According to the official Minecraft stats page, more than 500,000 of the nearly 1.6 million registered players have already purchased a license for the game, which is still in the alpha phase of development. That's pretty much unprecedented in the history of game development -- certainly indie game development -- and perhaps only comparable to a big-budget marketing effort; one that might secure those kinda pre-release purchase numbers through pre-orders and offer a limited "beta" trial of the game through a highly-controlled channel. So, yeah, Minecraft's "alpha stage" success is unprecedented.

Is it just luck? The one-man mastermind behind it all, Markus Perrson, doesn't think so. "I think originality and easy access is much more important than luck," he told Develop in a recent interview. "If you make a game that's genuinely good, and it's relatively unique, you can get a lot potential customers. If you make sure they don't have to jump through too many loops to play or even pay for the game, you can convert those into actual customers." Currently, almost 60 percent of Minecraft users are playing for free.

The Minecraft way is indeed an original one, but it could serve as a model for future "good" indie games (well, probably better than just plain good). "I wanted to work on games for a living, and I realized that the biggest obstacle to that is that people would have to actually pay for the game," Perrson recalled. "So I decided to just get that out of the way as early as possible." Simple, eh?

"If it's fun, people might be willing to pay for it. I think it's a really interesting model for studios with small budgets, and it also lets you have a much more personal relationship with the players instead of just developing the game behind closed doors for two years, then hoping it's good."

Perrson has already reinvested Minecraft's earnings into starting up a proper studio, dubbed Mojang Specifications, which should speed up the development process -- the gang moves into the office on January 1. He's currently working to get Minecraft's multiplayer mode "fully functioning" and flesh out the main game with an "overarching narrative," as well as add new features to it, like "monster towns" and alchemy. Meanwhile, a "friend" at Mojang will lead development of a second game (though everyone at the studio will have a hand in both projects). When both are complete? Perrson assured that "the plan is to move on to a third game as a team" -- without really changing the plan, right?

"I used to think I would be able to repeat it, but then it started spreading even faster. I doubt I will be able to reproduce the current level of hype, but I will certainly try."

This article was originally published on Joystiq.