a bunch of skilled programmers to help make his game even better, which ultimately meant on December 20 it was ready to head to Beta.

Throughout 2011, Mojang - headed up by Notch - consistently put out updates to Minecraft's live server, introducing more content, new server hosts and even an entire end game feature, challenging players to defeat the powerful Ender Dragon. The game was so successful at this point, the team felt they could successfully release Minecraft: Pocket Edition on Android phones on August 16, with iOS systems following on November 17, making mobile the second platform the game breached. Very shortly after this, Mojang decided it was time to make the PC Beta version official and it launched the game as a full title November 18. Needless to say, each of the launches was successful, however, on December 1, 2011, Notch was replaced by Jens "Jeb" Bergensten as the lead designer of the game, at which point he lost full creative control of Minecraft.

Everyone wants a piece of Minecraft, even The Avengers.

At the start of 2012, Mojang acquired developers from CraftBukkit - a popular server platform - as well as (allegedly) their server modification tool. This was done in an effort to improve the title's servers. 2012 also was the year Minecraft first made it onto consoles. 4J Studios developed a version of the game that was playable on Xbox 360. It launched on Microsoft's old-gen console on May 12, where it headlined the Xbox Live Arcade NEXT promotion. Alongside the release of the port, one of the first named updates made it onto the live game, that being the Pretty Scary patch which brought loads of new mobs for players to fight.

2013 marked the launch of the PS3 version of the game which became available on December 17, also by 4J Studios. However, this wasn't the most notable piece of Minecraft history for the year. Long-time fans will remember 'The Update That Changed The World' which brought new biomes and a host of new features such as horses to the Java edition of the game. This particular update changed the perception of Minecraft; now it was an exploration game through and through, giving the players the opportunity to travel and discover exciting new locations that were previously unavailable.

The start of 2014 was a relaxed period for the game. It saw updates here and there such as the Bountiful update which brought more survival features and new blocks, but once summer finished, everything went crazy. The Enhanced Edition landed on Xbox One on September 5, featuring bigger worlds, however, it's what happened two weeks later that cemented the future of the title. On September 15, 2014, Microsoft acquired Mojang and all their intellectual property in a deal worth $2.5 billion USD. The reason this occurred was that Notch - still a majority shareholder of Mojang at the time - put out a tweet asking for someone to buy his company after fans criticised him for "doing the right thing". Whilst this may seem controversial, as communities should want their developers to do the correct thing for their games, sometimes extra help is required, something Notch wasn't ready for. "That disconnect became so clear to me. I don't have the relationship I thought I did with my fans. It felt like a burden a times," Notch said in an interview following the sale. This did, however, pave the way for the Minecraft we know today.

When Microsoft bought Mojang, Halo skins became inevitable.

2014 also saw the launch of the game on both PS4 and PS Vita, both being developed by 4J Studios. Interestingly, the game's continued presence on Sony's platforms is actually pretty noteworthy, as Microsoft and Sony usually don't work together. It was a rare olive branch held out between the two gaming titans, and you could argue that Minecraft was a starting point in the ongoing conversation about cross-play (more on that later) and future collaboration.

As for 2015, this was a particularly slow time. Everyone was still adjusting to the acquisition meaning aside from the release of the Telltale produced Minecraft: Story Mode game, only a new Wii U port was introduced. The Telltale developed Story Mode game was actually a significant moment in Minecraft's history as not only was it a playable game, but it was later developed into a Netflix Interactive Show, which launched in 2018. This was the first example of significance where the Minecraft IP was being used for a spin-off outside of the actual game, demonstrating the potential for a future laden with Minecraft-related products. In fact, the Netflix show was actually the last in-house project Telltale worked on before it collapsed and liquidated under the pressure of a demanding market.

Ever since the collaboration between Mojang and Telltale, Minecraft has been merchandised in ways beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Fans can buy Minecraft inspired Lego, clothing, bed sheets, lamp shades, controllers, figurines, phone cases and pretty much anything else you can think of.