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 above 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.

Why Minecraft Is So Damn Popular

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.

Why Minecraft Is So Damn Popular