Discovering Minecraft

Platforms: PC

You may have heard of a little Indie game called Minecraft. Well, if you haven’t, you probably will soon enough as it’s now sold 3 million copies and has over 10 million registered users. (And it’s not even out of beta yet!) Yes, that’s right – people have been buying the game since it was in alpha testing and it’s still only in the beta with a projected retail date sometime in November 2011. That’s pretty impressive by any accounts, making Minecraft something of a gaming phenomenon.

Though Minecraft was initially created in 2009, I only really became aware of the game last year, when a bunch of my blogging friends on Twitter started to comment about just how they’d discovered it, how fun it was, what they’d built and how much of a time-killer it was. At that time it was still in alpha and you could pick it up for £8 and because I was feeling a bit sick of the games I had, I thought it was worth a punt. I’ll state right from the off that I’m terrible at it. Give me a giant sandbox and I seem to spend my time punching pigs, sheep and trees and giggling insanely at my inability to create beauty. Others have built kingdoms, mazes and intricate devices. Me, I like to wander around and hit things.

I had to go find myself a guide, since I really couldn’t work out how to do the crafting part of the game, and I’ve got a little better since reading through it – but for me, it’s always been there in the background, a game for me to return to once it has a better tutorial or I can give it a bit more braintime. I downloaded it again this week and actually carved out a cave, so I must be doing better, right?

So what’s the game about? Well, it’s absolutely a sandbox game in every sense of the word. You appear in a blocky world with your blocky hand ready to bash things. Bash a tree long enough and you’ll get wood. You can then turn your wood into planks and bash things with planks and so on, until you make all sorts of structures and tools. But it’s not just a peaceful world, oh no – there’s some incentive to make yourself a safe place to hide, because at night the beasties come and you need to make sure you’re in a secure location.

The brainchild of Markus Persson (@notch on Twitter), development on the game started in May 2009 after Persson quit his job at so that he could concentrate on Indie game design. You can read about his design philosophy and the creation of the game over at the Minecraft website. What interests me more is the reception it’s garnered and how it’s spread amongst gamers to become a phenomenon in its own right.

Minecraft appeared in multiple Best of 2010 lists, including those of Gamasutra, Rock, Paper, Shotgun, and PC Gamer. Honestly, take a moment to consider how huge that is for an Indie game in a year certainly not devoid of good game releases. Penny Arcade, a hugely influential gaming-related web comic that runs the PAX gaming conventions has run a few strips on the game. Thinkgeek has a Minecraft T-shirt for sale, and J!nx, best known to me for all their Blizzard products, provide the official Minecraft merchandise.

Minecraft is treated like a secret treasure by those who’ve discovered it. And they can’t help but share their love of the game, a quick search on YouTube will show up innumerable displays of building prowess, many of which have been tweeted, posted to facebooks, blogs and articles – all of which have only boosted interest in the game and inevitably sales. My favourite of these has to be the Bioware employee who proposed to his girlfriend in Minecraft, although I did spend a lot of time looking over these screenshots of Minecraft Middle Earth, as well as watching this video of a Minecraft Starship Enterprise. Let’s not forget that someone also built a working 16-bit computer in the game!

In a day and age where games companies spend a fortune advertising their big releases, this small fun Indie game has made a real impact, highlighting that entertaining gameplay can prove as successful as awesome graphics.

Minecraft is currently on sale for €14.95, which will increase to €20 on release.

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