Little blocks instead of showing off
How the indie game hit Minecraft mobilises the web community
- Series: netz.macht.kultur
I have a block of soil. I put it on a meadow. Another one beside it and yet another one - until I get a rectangular layout. It shall turn into a cabin. That's what you need in Minecraft to protect yourself from zombies, skeletons and explosive "creepers" during your first night. Minecraft - the indie game hit of the hour. Developed by Swedish Markus Persson alias Notch who enjoys a growing creative fan base of over 12 million registered users and more than 3 million copies sold. Beta, no less. The success story is gaining extra momentum: Microsoft just announced a Kinect-version for Xbox 360. Creator Markus Persson thus brought together his activity on his newly founded production company Majong and works flat out on the next update.
Block graphics meet megalomania
The game principle is quite simple: „Minecraft is a game about placing blocks to build anything you can imagine“ states the developer's website. The player is thrown into a world made from square blocks. It consists of several landscapes, plants, animals, water, day and night and some monsters that wake up in the dark - everything is made from blocks. The player defines the goals of the game: you can remove any block and place it anywhere else within the game world. In doing so, you start creating simple cabins and then move on to luxury estates and more and more gigantic buildings such as antique temples, full-scale medieval castles, the Taj Mahal or the full-scale Starship Enterprise. The deeper you enter this world, the more you explore: Raw materials such as metals that - once turned into tools - enable you to gain resources faster, turning sand into glass and the electric "Redstone" which enables you to build lines and switches.
Herein lies the uniqueness of the game: the free concept promotes and challenges the player's creativity and thus attracts a fan base that brings crazy ideas to the table and that is highly motivated. This sometimes quite nerdy community is growing on a daily basis and combines the loyalty of die-hard fantasy fans à la Star Strek, the potential of computer nerds and the humour and the viral power of the web community.
The scene already has its first stars
Numerous mods, expansions and applications have been created for the blocks game. Single users create their own textures for landscapes and spread these through the web; modifications are built that change certain activities and features of the game world such as the weather for example. Another aspect are the creative outcomes that the digital Lego creates. On YouTube, there are countless pages showing the craziest Minecraft projects. Among those are insane blasts, the aforementioned Enterprise in full-size but also technically adept masterpieces such as a functioning cinema, mini in-game computers or the beautifully bizarre sand ballet which makes use of the sometimes crude game physics.
The encyclopaedia for the game can be found on the international Minecraft Wiki page where the community collects all information on things and materials in game but also on game versions, mods and updates. You can go there for answers on all Minecraft questions ranging from the ideal energy distribution for railroad tracks and the composition of explosives up to tips for the best "monster farms".
The scene has its first stars - in Germany primarily "Let's Player" Gronkh that has risen to fame by providing more than 300 commented game recordings on Youtube. He has not only become a much sought-after interview partner for all relevant medias but he is also the topic of many memes and viral nuggets such as the numerous Gronkh songs and best of videos created by the fan community.
Creativity and originality instead of large budgets
The independent hit with the primeval block graphic shows that it is not always necessary to invest in a multi-million development process with a state-of-the-art graphics engine and star voice talents. Instead, Minecraft uses the viral potential that web 2.0 offers. The users themselves take on the promotion for a game they love and the developers can rely on the creative motivation and the desire for self-portrayal of its web community. In addition, the game follows the open source philosophy which has accompanied many successful projects within the web community ever since. Notch states in his blog: „Once sales start dying and a minimum time has passed, I will release the game source code as some kind of open source. I'm not very happy with the draconian nature of (L)GPL, nor do I believe the other licenses have much merit other than to boost the egos of the original authors, so I might just possibly release it all as public domain.“
The developers maintain close contact with the fan scene where people add their own ideas to the further development of the game. This open concept allows the developers to actively involve the scene and it fosters high identification of the players with their game that they created themselves or at least have the opportunity to do so. Add the viral effect into the mix and you create a world hit. A story not only the games industry can learn from.