Why The Hell Minecraft Is So Popular Even When It Does Everything “Wrong”

If a game developer I was to approach a venture capitalist and say that here’s the situation:

  • The game is in alpha state (meaning it’s still in very early development)
  • The game has blocky graphics
  • The game has no tutorial, but you can check some youtube videos players make
  • The point of the game is to place blocks around while running away from skeletons (or something)
  • The developer has no company (no time to mess with the legals side of things yet)
  • The game development is done like this: “There’s no design doc, but there are two lists; one for bugs, and one for features I want to add but think I might forget.”

… I think the venture capitalist wouldn’t say “that sounds like a recipe for a game that’s sure to make 3,5M+ euros! I’m sold!”

Back to earth
I don’t really know why Minecraft is so popular but here’s couple of things that caught my eye:

  1. First of all, it’s based on already fun game, Infiniminer. Minecraft dev said that this game idea looked fun, and saw that it could have tons of potential.
  2. Secondly, the game idea itself is about building/creation/exploration. People like these things. Think of Sims, or think of Farmville. Or think of older games: Civilization 1 for example. Or even older, games like Populous. Man is good at destroying things, but there’s something strangely satisfying in building something. (Since you get the bragging rights).
  3. Thirdly: I don’t know exactly how, but Minecraft got good publicity from Steam (and was selling pretty neatly before that too) and then “Paypal froze 600 000 euros” story, then Twitter and everywhere. Of course this probably wouldn’t happen unless the game was phenomenonal, but I think also marketingwise things worked out pretty slick.

I look at Minecraft development and think that it’s just… amazing. Everything around it. It does things differently. Every advice I’ve got about “doing things by the book” really are ready to be thrown out of the window.

Really makes you stop and think for a moment.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. Minecraft is pretty cool, I have to say. I got bored of it at first, because all you see was blocks and baddies. Then, after watching some vids, I had the will to play it. And I knew how to play it the right way. But that’s my opinion and stuff.

  2. Minecraft doesn’t have good game play. I don’t care for graphics but I admittedly love stories. Mine craft has none of the 3. Yes you can build stuff but I make things already so why do I want to play a horrid sandbox? As for imagination, I have it a plenty. I went ahead and made a giant 2D(from the Gorillaz) and it took a month. I seriously went in with a open mind but I didn’t enjoy it. Not at all. Even the multiplayer was horrid. It’s just a “mob mentality” that make people think it’s good. Remember, just because other people like it doesn’t make it good.

  3. To people who say Minecraft is low-poly: minecraft has more polygons than uber-hit console games, it actually pushes PC hardware limits. The difference is that the polygons are used more cleverly in Minecraft. Instead of having 3 super-hi-detail models that get boring after 5 minutes because they were created by a designer/artist and are driven by a pre-made repetitive animation, there are millions of procedurally generated cubes that never get boring because they’re never repetitive. There’s always another valley to explore beyond the hill.

  4. It’s blocky BECAUSE IT WAS MADE THAT WAY!!!!!!
    and it’s an indie game. Whoever wrote this is prolly illiterate.

  5. Most here are missing the main concept. Minecraft is a game with 16×16 graphics,yes, but does it matter? Think about this, you click create new world and you do one of two things. 1. get dirt, or 2. punch trees. after that the world is yours. at somepoint you get bored of single player. everyone feels it some time. however then you google server ip’s and you enter the world of SMP. will people ever get bored of minecraft? yes. but then jeb will come up with some new amazing update and u will play again.

  6. I agree with some people Minecraft does look good, maybe even amazing (not talking about graphics), but why the heck is it so addicting to people? Like my former best friend basically talks only about minecraft and airsoft. Seriously people are wayyy to addicted I mean get a life. Just a game.

  7. Maybe the biggest reason, as said before, is the freedom to use your imagination. Or better yet, Minecraft sets the basic fundamentals of a videogame. I want to be part of video game making, and I would have to say that so does a lot of other people. Sandbox games in my opinion are the best game genre ever. Why? Because you can make your own rules, your own world without that insane coding, and you can share it with others. Basically what I am saying is Minecraft allows us to make any game genre we want and mods have proven this. With Legos, sure you build things, but you can’t have everything going about. Plus, the nastalgic pixlated texture it has kind of brings you back in the earlier days of videogaming. It is also in my opinion were the gamer is smarter than the developer,most of the time(guns in Minecraft? No way kids). So you, the player, can go and fix what the developer missed. I have made my own house in Minecraft (except for the basement). And yes, the games simplicity makes it so fun to play, except for that accursed redstone. When you boil down to it, it is flawed only in lack of tutrial, multiplayer, and redstone wiring pattern. Though it is always a smack in the face when you die in lava, I believe we all over react because we should be able to cope with our saved resources in chests (why did my brother think it was a good idea to bring 23 diamonds in the nether?). Nether-the-less, this game has done many things that other game developers should have done years ago. I enjoy it, and would put it in my top ten picks always.

