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Mojang CEO on scaling up for two new projects

Mojang CEO on scaling up for two new projects Exclusive

February 6, 2012 | By Christian Nutt

Mojang, the Swedish developer behind hit indie online game Minecraft, is known for its tight relationship with its community. But that relationship goes beyond game releases and testing.

"They say we're the first company in history to crowdsource a defense in court," Mojang CEO Carl Manneh tells Gamasutra. "We put out all the documents online and we got so much help from the community."

The Minecraft community has helped find instances of prior art that Mojang will use to defend itself in the Scrolls trademark case. Last year, Rockville, MD-based ZeniMax Media said there were too many similarities between The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim -- developed by subsidiary Bethesda Game Studios -- and Mojang's game Scrolls, and filed suit against the Minecraft developer.

"It's amazing to see the commitment and engagement from the community in all aspects," says Manneh.

But it may not be that surprising at all. He tells Gamasutra that when it comes to releasing games, "I think we're pushing the boundaries in terms of engaging community and having real commitment."

"Everyone has a community, but it's different when you actually work directly with the community."

This presents some challenges, however. Minecraft has attracted an audience in the tens of millions, and the company moved into publishing late last year, and the team must grow to keep pace with these developments.

Growth, however, is "challenging in a way, because we have been growing extremely fast in one year, in all aspects," says Manneh.

But Manneh and the team do not want to see Mojang's unique culture or style of releases become sidelined due to an influx of developers. That is "probably the most difficult aspect of growing the company," he says.

"We're so happy and proud about the culture at Mojang, and that's what really, I think, makes our games and the communication we have great."

The players "know exactly who does what in the company," he says, and becoming faceless would be a big problem for such a community-focused studio.

"Just handling the current projects will require some growth," says Manneh. But Mojang does not intend to stop there.

The team is already having trouble "prioritizing from the opportunities that we have," he says. The massive success of Minecraft has opened many doors and many potential partners have made attractive offers -- so the team must scale up.

In fact, says Manneh, Mojang is working on "two unannounced major projects that we're planning to do" for 2012. One is internal, and one is with an external partner.

When it comes to the external project, he says "it was very organic, we just went out and had dinner and said 'let's do this.'" 

"We could hire 20 people tomorrow and put them all to work, but that's not going to work for us," says Manneh.

He doesn't understand -- to take an extreme example -- how Zynga has swelled to 3000 employees in three years.

"A lot of people ask us how we relate to the gaming industry... I don't think we think about it that much," he says. "We don't do any analysis of 'this is how the industry does it, let's do it differently.' We just do it how it feels natural to us, basically."

What's the guiding philosophy? "We want to make the best for the user and the game... And I think that empowers people too, because it inspires them to make their own decisions."

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