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Independent developer Markus Persson, better known by his Twitter handle, @notch, has sold 1 million copies of Minecraft, a first-person free-roaming game where players can build basically anything.
Persson did so without any kind of support from publishers and used PayPal for a large chunk of his sales. Having that kind of success without a publisher isn’t entirely unheard of — the Humble Indie Bundle racked up a decent chunk of change for its developers — but it’s still quite rare.
Instead of using publishers, Persson relied on viral communities to spread word about the game. It spawned a number of online communities, such as one on news aggregation site Reddit (which, coincidentally, is one of the leading candidates for best new community of 2010). The game even has its own Wiki, because of just how many things players can do in the world.
Here’s the story of Minecraft: Players wake up on a deserted island and start punching trees. That creates wood, which they can turn into mining picks and other types of tools. From there, the sky is the limit. Players can chip away at anything in the world and use it as a resource to build whatever they can think up. They can craft specific items, like swords and tools, or simply use the blocks to build up giant and complicated structures.
Projects range from a scale representation of the U.S.S. Enterprise featured in the Star Trek series, to a giant cannon powered by 73 blocks of TNT with the sole purpose of launching a cow in a mining cart to the moon, to a recreation of the Earth itself. There are even a few shots at using Minecraft to create artistic videos that have become pretty popular on video-sharing sites like YouTube.
The game has some hilariously silly graphics, with the player’s character represented by a very blocky person running around with a mining pick or sword. But that’s part of the charm of the game, and it’s charming enough to rack up at least 15 million euros in sales, based on the game’s €14.95 price point. But it hasn’t been all easy. PayPal at one point froze Persson’s account when it held more than $750,000 because it observed what it called “suspicious deposits and withdrawals.”
The original version of the game launched in May in 2009 and picked up the pace quickly throughout the next year, adding multiplayer and a number of other game modes.