In the world of video games, there are very few things that are as iconic and significant as the phenomenon known as Minecraft. The game has captured the hearts of millions of players from all walks of life, and it still continues to grow every single day, having reached over a 122 million units in sales across 15 different platforms at the time of writing.
And when we talk about the massive successes of the game, one question always seems to come to mind. Is Minecraft too big to beat? Is the game so massive in its vision and scope that it can never be dethroned? The short answer to that question is simply no.
The long answer, however, requires a bit more exposition. We need to understand exactly what it is that makes Minecraft tick, to take a look at what it is that has elevated the game to a symbolic existence in its field, and why it still manages to retain an incredibly loyal fan-base to this very day.
At its core, the game is an open world crafting survival experience that plunges players into procedurally generated worlds to do with them as they see fit. You gather resources, build shelter, craft a bed, find a steady source of food, and generally work your way up the hierarchy of needs. Typical survival game stuff, but not quite.
What truly differentiates Minecraft from its peers is the fact that although the game does incentivize all of these things, it does so in a very organic way. You are not bound by a lot of the constrictions that are present in other similar games, and Minecraft makes it a point to let you know that. Apart from a few set craftable items, there are no default layouts for things such as walls, roofs or windows, and your creations are only limited by your interpretations of them.
Other games have attempted to replicate this feature and some have been fairy successful at it, but none come close to the compelling charm that Minecraft possesses. Cheesy as it may sound, Minecraft truly shines when the person playing it is willing to let some of their imagination and creativity bleed into the game. Accomplishing a simple task such as building a house can soak up hours of your time if you let it, and your seven story tall castle will probably be vastly different from your friend’s underground lair.
And yes, although the game did eventually add a goal to work towards in the form of defeating the Ender Dragon, players aren’t going to have a lot of fun if that is their sole objective. If you have played video games for any length of time, you will understand that the journey matters, even when talking about a game as open-ended as Minecraft.
The more you devote your time to its cubed world, the more dimensional it gets. You discover new blocks such as Redstone, and a whole new gameplay feature that was previously closed off becomes available to you. You move on to crafting circuitry, traps, pistons, and your creations get bigger and more elaborate. You certainly don’t need to build that secret room behind the bookshelf that only you know how to access, but would it really hurt to at least give it a shot?
Then there are the graphics — a unique pixelated art style, which is undoubtedly something that is likely to turn a lot of people off at the start. Longtime fans, though, would have a different opinion. Minecraft has some absolutely gorgeous texture packs that can make it feel like a totally different game, with lighting and water effects that can stop you in your tracks. Yet still, despite all of these impressive textures and mods, fans almost always return to the vanilla version of the game in the end.
Why? Because Minecraft’s true appeal lies in its simplicity. Its blocky world, flat structures and adorable mobs are all a part of that simplicity, and the game can only ever be anything more than that if you allow it to be. This is also one of the reasons why the game appeals to so many different players from so many different demographics. It is flexible, and in a very good way.
So is Minecraft too big to beat? No. But for a game to ever even have a chance to come near the same level of success that this behemoth has managed to achieve, it needs to learn to capitalize on its strengths in the same way that Minecraft already did years ago. It needs to understand what it is that captures people’s attention and sparks their imagination, and to try and deliver an experience as fascinating and rewarding as possible.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the game has to directly compete with Minecraft on its home turf either, it could be something completely original as well. The difference in genres and tone are not what really matter in this case, even though they could still have a very profound impact in how well the game is received. What does need to be there is the same, if not greater, level of influence that Minecraft exerts on both the field of video games and on popular culture. Something so instantly recognizable that even those with no interest in the medium can immediately recognize, and are captivated by it.
Only then will financial success come into question. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Minecraft has had five good years to build up its success, seven if you count both the Alpha and the Beta stages as well. And even if we don’t consider a game’s sales to be an accurate representation of its popularity and success, just the fact that Minecraft’s intellectual property was appraised, and then bought, by Microsoft for $2.5 billion should speak volumes about it’s accomplishments.
All in all, that seems like a very large obstacle to overcome for any one game. And as of now, no one seems to even be coming close, and Minecraft still reigns supreme.