Playing Minecraft was a pivotal moment in my gaming life. I remember when I was 12 and the game was brand new. Just a quirky little game from a group of indie developers in Sweden. The player was given no goal but to build and survive. I watched entire online communities grow around the game. Channels like the Yogscast and CaptainSparklez gained millions of subscribers with Minecraft as their foundation. This game is huge among kids aged 10 to 60, and I was part of that crowd myself. Nowadays I look to see that Minecraft has sold over 70 million copies, one of the best selling games of all time next to Tetris. Its creator, Markus Persson (AKA Notch), has meanwhile become a millionaire within the space of a few years.
Me being myself, it’s not enough for me to simply say Minecraft is a great game, and leave that as the reason why it’s sold so well. A game doesn’t sell that well, doesn’t appeal to such a wide array of players, without striking a deep chord with people. Minecraft is no exception, and I think my suspicion is confirmed by the game’s global popularity. Minecraft has even made its way to Nintendo consoles, most recently the Switch. It’s proven massively profitable for Nintendo because of its appeal to players in Japan, and Its new community on Miiverse has been hopping with amazing in-game art and enthusiastic players.
We can partially credit Minecraft’s success to Mojang’s wise decision of port it to every platform under the sun. As of now, it’s on PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, Switch, PS Vita, mobile devices, and of course, PC. But this only scratches the surface. A game can get in as many hands as it wants, but it still has to have staying power to become popular. So, where does its staying power come from?
Minecraft has such a wide appeal because it can be both extremely simple or extremely complex. The most casual player can have fun making simple stone houses and admiring the beautiful, blocky vistas of their unique worlds. Meanwhile the most hardcore crowd can sculpt mountains, build castles in midair, make underwater tunnels…whatever tickles their fancy. Beyond that, it focuses on bringing players together.
People could play together in the same world ever since the game’s inception. This provides a sort of network for players to experience each other’s in-game creativity firsthand. In fact, some users like Hypixel are well-known within the community for essentially creating games within the game of Minecraft. Re-purposing its assets to create new gamemodes has drawn consistently big crowds. One way or another, it seems like Minecraft has a way of appealing to everyone’s tastes, no matter who they are. This is how the community has become one of the largest and strongest in the world. It’s chock full of everything from magnificent builds…
…to many, MANY parodies of pop songs.
Mechanically speaking, though, Minecraft is also enjoyable because just about everything in the game is intrinsically rewarding. Mapping out a cave, digging tunnels, gathering resources, building…all of them feel good to do in their own right. They cater to creative instincts that humans have had for years. It’s the same rewarding feeling of creating your own homestead without the time, effort, and danger. This might be how it finds success everywhere.
Most other games consist of smaller goals that the game provides to you in some way. If there’s a level, you have to make your way to the end and move to the next one. If there’s a dungeon, you have to puzzle and fight your way through. The reward is whatever story, treasure, or otherwise that lies at the end. That’s not to say that this stuff can’t be satisfying, but a game like Minecraft transcends this formula. It gives you the opportunity to do just about whatever you want, which can’t help but be satisfying because the game is an extension of you. It can be an escape into a simpler world, a grand adventure, or an artist’s blank canvas.
I foresee that the impact Minecraft is having on the game industry, particularly for younger audiences, will last for years to come. Hopefully we start to see designers more focused on making their games personal experiences for players, ones that are satisfying in themselves.
Meanwhile, I’m going to go build myself an underground lair with my friends. Thanks for reading!