  8. As if having a company had anything to do with the fun to be had from a game.

  9. minecraft is made to be a game made off only blocks. it is the most creative you can possibly get on a computer, because everything is able to be broken witch makes it “your” world. and no there not “copying” any one minecraft is its own game and im proud to say its a very very fun game. maybe you just dont like creative games…

  10. Zombies are mobs that would attack or obviously “hug” the player by touching them. The minecraft zombie is still being worked on by Mojang even though the mob itself is already implemented into the game. Now, most people find zombies in Minecraft to be quite a bore but when you play Creative mode, zombies just want hugs (they probably want your brains too).

  11. Actually, Pedobear dosen’t lure people into playing an indie sandbox game. Neither does he even play it himself.

    Minecraft has a reason it is so addicting:
    Great gameplay – It is game in which you, the player, survives by breaking blocks and building a shelter with them. They even added Creative mode in 1.8 in which it’s quite similar to Classic. Mobs cannot harm you in any way on Creative. So technically, creepers really do want hugs. Hardcore mode was recently added and it’s basically similar to the old survival mode that most people know and love. And the fact that Minecraft is pretty much educational. It might not help you get off the sofa but it is a great game. It’s played by millions of people and I seriously don’t get how it’s possible for Pedobear to do such a thing.

  12. Pretty simple really, at least from my perspective. I expected environment deformation to have proceeded to fantastic levels by now, and yet the better part of a decade ago console gaming became big and progress more or less halted on all fronts except graphics. All the things I and a lot of other pc gamers were expecting – deformation for instance, realistic and immersive animations/ movement, decent hit detection, larger more stable multiplayer servers, more realistic/ complex gameplay, improved physics, etc, all of that kinda got tossed by the wayside in favor of companies wasting millions making incremental improvements in shaders and textures and other crap I and most other gamers never really gave a damn about. I expected to eventually see (eventually as in years ago) a good shooter with the persistence of an mmo (but the gameplay of a… game, instead of mmo ‘style’ which is more or less just super simplified rpg point and click), with the deformation of both red factions, animations on par with something you’d expect from rockstar, etc etc. Instead these advanced features can only be found from a few games/companies and the rest focus on making highly polished quake 3 mods like call of duty, gameplay I’ve already beaten into the dust before the consoles even hooked up to the net and the market exploded.

    Minecraft is the first relatively popular multiplayer game where the world isn’t a set-piece, and that’s what it comes down to. No, you don’t have any physics in there and sure it looks like crap, but I’ve been bombarded with beautiful slick and simply horribly unfun games for years now as the console generation’s low standards have affected the market, whatever reverence I might once have held for graphics in gaming is more or less gone. It isn’t there yet, but mc has the potential to be built up into a helluva game, and its already got more unique features than any of these bland mods they’re selling for xbox, so it wasn’t a hard choice.

  13. Minecraft is fun because there is only 2 objectives 1.build shelter/get necessities 2.survive nights. :-)

  14. ok, this is my statement. minecraft is no shit, anyone who says dont like it, graphics suck, piss off with your hd and ps3 crap. i tought at the start “what the hell is this?”. i went at a friends house to play on a server(cracked tough, dont have a credit card) and fell in love with minecraft. also, on that same serv, still at my friends house, those creepers scared the crap out of us XD

  15. I think that Minecraft is so amazing mainly due to 1) Its great concept / gameplay, but also its 2) customization. Mods, Texture Packs, and custom map sharing have, in my opinion, launched the game into the limelight. I love it, and I have about 30 mods installed on my computer at all times. :D

  16. As semiotician Yuri Lotman said: game is a modeling system. World is constantly in conflict. And it is of no surprise to me that majority of games model this reality. It’s probably not the market to blame, but human nature.
    I for one, don’t like Minecraft. Beleve me, I am not all that demanding in regards to graphics. The graphics may be simplistic or schematic – that’s totally fine. Our imagination will draw the rest. I have only one requirement for graphics – not to be ugly. And, hence, not stand on the way of my imagination. Don’t know why, but for me, Minecraft is ugly. But that’s just me.

