Minecraft Interview With Mojang's Jens Bergensten
Persisent Pocket Edition servers coming in a future update.
What's left to say about a gaming phenomenon where the sales figures speak for themselves? Following the explosion of Minecraft's popularity in PC circles, it's now the Pocket Edition of the game that's stealing all the headlines by out-selling even the PC version during 2012.
We decided to get in touch with Jens Bergensten, lead developer of both the PC and mobile versions of Minecraft, to discuss the past success of the Pocket Edition, the exciting new multiplayer update the team are working on, and just why it's so tricky porting the entire PC experience over to mobiles.
It seems like a simple question, but now that the game's been out for a while what are the limitations in simply working in all of the content currently avaialable in the latest PC version of Minecraft?
The main limitation is the number of different devices we support, and some devices are really slow. This makes it hard to add features that are rendering, or CPU-intensive. A simple example is that we have been unable to generate caves in the Pocket Edition worlds, because caves cause the worlds to have considerably more polygon faces to render, which hurts frames-per-second.
A second limitation is that Pocket Edition is written in C++, which makes porting from the PC version slower, and C++ is slightly slower to work with in general.
The mobile edition outsold even the PC version in 2012. How much growth do you think there is left in the mobile player-base? How many Pocket Edition players do you think you'll have by the end of 2013?
We always fail doing predictions, but it's clear that the Pocket Edition will reach and overcome the PC version's sale numbers this year. We aim to celebrate 10 million sold PC copies in April, but it looks like we need to celebrate the same milestone for the Pocket Edition at the same time. It's not unreasonable to imagine that Pocket Edition has reached 15 million by the end of 2013.
Mobile games typically tend to be played in short bursts. Do you have any data about how long players lose themselves in the Pocket Edition? If so, how does that compare to PC statistics?
No we have very little data. What we've heard, though, is that people play Minecraft for very long sessions. Sometimes several hours in one go. I don't have real numbers to compare it to the PC version, but sessions are likely longer on the PC version.
While more and more hardcore gamers are at least dipping into mobile gaming, there is a perceived divide between PC and console gamers and mobile gamers. Are you happy with how the new player experience of Minecraft Pocket Edition caters for more casual gamers? Is that a difference that Mojang takes into account?
We usually design our games with ourselves as the target audience, but for Pocket Edition there's a slight difference. One reason is that we find it easier to play on PC, but also because the Pocket Edition players seems to be younger by average. This makes it more important to keep the game kid-friendly, but that's something we think about for the PC version, too.
What do you have planned for the next update of Minecraft: Pocket Edition? What features can we expect to see and do you have any kind of timescale you can share with us?
The next update will only have minor feature additions. We're going to try to add fire and buckets again. Those features were in the game before but were removed due to performance reasons. Most of our efforts, though, will be put into online multiplayer. We're going to set up a system for starting and connecting to persistent Pocket Edition servers. The first release will be fairly alpha, but we'll make it better over time.
Are there any features that might not ever make the transition to the Pocket Edition? What technical challenges do you face when working on mobile hardware?
At the moment it looks difficult to add other dimensions, such as the Nether and the End, but every year we'll drop "obsolete" devices that may open up even for these kind of features.
How does the process of updating the mobile Minecraft compare with the PC experience? As a high-profile title you presumably work closely with Apple - how do you find working with a third-party and what's that relationship like?
It takes us about 2 weeks to pass review and put an update on AppStore. For us that's an eternity, and makes updating tedious. We get help from Apple and Amazon (for Kindle Fire etc) from time to time, though.
Given the success of Minecraft: Pocket Edition, can we expect to see 0x10c on mobile devices? If so, do you expect the titles to launch simulatenously, or would it follow a similar pattern to Minecraft?
Oh, I can only speculate. Markus (Notch) wants to work on the game himself in the beginning, and he enjoys releasing stuff early. What I'm saying is, the PC version will probably be out much sooner than any possible pocket release.