Derry firm leads global Minecraft building boom

Jonathan Black and Alex Bellavita of Blockception.
Jonathan Black and Alex Bellavita of Blockception.

Derry company Blockception is taking the world by storm with its virtual creations for blockbuster game ‘Minecraft’.

The Campsie-based company was recently honoured as ‘North West Creative Industries Business of the Year’ in recognition of its leadership in a global marketplace for Minecraft ‘maps’.

The business essentially creates sets of Lego-like virtual building blocks and items to enable Minecraft gamers to build different environments from their imaginations.

“If you can dream it, we can make it,” explains 21 year-old Derry man Jonathan Black who, along with joint Managing Director Alex Bellavita (24), formed Blockception in 2015.

The whizzkids hit the mother lode last year when their company was one of only nine pioneer Minecraft partners selected from around the world by Microsoft to launch its Minecraft Marketplace Programme.

Blockception’s limited edition creation, Lost Civilisation, was downloaded more than 1.1 million times over the Christmas period – with 850,000 in a single day.

Jonathan explains: “Lost Civilisation was part of a 12-day marketing campaign by Microsoft around Christmas. Microsoft wanted to release a free product from one of their partners and ours was chosen.

“It was a set based on a Machu Picchu-inspired world that the user could explore. For Christmas, we added snow to give it a festive feel.”

Prior to the approach from Microsoft, the business was being sustained by local projects including a virtual recreation of Derry’s Guildhall.

“Culture Tech asked us to do a project on the ‘Four Wonders of Northern Ireland’: The Guildhall, Mussenden Temple, Harland and Wolff and Belfast City Hall. We also recreated 17th century Carrickfergus for Carrickfergus Museum.

“But the jobs were not flooding in and we were putting a lot of effort in for very little return. A week before Microsoft approached us, we had agreed to hand over to another company. Just a day before the handover, Alex got the email about Lost Civilisation,” Jonathan says.

Alex explains: “We were so close to moving away from Minecraft. It seems unthinkable now. We got an email and everything kicked off again. After Lost Civilisation, Microsoft came calling once more.

“We were asked to help launch a new programme - a completely new revenue model for Minecraft. The Minecraft Marketplace Programme would not launch until June 2017 and we were very privileged to get in at the start,” Alex adds.

Blockception was registered as a limited company on March 2, 2017. Trading became very brisk after the Marketplace launch.

Alex and Jonathan have themselves enjoyed playing Minecraft for many years and that now allows them to create maps that have real appeal for gamers.

Jonathan explains: “We’ve been playing Minecraft for a long time - I started playing it at 14. We’ve had a long time to learn things from a consumer point of view. We’ve now gone full circle – ‘players to providers’.”

Blockception has a Minecraft build team of more than 50 environment designers, programmers and field experts, in countries around the world.

Jonathan says: “The vast skill of our team allows us to tackle all types of Minecraft maps and achieve the ambitions of our clients, however imaginative.

“We create custom-built maps that include but are not limited to minigame maps, adventure maps, hubs, concepts and film sets.

“Our aim is always to produce fun-filled, immersive content, which is distributed at affordable prices and enjoyed by millions globally, regardless of language or age.”

Blockception was invited to the world renowned Gamescom in Cologne last August to showcase a project named ‘Kingdom Assault’.

Another of the company’s offerings, ‘Whiterock Castle’, topped the Marketplace Purchases League Table for four out of the first five months that it was first listed on the Minecraft Store in September, 2017.

Meanwhile, Blockception shared the North West Business Awards honour for Creative Industries Business of the Year at last Friday night’s ceremony hosted by the local Chamber of Commerce and City Centre Initiative at the City Hotel.

Jonathan said: “It is a great achievement for such a young company and wouldn’t have been possible without such a talented and dedicated workforce.”

For more, check out blockception.com