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Mojang Studios: An Oasis of Sanity in the Desert of Game Development?

Does Minecraft continue to be successful because Mojang is awesome, or does Mojang continue to be awesome because Minecraft is succesful? Can't it be both?

Jamie Fristrom, Blogger

June 15, 2021

5 Min Read

It’s my thirtieth anniversary in the games industry this month! That’s like two hundred and ten human years. I’ve been pretty lucky over my career and mostly avoided the horror show studios and teams that death marched incessantly, but I've been touched by it here and there and have certainly heard the stories. The latest place I’ve been lucky enough to land at is Mojang Studios / Microsoft and I continually marvel at all the things they seem to get right:

•    When I first started I was only here a week when word went around that our bug-fix trajectory wasn’t on track to get the PS4 version shipped in time…and we were going to need to crunch. I was like, “It figures. Back in the corporate games industry for one week and we’re already crunching!”
It turned out “crunch” meant catered lunches. “Please work through your lunch break and we’ll feed you.” 
The catered lunches only went on for a few weeks. I’ve been with Mojang about a year and a half now and, so far, that’s the extent of the crunching we’ve done.
I forget who it was who said “crunching isn’t a recipe for success; it’s a symptom of failure.” Mojang is a case in point.

•    Diversity and Inclusivity. We still have a long way to go, but this is the most diverse and inclusive game studio I’ve worked at. We have a variety of employee resource groups, internal workshops and opportunities for education, meetings for people to share different perspectives and ideas, and more.

•    I was offered more money at Microsoft than any other place I applied. My theory? Game development jobs don’t pay well, but Microsoft pays us as if we’re full-on software engineers, and thus is able to compete with pure-gaming companies. I might make more at one of the FAANG companies but I doubt I’d make more at a company like Activision that does games and only games. I’m probably  but Competitive Pay: check. For me, anyway.

•    One of the reasons I like working here is I get to focus on quality. With a typical game project, it makes sense to build up all the tech debt you can because 99 times out of 100 you don’t have to pay it back. That used to be true for Minecraft as well, of course, and like any game engine that’s been building up tech debt for years it’s, to be honest, not currently all that great. 
But the whole studio is aware of this and we’re in a cultural shift. We’re writing lots of automated tests now. We’re doing code reviews. We’re doing code reviews of the test code. We’re taking extra time engineering for quality instead of pushing code out the door as quick as possible.

•    I had a very fixed mindset growing up and in the first part of my career. When I heard about the fixed-mindset vs. growth-mindset thing—maybe a dozen years ago?—it was a revelation. Since then, I have been trying to be more growth mindset. (Particularly as a parent!)
Imagine my surprise my first day on the job when all the new Microsoft hires (we filled an auditorium) were given a presentation about the importance of growth mindset! 
Here, we’re not necessarily expected to be awesome from Day One. We have the opportunity to learn and stretch to fill the roles we’ve taken on. For example, network engineering was not exactly my forte but here I am, learning what I have to do to lead the networking team. 

•    Making The World A Better Place. A lot of game studio positions feel more like a job than a calling, places where one shovels addictive click bait to hypnotize kids to their screens. Working at Mojang Studios on the other hand, can be a calling. Mojang Studios’ purpose is to “build a better world through the power of play”, which dovetails nicely with Microsoft’s mission to “Empower every person on the planet to achieve more.”
It’s great that the improvements my team is making to Minecraft’s network code is going into the Education Edition and will help educators teach remotely. It’s also great that I can stop and take the time to prepare documentation that helps our server partners make their own cool content for Minecraft. Even though those things might not impact Microsoft’s bottom line, we’re doing it because our mission takes priority. 
Shawn Anchor said in *The Happiness Advantage* that being able to view your work as a calling is a big deal. While one can feel that any job is a calling, it helps that Mojang makes it easy.

No workplace is perfect, and we’ve got our warts, but we’ve also got our growth mindset so I don’t think those warts are going to last forever. I can’t think of a place I’d rather be. (Except maybe completely retired.)

With policies like these Microsoft and Mojang are clearly working hard to draw and retain talent. Have you looked at Microsoft on Glassdoor lately? We’re just as highly rated as the FAANG companies; particularly if you narrow your search down to software engineering. https://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Microsoft-Reviews-E1651.htm 

There’s no way to tell, of course, if Minecraft’s success is what gives us the flexibility to have these policies, or if these policies are part of what keeps accelerating Minecraft’s success year in and year out. Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s a virtuous circle. I like to think so.

And you could be a part of it – we’re currently hiring experienced engineers and PM’s:
(Side note: if you go for this one - https://careers.microsoft.com/us/en/job/1013011/Senior-Software-Engineer - you’ll be reporting to me. Some people think I’m a pretty cool lead.)

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About the Author(s)

Jamie Fristrom


Jamie Fristrom is a partner, technical director, and designer at Torpex Games and he's writing this in the third person. Prior to Schizoid, Jamie was a technical director and designer on Spider-Man 2, his biggest claim to fame being that he invented its dynamic, physical swinging system. Other games he's worked on include Spider-Man for PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube, Tony Hawk for the Dreamcast, Die by the Sword for the PC, and the Magic Candle series of RPGs. Jamie wrote the "Manager in A Strange Land" column for Gamasutra, blogs at www.gamedevblog.com, and (he thinks) holds the world record for number of post-mortems written for Gamasutra and Game Developer.

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