This month the internet phenomenon Minecraft was released on the Xbox 360, and in its first week sold over 1 million units to become the fastest selling Xbox Live Arcade game of all time. So just what makes the game so popular, and are you ready to put down the guns of Call of Duty to pick up the building blocks of Minecraft?
Minecraft was created by Markus Persson, and first released as an alpha in 2009, finally getting its full commercial release on PC in November last year. The attraction of the game is hard to explain; the player has no real objective apart from to build and survive attacks from zombies at night. There is no end, no checkpoints, no objectives; you just build your own world.
That could be the very attraction though, in a day when the next Call of Duty or Halo is just around the corner, and where online play is ultra-competitive, there is something strangely soothing about building your very own castle or sitting by a pond and fishing in a game, with nobody screaming at you down a headset.
The possibilities are almost endless in Minecraft, and a quick search will see you find thousands of videos of the amazing things that users have created in the game world, including a fully working 16-bit computer. The freedom to do what you like with your own game world and to take your time doing it is refreshing when games are becoming more like blockbuster films all the time; all action and very little substance.
When looking at the statistics of the PC version, it is not hard to see why the Xbox release is so successful; almost 6 million people have bought the game on PC, with that figure rising rapidly. The truly striking thing about this success however, is that it has been achieved with no publisher and no strong marketing plan; it is just a normal, albeit very intelligent, man who had an idea and has been able to create his dream.
Minecraft isn’t the only game of its kind however, created by independent teams not backed by a publisher. The indie games scene has seen something of a rise in the past year, with Minecraft being at the forefront of it. The positives of these games is that they don’t have publishers breathing down their necks, hungry for profits and willing to sacrifice creativity in order to get them. No, indie developers can set their own targets, and although there are undoubtedly many failures out there, there are also success stories in abundance.
Take the Xbox and PlayStation for instance; they are without doubt commercially based consoles, with their aim being to make money from the games that are released on their platforms. However, in the past year, more creative, less flashy indie games have been coming to prominence in the online market. With games publishers feeling the recession as hard as any other industry, they are increasingly looking for games guaranteed to make a profit, and indie is becoming the only place to go to find original, innovative games.
Fez, for example, is a game created by three independent software developers, and then backed by Microsoft and released on Xbox Live Arcade earlier this year. The game is set in a 2D world that can be rotated three dimensionally 90 degrees to create new paths and solve puzzles. The way that the game works is mind-blowing, and must be seen to be believed. You get the impression that if the game was pitched to a major developer, it would not have seen a release, but rave reviews and high sales prove it to be a hit.
Other independent games, or games that started out as indie, have seen releases over the past couple of years to great success. Examples are Braid, a puzzle platformer that uses time manipulation mechanics on the Xbox 360, Journey for the PlayStation 3, where the objective is to cross a desert landscape, with an innovative twist on multiplayer, and Limbo, the hugely successful platformer set in an eerie black and white world, out for the Xbox, PlayStation, PC and Mac. All of these games offer something different to other games out there, and are guaranteed to make you think a little more than if playing the next big blockbuster.
If you own a PC, the possibilities for indie gaming are almost endless, with great games such as SpaceChem, The Binding of Isaac, and Terraria out there, all for much lower prices than most commercial games. All of these games mentioned are seeing a rise in popularity and exposure, thanks in many ways to Minecraft. It is arguably the most innovative game in our generation, and could be one of the most inspirational, persuading young developers to follow their dreams.
If you’re sick of the flash, Hollywood style games churned out before Christmas every year, why not try something a little more charming and nuanced? Indie games will undoubtedly give you all the pleasure of big games with less damage to your finances. The success story of Minecraft is something that can be achieved by anyone with a good idea and effort, and has changed the way that games are perceived. If you haven’t tried it yet, what are you waiting for? Get building! We’ll be featuring our top 10 Minecraft designs next week.
Previous articles by Calum Atkinson: