My Minecraft Pseudo Empire

20 September, 2022
Life; Self-improvement

I’ve never shared this before — it felt juvenile and irrelevant — but from age 11 to 14 I created a money-making pseudo empire on Minecraft.

This helped shape who I am today.

It sounds stupid to say it, but Minecraft taught me about arbitrage, negotiation, design, supply chains, leadership, pricing, web development, marketing, people management and process design.

It all started in November 2011, with two devilishly embarrassing stories, from which I’ll draw four meta-learnings applicable to anyone today.

Let’s begin.

Story 1: Becoming the wealthiest player on a 20,000+ person server

… “/leaderboard” … 

I typed away into the dingey old PC.

… “Your rank: 19,453/20,000” …

The screen flashed back.

“How cool is this”, my partner in crime – aka my younger brother, Luca – muttered.

“Let’s get to #1”, I replied, grinning to myself, “I have an idea”.

How? The first method was arbitrage (p.s. 11-year-old me had no fricken idea what arbitrage meant):

  1. Buy silver ingots from shops
  2. Transform into silver armour at no cost
  3. Sell at mark up to same shops 

12 hours later, shop owners were wondering why they had more silver armour than Smaug. 

But when the shops ran out of silver, it was time for a new strategy.

Architecture and design have long been two penchants of mine. As a 5-year-old, I wanted to be a Lego designer and at 10 I wanted to be an architect. 

To this day, I love admiring functionally beautiful products and spaces. I have over 110GBs of apps on my phone simply to test the product flows. I subscribe to architecture and web design newsletters. I’ll visit open homes to appreciate the architecture… and how the real estate agent goes about selling.

In my Minecraft days, I used to design and construct houses. I’d auction these off alongside a dummy bidder – aka my conspiring brother – nicknamed Vecuvis.

In an auction, competition is your friend. The second-highest bidder effectively determines the sale price (see Vickrey auctions). With my brother masquerading as a dummy bidder, we fabricated competitive tension, and in doing so, intuited why this is illegal in the real world. Hint: it works damn well.

… “/leaderboard” … 

I typed away into the dingey old PC.

… “Your rank: 1/20,000” …

Becoming the wealthiest player opened many doors. It gave me the credentials to chat with the founders and ringleaders of the server. These folks were nerdy adults. The kinds of people interested in engineering, physics, and tinkering just for fun. Sometimes my youthful naivety would get close to giving me away.

… “how old r u?” …

They’d type to me.

… “22” …

12-year-old me would retort back.

When negotiating for in-game items and discussing business models for the server, I couldn’t let on I was some devilish little kid. And so, I was invited to exclusive online events with the creators of this online abode. I was the shit.

The next step was to create my own server. 

Story 2: Hosting and monetising my own server

To host my own server, I: 

  1. Payed for an external server (my local PC was too weak)
  2. Coded a website as the top-of-funnel
  3. Created tiered subscription pricing (up to $50/month)
  4. Designed operations for the server including onboarding flows, in-game communal areas, plugins and gamification tools
  5. Marketed the server in sub-Reddits and elsewhere

And so, day one of the server arrived…

And no one joined.

Literally, zilch.

No one wanted to join a server with no members on it. We needed members to get members. Chicken or egg problem at its finest.

There’s a fancy word for this in the world of startups: the ‘cold-start’ problem. There are entire books on the topic. But as a naive 12-year-old, I was wielding a blunt hammer: trial-and-error. 

After much hammering away, the “aha” moment finally sparked.

“We need to reward early members. Let’s try early-bird pricing and perks”, I murmured to my brother. 

“Whilst we’re at it, let’s pester all our friends to join too”, he muttered back.

A month later, “Maxcraft”, as the server was embarrassingly called, was a buzzing hub of airborne players who were paying monthly subscription fees to access perks such as “/fly”.

I felt vindicated. At last.

10 years later, I’ve realised four incredibly useful meta-learnings from these experiences, applicable to all areas of life.

Meta-learnings – 4 ‘Rules for Life’

1/ Follow your curiosities

Your curiosities provide insight into how to “match your career to your nature”. This is the key to a successful career. I’ve written about this in How to Design Your Career.

2/ Break the rules

Breaking the rules has been the second most important quality in helping me reach my goals (always trying to improve is #1).

One of the most empowering traits is the ability to question everything. This helps you originate better ways to do something. 

We shouldn't dispassionately accept the world the way it is. If there is a better way to do something, do it.

This is what led me to take a learning gap year, or drop out of law school, which changed my life.

3/ Spend longer on a problem than anyone else

It wasn’t easy becoming wealthy on Minecraft. It took long hours behind a screen… and even more hours arguing with my parents who tried to remove me from the screen. But hard work correlates with success. 

As Einstein said:

“It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer.”

4/ Take action

In my article, “The 5 Most Important Things I Learned in 2021”, I wrote the following:

The common denominator of the successful was that they all just did something, made incremental improvements, upped the scale of their ambition, and built from there. 

That’s how 12-year-old me made a money-making pseudo empire on Minecraft… and it’s exactly how I recommend others find their path and make a dent in the world today.

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