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Minecraft

Posted: October 3, 2010 at 2:43 am

Let’s talk about Minecraft, dude. (MINECRAFT DUDE!)

Here’s a guy (Markus Persson) that had 5,232 buy his game in 24 hours at 10 euros a pop (around 15 bucks). That’s around 78.5 grand in a day. “Wait a second!” you might say. “78 grand a day?! That’s a lot! At that rate, how much is that in a year?” 28.6 million. Here’s a list of people that make less than that in a year: A-Rod, Dwayne Wade, Eli Manning, Tim Duncan, Brett Favre, Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce, Jeff Gordon, Albert Pujols, Rafael Nadal, KaKa, Thierry Henry, Dirk Nowitzki, Ronaldinho, and Maria Sharapova. Yes – that includes salary AND endorsements.

Now let me tell you that I wrote that paragraph nearly a month ago and the rate has averaged around 9-10k purchases per day (twice the volume) since then. That income just got much, much larger and the list much, much longer.

Granted – the internet has recently gone Lady GaGa over the game so the purchase rate is insanely high compared to what it’s been historically. However – he has already raked in well north of 4 million on this game and that is unlikely to stop anytime soon. It still has a beta (with included 5 euro price increase) and a final version (with yet another 5 euro price increase) to go through before this thing is all over. Not too shabby for a year and a half’s worth of work. I would imagine a Steam distribution deal with front page promotion is in the works as we speak considering he recently flew back to Europe after visiting Valve’s offices. Valve is all too happy to get a piece of the pie, and I’m sure Markus is more than happy to have front page promotion at a place where 1 million people minimum are on *at the same time* and a peak 2.5x that. And people say PC gaming is dead!

So what’s at the crux of this madness? Why are people all afrenzy? Who cares about blocks anyways? At its heart – the frenzy is about what I like to call “game fidelity.”

Game fidelity is the amount of control the user has or feels they have over the gaming environment. Angry Birds I think is a great example of high fidelity because you have 3 things in the gaming world: birds, blocks, and green little pigs for killing. You can interact and move all of these things to your heart’s desire. It’s simple, straight forward, and yet gives the user an amazing feeling of being in control.

Markus has made a game where when you say “Man….I wish I could…..” and guess what! YOU CAN! You look around and you don’t see limitations (like you would in a Prince of Persia game for instance) – instead you see possibilities. The whole world can be sculpted and reformed in your image. But not only that – the game works like you expect. Once you figure out the system – you don’t need the crafting wiki anymore. You just craft stuff. Why? Because you put items in the shape of what you’re trying to make. Its genius is in the simplicity and straight forward approach to crafting. No crazy material lists jotted down in a notebook somewhere - you simply put two sticks vertically with some stone at the top and out comes a shovel. A simplified version of real life.

Angry Birds and Minecraft also have another thing in common: simulations. People can watch simulations all day – particle systems, rigid body systems, flow systems it doesn’t matter. If there’s anything close to a Rube Goldberg mechanic going on in a game people will watch that until sunrise. You let people PLAY with simulations though? Sleep loss, hygiene neglect, and changes in food consumption (whether it increases or decreases depends on snack proximity).

I think these are characteristics of many successful “casual” games – but they do not mint successful games. Internal coherency in mechanics and art style, boundaries that are artfully hidden from the user, and healthy bit of luck all play their part. What excites me now is the ability for independent studios to get their software in front of a huge audience in a cheap manner. Exceptional game engines with incredible tools are widely available to talented artists that can collaborate across the world. The barrier of entry is low and as price of production comes down (at least at the indie level), the associated risk for a production comes down as well and people are allowed greater creative freedom. I think some truly groundbreaking and intriguing stuff is going to come out over the next 5-10 years as new ideas and mechanics are explored in what I think many people will consider the new golden age of gaming. Plus Deus Ex 3 is coming out next year – that series is a golden age in and of itself.

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