In 2009, a strange, lo-fi video game called Minecraft blinked into existence in alpha mode. Two years later, its eccentric, brilliant Swedish creator Markus "Notch" Persson released the game to the wider world. Fast forward another two years, and Minecraft has sold over 25 million copies on PC, mobile, and Xbox 360 versions, earned Persson a fawning profile in Time, and earned billions of kronor for the Mojang company he founded along with developer Jakob Porsér and CEO Carl O. Manneh.
For our purposes here, that last part is the most important. Minecraft, and the continued revenue stream it will provide for the near future, gives the small Mojang staff time and space to experiment, which is essential for their designs. See, Minecraft succeeded financially exactly because it was never meant to do so. It was function and art first, revenue second. It is a truly weird little game, one that requires players to build structures—or whatever they can imagine, really—with colored cubes. Achievement in the traditional sense of accomplishing goals is optional. Persson explained his philosophy to Polygon: "I basically don't care about narrative in all the games. It's very rare that I do. I usually just skip, skip, skip, skip. I have no idea why I'm killing this guy. It's like the game mechanics are interesting and then all of a sudden you don't really know, ‘What, he was my friend?' OK. I think I'm just one of those gamers who is kind of more interested in mechanics."
The company's next offerings are trying to find a similar space, to fill a need no one knew existed. Doing so takes time, experimentation, and a willingness to fail, three traits that are much easier to have if there's a multimillion dollar security cushion.
One of them recently arrived in beta.
Scrolls is Porsér's baby, a combination of a board game and a collectible card game. Gameplay revolves around a deck that features scrolls (obviously) that have various characteristics and abilities. Just watch the trailer:
Porsér more or less succeeded in his attempt, which—like Minecraft before it—will be refined in beta before being released even more broadly. A review on PCMag.com called it "among the best boardgames ever made for a computer," which is effusive if strange praise.
(One issue: the name. Googling "Scrolls" inevitably brings up a number of links to Elder Scrolls, a hugely successful massively multiplayer online role-playing game [MMORPG] from Bethesda Softworks. News about the Mojang game gets buried. The similarity also spawned a lawsuit that resulted in Mojang relinquishing a trademark to the name Scrolls but being allowed to use the word as a title for its game.)
Scrolls, ironically, is a bit more nakedly capitalistic than Minecraft, probably because it was conceived in a time before the latter game took off financially. Players must pay $20 for the beta version and spend additional cash to purchase scrolls and decks, functionality that drew criticism from some quarters for its "pay to win" qualities. But there are aspects of the game that limit the direct one-to-one nature of spend money equals win, and one would assume that Porsér et al will work to decrease the relationship as they iron out the kinks of the game.
The important part is that Scrolls exists in a very real form, now making Mojang more than only Minecraft. It's a company that is producing imaginative, high-quality games with the freedom to experiment. While 0x10c (pronounced “ten to the c”) may or may not ever see the light of day, it promises to be even stranger than Scrolls. And, since it's Notch's work, chances are it’ll be successful.
At the time of the lawsuit with Bethesda, the smaller company's business developer Daniel Kaplan said, "We are going to do as much as we can, since I really hate it how the big boys always get their own way." That might be true, but Mojang isn't doing poorly itself. And that bodes well for one vision of the future of gaming.