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What I learned from buying Minecraft

Minecraft, in my mind, is one of the most successful startups in all time. Bootstraped by one developer in Sweden (@Notch) the company never needed to raise capital, earned revenue of over $400 Million dollars and had a $2.5 Billion exit.
All within 5 years.
Minecraft was a runaway success because it was and is a great game. It procedurally generates a unique and infinite world – a world where you can interact with and build anything. These were amazing innovations that people clearly loved.
So at the heart of Minecraft’s success, like any successful business, was a great product that customers loved. That’s the most important lesson. Focus on making a great product that your customers love, everything else is secondary.
With that said, I learned something else from following Minecraft. The company approached its customers in a way that improved my experience and helped create an internet sensation.
They were Transparent.
I learned about Minecraft in September 2010 from a news article titled “Minecraft creator earning $350k a day”. My first thought was about how lucky this guy was! Next came the question, how do they know how much money he’s making a day?
It didn’t take me long to find one of my favourite pages on the internet – this. A counter of the number of pc/mac copies copies sold – still there today. Over the years I’ve jumped onto that page just to remind myself of the scale of the internet. The number of copies sold in the past 24hrs was always over 10k – that’s about $250k in sales. Every. Single. Day. Even years after the game went viral. Over 21 Million copies have sold to date.
Sharing their sales figures, something most private companies keep very close to their chest, surprised me. It generated a lot of discussion and articles like the one above. Seeing just how many people were buying the game actually influenced my purchase – I wanted to see what the fuss was about.
More than anything it’s a symptom how open the creator, Notch, was about the game’s development and the business. People love it when you’re transparent – especially on the internet where so much is anonymous. Notch seemed honest and real because he shared so much and was so upfront with his customers.
  • He was active on Twitter always engaging with customers and answering questions candidly
  • Near constant developer updates on his blog with new versions released at least monthly
  • Later on weekly test versions were uploaded so players could try new features before a major update was released
  • Notch even streamed himself creating a game from scratch in 48hrs on Twitch
  • Notch openly talked about Paypal limiting his account to €600k
  • Have a look for yourself – his Tumblr shows how much he likes to share online
The level of transparency I felt from Notch and the Mojang team was beyond what I’ve felt at any other company. That’s a good thing. It made trust that the game  would only improve and that they would stand behind it.
Communicating both your successes and especially setbacks is tough. But when people see a person rather than a company they are more likely use and especially to share your products. Check out this article talking more about why writing publicly is hard but important. I’m not the only one who thinks this is useful and important!
So build a great product and consider how you can be more transparent.
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