Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

What Minecraft Did Wrong But Didn’t Matter. And What It Did Right That Did Matter

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 26, 2011

So at this point, Minecraft is a phenomenon that is like Doom or Bejeweled for the new decade.  It’s captured the mainstream game industry’s attention, and of course every indie in the world is thinking, “Wow, could I be the next Minecraft?”  At least for those who aren’t wondering if they could be the next Angry Birds or Farmville or whatever.

So was it luck? Can that success be repeated? That’s literally the twelve-million-dollar question.  Simple Lifeforms proposes some answers, kinda:

Minecraft and the Question of Luck [What Games Will Be]

Of course, the answer isn’t simple, and if it was, somebody would be cashing in on it right now.  I’m not sure Simple Lifeforms will be able to, either, though their social-gaming roots are shining through with their use of social networking terms like “tribe.”

But I think the answers are interesting.  Bottom line: No it wasn’t (just) luck. No doubt it was a factor, particularly in what really made it go viral, but there was much more to it than that. Besides the points mentioned, I feel I should add that this was far from Markus “Notch” Persson’s first rodeo, and having seen a time-lapse video of his Ludum Dare efforts, I’ve no doubt he’s a very skilled programmer and talented designer. The guy has labored for years to become an “overnight success.”

I think more than anything, the success of Minecraft demonstrates that this kind of success is highly unpredictable.  Just as The Sims was reportedly “canceled” (or “non-approved”) multiple times before it became one of the best-selling PC games in history, these kinds of break-out games may not fit neatly in any marketer’s vision of what a hit game (or even just a non-failure) looks like. While it’s horribly unpredictable, I think the best games come from “the gut” of a good developer’s or producer’s instincts. This is a view shared by none other than Brian Fargo, so at least I’m in good company in my madness.

Filed Under: Biz, Design - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

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  • Brian 'Psychochild' Green said,

    I wonder if the reality is much more mundane than people like to believe. Perhaps Notch made a game he thought was fun and it just so happens that quite a few other people agreed with that assessment. There was a stroke of luck in getting some early supporters, then getting picked up at just the right time by various major “news” sites. It certainly helped that the initial stories were variations on, “Holy shit! Why is this game so popular?” People tend to flock to a story like that.

    But, I think there’s a danger in trying to overanalyze the situation. First, because it’s usually some “expert” trying to come up with reasons why it succeeded despite “breaking the rules” they’ve been preaching for so long, and second because I don’t think the phenomenon can easily be repeated.

    My two coppers for ya.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I think it’s important to try and learn what you can from it, but you are right that there’s a certain point where you are trying to infer way too much data. Like my father used to joke, “Indians always walk in single file. I know because I saw one once.” There are not enough data points to support many conclusions.

    I think the best lesson to be derived from this is that this kind of success is unpredictable. You can innovate 99 times and get nowhere, and then on the 100th knock one out of the park. Ultimately, that’s what’s awesome about being indie… you have the freedom to follow your passion and hope that it’s shared by others.