The mobile iteration of Mojang’s Minecraft has sold over 30 million copies. Dubbed Pocket Edition, this version saw release on Android platforms in August 2011, with an iOS instalment arriving in November of the same year. The original PC version – launched in alpha in 2009 – stands at just over 18 million sold. Console editions are now present on all major non-Nintendo machines, having seen staggered release across all active PlayStation and Xbox consoles over the past three years. As of October 2014, Mojang announced that the Xbox 360 version had surpassed 12 million sales.
Sitting somewhere between open-world sandbox and real-time world-building suite, Minecraft is a key example of how games can become platforms for experiences centred on user-generated content. Its ‘Creative Mode’ option – a variant with unfettered access to resources and no costs per action – highlights its role as a canvas.
Minecraft initially gained traction with PC enthusiasts, many of whom invested vast amounts of time into elaborate large-scale construction projects that, via YouTube, represented a lucrative campaign of earned-media coverage that helped broadcast the game’s strengths. The PC version was followed by console and mobile editions with trimmed feature sets, but that also helped broaden its reach.
Downloadable content for the console editions is a good example of how to enhance an offering without alienating users through loss aversion: texture, theme and costume packs that add to the experience without threatening to undercut the core package. These content lines aren’t universally applicable, of course, but sit well within Minecraft’s context. The list of changes outlined in the patch notes of new versions of Minecraft may appear minor in scale next to typical MMO experiences, but the impact of even additions can have profound result, given the nature of the game.
In terms of sheer player hours, we expect Minecraft to be the lifetime-dominant title on Xbox 360, when the console hits informal retirement in terms of manufacturer support. Indeed, the console’s twilight period is one that could be largely defined as that of a ‘Minecraft player’.
The potential that remains is still abundant, and it’s why we feel that Microsoft’s purchase of Mojang for $2.5bn in September was a savvy move, despite the game’s age. It’s already one of the world’s best-selling video games, and it’s not difficult to imagine a trajectory for Minecraft that leads to it becoming the best-selling of all time. The franchise is yet to fully hit Asia, where its core idea also has minimal competitive presence. Minecraft-related books have held prominence in the children’s category over the past year, especially in the UK; many merchandising opportunities have already been explored, but plenty remain untapped. Further, there’s room to grow its application as a teaching tool. It’s already being used in an educational capacity in a number of institutions across the western world, where its neutrality can help remove some of the frictions and fears that students may otherwise experience in the classroom.
Google recently issued a statement affirming the popularity of Minecraft: it’s the second most common search term (and biggest title-specific IP) on YouTube in the USA, in 2014. In our Q3 report on YouTube as a games media outlet, we unfurled some detail on the game’s renown: As of end September, the top ten Minecraft channels counted nearly 40 million subscribers between them.
Even more notably, Minecraft has become firmly embedded among a generation of young players. It’s done so with sufficient flexibility and community to allow them to continue engaging with it as they grow from child through to teen, eventually becoming one of the most coveted cohorts: the young-adult gamers of tomorrow.