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Mojang, take 2:  Scrolls
Mojang, take 2: Scrolls Exclusive
March 1, 2012 | By Christian Nutt

Will Scrolls be the Minecraft studio's second hit? Co-founder and lead developer on the title Jakob Porser tells Gamasutra that he's not quite sure, but that the studio wants to "focus on making a game that we ourselves want to play."

Jakob Porser, one of the founders of Mojang, is spending "most" of his time working on Scrolls, a collectible card game that the company plans to launch in a closed beta sometime in the next few months.

"Actually I think we said six months at Minecon... So that's our goal and that's what we're working on, and that's kind of the next milestone for the development for the game," says Porser. Minecon, of course, took place last November in Las Vegas.

The team played the game a lot -- there were even public trials at the con -- and since then has put its collective head down and worked on development based on what was learned.

But how was a collectible card game chosen as Mojang's second project? Out of conversations with Markus "Notch" Persson. 

"We were always talking about different games that we wanted to make, and I think the idea behind Scrolls just kind of grew over a number of years. We're both big fans of collectible card games as well, and we want to try and make a collectible card game that is more designed for digital use," says Porser.

"And obviously we've been told a number of times by people in the business that this is not a smart move -- we should focus on what we're known for." But, he says, "we don't want to be a one trick pony, as well."

He's not worried about finding an audience for one simple reason: "I think as long as you can make a game that's basically a good game, you should be able to attract people with it," he says.

That said, "still, we're not thinking about it as, you know, this game has to make it as big as Minecraft."

That game's huge audience certainly takes pressure off, however. Right now, says Porser, the team is just "trying to focus on making a game that we ourselves want to play and not think about. 'Will it be as successful? Will it make a ton of money? Will it attract a lot of people?'"

Release Plan

Mojang plans on "developing it during the beta period kind of like Minecraft did," says Porser. But given the major differences in the titles -- for Scrolls, cards have to be designed and balanced -- things are "slightly different," he admits.

One advantage he says he has, however, is not having to worry about a paper version of the game -- which opens things up on the design and business fronts, both. For example, Scrolls incorporates a board to add to the strategy, but this has no real world impact.

Paper game manufacturers also "have the problem of basically competing against themselves as far as prices go," says Porser. "They don't want to sell the digital version a whole lot cheaper, because then they won't sell the physical version, and I fully understand that. Whereas we will not have that problem."

The goal, then, is "about trying to design the game as much as possible to be compatible with the digital platform that it's on. I think we can learn a lot from existing collectible card games, but I think as we're trying to make this push to be something different, also," says Porser.

When it comes to the direction to take the actual game design, says Porser, the developers will primarily listen to the community. But analytics, too, will be useful -- for "balance issues", he says.

"I think we want to do both, actually. I think there's a lot of things to be said for analytics, but there's also a lot of things to be said by us listening to what people think."

Competitive Dreams... or Nightmares?

One way that it's different from Minecraft is that it's a competitive game. "Every time you do that with any game you definitely have balance issues," says Porser. "So it's going to be something that we will have to devote a significant amount of time to."

Even still, he sees a potential e-sports future for the title. That "would be really cool", he says, but "I think it's hard to say, at this point, if that will be the role we choose to take, because I think we want to stick to our traditional ways, like with Minecraft, of kind of co-developing the game with the gamers."

So will there be a pro competitive scene? "We will need to wait for the user input."

Competitive communities can, however, be unfriendly ones. Minecraft is well known for its helpful fans, but Porser recognizes that other communities can be "brutal."

"I used to play World of Warcraft; I was into Arena and the PvP scene," he says. "After awhile, I actually kind of stopped going to the message boards and the forums, just because you almost got depressed when you got there because there was so much complaining on balance issues."

"Hopefully, I would like to see a community that is helping in the way that the Minecraft community is. I don't think maybe we'll get there easily, but I think definitely it's something that we need to consider when we make the game and how we structure it."

Though it is a different game, Porser does hope that it can build community just as easily as Minecraft did.

"You have to invest some time into actually learning the game and then become skillful at it, and I think that kind of attracts certain people. And once you've mastered that game or at least learned it, you're very keen to tell your friends about it, to get them to play it with you.

"So hopefully we can get a bit of the same viral effect that Minecraft has, where people actually go out and say, 'This game is really fun, and you should try it, and we can play against each other,' and start a little league together, or whatever."

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David Holmin
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It will be interesting to see Scrolls. In a way it's the game to display whether Mojang are as good at designing game mechanics as they are impressive technology.

Darcy Nelson
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I think hoping for a community like the one built around Minecraft is a bit of a longshot. Show me a competitive online game that isn't rife with trolls, racial-slur hurling 16 year-olds and general harassment and I'll put my money into it on the principle of novelty.

Jason Carter
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I like the way he is going about this. I think this is something that too many developers lack in the industry is the: "I don't care what is or isn't popular or 'safe' to develop, I'm going to develop what I want to and make it great"

Sure it's risky, but I think we'd see a lot more interesting and varied games if people held this kind of mindset and truly went and developed their creations. This mindset as well as tools becoming easier for indie game devs to break into the market will make game creations a lot more versatile and interesting I think.

I've never played minecraft, and don't really desire to, but I think I'd like to try this card game when it comes out, it sounds good (as I am a competitive gamer and love PvP/challenging games).

Bruno Ribeiro
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Structuring a game thinking on the kind of community it can create is trully insightful.

Craig Page
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No no no they're going about this all wrong, they need to focus on Minecraft exclusively, build on that with more Minecraft toys (and stop giving the profits to charity!!), a Minecraft tv show, and then get their stock ready for a $100 billion IPO. :)