While at the SXSW Gaming Expo in Austin last weekend, we got to meet Lydia Winters, the Director of Fun at Mojang, the creators of the insanely popular game, Minecraft. We had a quick chat with her to learn about the secret behind Minecraft's universal appeal and what they're doing to take Minecraft beyond the gaming realm and into the real world.
GEEK: Minecraft isn’t your average high end graphics, big name console game. It’s fairly low res and blocky with no set gaming goal. How do you account for its worldwide appeal among so many different types of gamers?
I think the appeal is that anyone can play and anyone can do whatever they want. So right now you look at most games and there’s a goal. You need to get from here to here and you’re done playing it and okay that’s awesome. I beat that level or whatever. Minecraft doesn’t really have that. We have an end, but it really doesn’t end there. It’s so free and open that people can create whatever they want and continue to play. And then they’re playing another game they love in the game and turning it into that. It’s kind of an endless process. Whatever you can think up, you can do in Minecraft, which is really cool.
GEEK: One of the surprising things I noticed is how much Minecraft is being used in education. How did that happen? It doesn’t look like your average educational game.
Teachers around the world are actually using it. It’s because of the open ended-ness, which also accounts for the popularity. We have teachers that can be teaching something as simple as typing and having them learn to move and use computers to learning about resources and scarcity. If you kill a pig in this area and one doesn’t generate later, what are you going to do? Are you planting new crops [to feed your character]? Teachers have been using it across all fields, teaching across all subject areas. It’s something we’re really proud of.
GEEK: There were a lot of really young kids at the Minecraft panel. I had no idea your user base was so broad.
It’s getting younger and younger. With the introduction of the game on iOS and Android, really tiny kids are playing. I think at MineCon one of the youngest ones I met was a three year old girl, who plays all the time and loves it. It’s fun and creative, so you really can’t go wrong there.
GEEK: With Minecraft branching out in so many unexpected ways, what area do you hope to influence next?
One thing that Mojang has done which has accounted for the success is getting out of the way and letting fans take it and kind of seeing what happens. That’s what happened with the education projects. People in the community loved it so much and said “let’s do this.” And that’s the same thing with the UN Habitat project. That spawned from a little boy saying to his dad, you could use Minecraft [to design villages in poor parts of the world]. We have to listen, keep our eyes and ears open to see what possibilities there are. Right now we’re coming into a point where things are going to get even crazier.
GEEK: Tell us about Block by Block.
Block by Block is a charity where we partner with UN Habitat. Basically, the areas that people re-envision in the game will need to be built. So when you’re talking about a slum in Kenya, someone needs to fund that. So, for us, we want to not only say that this is a great tool that you can use, where people can re-imagine their communities, instead we fund the UN Habitat’s building of those areas, changing the public spaces.
GEEK: How can fans get involved?
We have a few different things. There’s not a donate button or anything, because everything goes through UN Habitat and they have all of their requirements. We’ve been hosting different charity events. We just did a Game Jam called Mojam and we have a calendar coming out next year, where artists in the community did different artwork for it that we picked out. All the proceeds go to Block by Block. Anytime we have the opportunity to do something with a charity, it’s going to be this one. We want to have the biggest impact – look what our community has done with this project.
GEEK: Final question that we have to ask – What do you geek out about?
I geek out about Apple products. I’m a total Apple girl, which is in the gaming space is the worst thing you can be, but I love it. They make my life easier. I like when there’s a press conference. It’s probably my biggest geeky obsession. And then the other one being camera and video equipment. I have way more than I need. I have the Canon 6D. I just got a new Canon camcorder. And I have film cameras that are just ridiculous, but I just love having them.