Why Minecraft Is So Damn Popular

Minecraft was the undisputed indie success story of 2010. Yet much of its appeal seems to lie in what it's not, rather than what it is.

It is, first things first (and before I am lynched by Minecraft fans), a good game. Maybe even a great game. It's got an iconic look, it's widely accessible, it allows gamers to create their own stories, and perhaps most engrossing of all, has an initial simplicity and ease of play that quickly gives way to a complexity as deep as the mines you'll soon find yourself digging.

Yet I don't think that's the only reason the game has been such a hit.

There are plenty of games that offer experiences just like those that would count themselves lucky to sell half that many copies. And they're usually more polished to boot.

But those games are spat out of a machine, one that many serious and long-time gamers have grown increasingly wary of. They are preceded for months (and sometimes years) by marketing double-speak, cinematic trailers, developer diaries, E3 demonstrations, annoying website ads and breathless preview coverage.

That machine, more often than not (the truly great games excepted), is lying to gamers. Or, on a good day, being very selective in what truths it's telling. Which to be fair is its job, since that machine's job is to make money, but still. People don't like being lied to, and as a consequence, they don't like not knowing who to trust.

The products that come from this machine are a very different thing to the games of twenty or even ten years ago. Where once small teams - or sometimes even individuals - could shape a title into a work with a unique vision and flair, today's multi-million dollar blockbusters are focus-tested to within an inch of their lives, then worked on by so many hundreds of developers, designers, artists and outsourced artists that the final product is, with very few exceptions, a slick, soulless affair.

People may love Minecraft, but I think, deep down, that many of them love the idea of Minecraft more.

Minecraft, on the other hand, has none of that baggage. It just...exists. It was made by one man, and feels like it, quirks and all. There is Minecraft, there are people who play Minecraft, and there are people who talk about Minecraft.

You've never seen its creator, Markus "Notch" Persson, interviewed by Geoff Keighley about how amazing his amazing new game is going to be. Or heard a publisher enthuse about how many millions of units it's expected to ship this financial year.

There is just Minecraft, and the people who play it.

Of course, you could say this about any indie game. But few, if any indie games ever got as popular as Minecraft has. With no advertising budget, it's grown from its release in 2009 to one of the biggest and most popular games in the world, with nearly one million copies sold. And that's before it's even out of beta. And almost entirely through the power of word-of-mouth.

Having an indie game succeed to such an extent without the backing of a publisher (like some have on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation Network) threw a flag in the ground. It showed that games existing outside of the blockbuster production mill didn't have to be tiny, niche affairs that went unrecognised by the press and ignored by most gamers.

It gave life to a community where gamers could gather in substantial force around a game safe in the knowledge their enthusiasm was being generated by the community about the game and not the other way around.

Minecraft, then, is just a front. People may love Minecraft, but I think, deep down, that many of them love the idea of Minecraft more. They love the fact a game can be released in this day and age with no advertising budget, no anime tie-in and no console-exclusive demos and still not just be fun, but truly succeed, going head-to-head with so-called blockbusters in both sales and media coverage.

They love the fact it's a game that was recommended to them not by an ad campaign, or a magazine that jostled for an exclusive review, but by their friends.

Just like the olden days. That's why Minecraft has been such a hit. And it shows there's room for plenty more games like it.


Comments

    i have to say BS.

    they don't love the idea that you can make a game without publishing.

    i know a bunch of people who to them Minecraft is the same as peggle or bejewelled. the game spread by word of mouth and as such people who aren't even gamers play it which is where it succeed's and most of them wouldn't really know who notch is.

    What minecraft has is pure creation, it's lego without the restriction of gravity and for the rest it's exploration without all the clutter and icons that turn people off so many other games. Sure there's depth in the crafting system but there is alot in there that one can live without anyway and when they watch a youtube video with a ladder in it they google minecraft ladder if they havent figured it out yet.

      Here here! I have used that Lego reference on a number occasions :o

      aaaah to be young again

      I think what hes getting at is that it had no advertising like most of today's triple a titles.

        but hes suggesting thats why the game is popular which is where i take issue because i believe the majority of people don't really care about or even really think about

          I agree with Luke and I think I understand where he's coming from.

          There is no pre-conceived idea about what Minecraft is, or should be. Story free there is no prequal tie in to explain why things are, or a spin off to explain what happens next.

          Advertising free, and as a first for Notch, there is no "from the developers of awesome game X" garbage.

          It remained unburdened by the hype machine, void of all hype, all that's left is fact.

          Spread by word of mouth due to the game being FUN it only had to get to a point before the media realised that it was 'something'.

          That 'something' is successful. It succeeded at being enjoyable, and only restricted by the imagination of the person playing it.

          It isn't what it 'is' it's what you want it to be.

          Now I'm completely sidetracked...

          I <3 Minecraft.

      I got 5 of my friends to buy minecraft because I told them too :)

      For this blog being posted a few months ago, you really seem to be talking about what the game used to be in it's very early stages than what the game is now in 2011.

      This blog would have been virtually dead on the money a year or less after it originally released but now doesn't really describe the game or the developers in how they both operate even at the time this blog was made. (and removing the opinions)

      I would go back and check your "points" and see if they are still the case today, or even back in January when it was made.

    hmmmm not even close. I like my sandy boxed games. Minecraft delivers this with a world where you can create and mould its existence. Yes it would be nice to have a deep narrative and character development, which may or may not be delivered in the final product with inclusion of tools and the community. I'm quite happy to plod along and create my own goals/abominations. Minecraft gives me joy, isn't that why we play games?

    Now I must make haste and return to Baconland. The pigs are in fervor and have invaded the pantry.

      Please tell me - is there bacon in baconland?

    "word of mouth" is a lot more powerful with the internet involved than you give it credit for. Sites like this that have their own community, are almost like sitting in church with the priest chanting at you, telling you what to like and whats wrong.

    Word of mouth is beyond powerful when this type of thing is concerned

    Funny, as I started playing it yesterday for the first time ever, and got hooked like mad.

    While the idea of minecraft may attract the attention of people, it is the game itself that makes it so popular.

    For me, Minecraft has the open-ended gameplay of the Sims, in a survival setting. I did play the classic version, and lost interest very quickly, but as soon as monsters and crafting was added, then it became a real game, with a personal narative and motivations.

    It's digital lego, what's not to love?!

    Also. The games being churned out by the larger distributors are mostly the same with a new can of paint thrown over it. Why pay $100 or so for a new title every 9 months thats almost identical to the last few they released?

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