  17. well, i like the game cuz i can do ANYTHNG i can think of, ive heard of people building simple computers in the game with redstone O.o

    i like the fact that the game is always adding new stuff(i hope it never changes in this respect).

    this game is for any age group.

    the only thing that could make this game bad is the person playing it (no creativity = no fun in this game)

    this game is not gender based, its for anyone with creativity.

    also, while u build cool stuff in the game, u have to protect it from creepers, but that in itself is fun.

    it also doesnt conform to a spesific game type, u can PvP on servers ect..

    and i think i better say that this game will never be made into a better game cuz it is always getting better and look how popular it is.

    im probably repeating myself but this game is awesome and all who say it aint are stupid.

    That is all

  18. I, like many people, dismissed Minecraft initially due to its simplicity, and its seeming lack of objectives. I to made the mistake of considering the “hide in a house from zombies” idea comical and pointless. eventually a friend of mine convinced me to try it, and I discovered in fact it is beautiful in its simplicity. yes, it lacks defined objectives, and yes, it may lack visual appeal in a low polygon count sort of way. ultimately however, it is the gaming equivalent of Lego. The player is given a virginal world in which to do what they please. It is up to the player to make what they will of it, some build, some explore, some mine, some “adventure” by seeking out dungeons and strongholds.

    Once past the initial graphical problem, many, if not most find Minecraft to be a poetic experience, experiencing epic vista’s and complex terrain. They find it to b a game that captures fear in a by far more primal way than almost any other game, when ones hard won achievements are threatened by the monsters in the game. Minecraft is not a game about instant gratification, it is about struggling to achieve whatever it is that you choose to achieve.

    The game is simultaneously simple enough, and open enough that children, spouses and parents can enjoy it, filled with enough danger that those of us that crave adrenalin can find enjoyment in it, and complex enough that the most ambitious of us can find limitless possibilities. How many naysayers are aware of the “redstone” concept? an in game analogue of electricity, that can be used in such shockingly complex ways that some Minecrafters have a managed to construct working computer’s and computer games INSIDE Minecraft?

    To summarize, Minecraft is whatever you want it to be, and is near infinite in its ability to please. I urge anyone who has not played it, to ask around, the chances are you have a friend that plays it, or has played it. Play with them, learn from them and give it a go. Whilst eventually you might put it down, if you go into it with an open mind, I guarantee that you will get more play time per penny that most “Triple-A” titles on the market, and you never know, you might find something that will occupy you for months if not years to come.

  19. Everyone seems like they would defend minecraft to the death but this is the real truth…

    Minecraft is a world full of nothing where you build build structures that take hours and in the end serve no purpose or resolution. If the fun in minecraft is hiding in your little house that took an hour to build from block zombies who also serve no purpose , count me out. It sounds overwhelmingly boring

  20. If you look at the games that are on the market, you will find that the mayority is about destruction, death, winning and competition.

    When an old-school gamer picks up a currently popular shooter, for example Call of Duty it’s filled with hyper, fast responding and vulgar teens that are driven by competition and humiliation.

    There is a large group of people that do not necessary like these kind of things. Some people prefer creating over destroying, peace over competition.

    There aren’t that many games on the market that let you freely create what your imagination can think up.

  21. The game SUCKS. People are so easily convinced. I played the dam game and I see nothing of value that makes it better than just modding. MineCraft is addictive for people that are clueless about Games development so it let’s them “think” they’re actually building a game level. Bunch of Sissyfoots. LOL

  22. Minecraft is a great game either way it goes, and the blocky graphics fit well because the world is made of blocks.. That and you have to remember you can switch texture packs, so if you like the older games you could get a 8-bit texture, or if you like it detailed try a 32 or even a 64 and up.

    Minecraft has a video tutorial on its site and what you should really start trying to do when you enter the game. Minecraft is now in its beta version and has MANY things to offer such as pistons in the recent 1.7 update.
    It also has farming, cakes, beds, monsters, and online multiplayer serv

  23. and sorry for double post, but you can read minecraftwiki.net and search for guides.

  24. Graphics, sure they are bad, when i first saw the game in classic mode, so MANY griefers, and the graphics really sucked, however i enjoyed building it. Until a pack of griefer came along (around 7 i believe) and flattened the whole server.
    After i got enough money i decide to take risk to buy Minecraft (i am 13 years old) and the gameplay is amazing, the graphics look a LOT more better than in classic. And so many updates even in alpha/beta.
    And i kinda agree with Kylus, except the mom plays it thing.

  25. What makes a game popular is the gameplay, controls, then graphics. Minecraft has good controls, good gameplay, and you can change the graphic settings so that they look beter by adding a custom texture pack. Even my mom plays it. That’s how easy it is to play the game.

  26. wrong in terms of how usually game developers point out that game needs to:
    – be easy to learn, with tutorials
    – clear goals, rewards
    – and so on, check the list.

    Minecraft IS pretty unique on how it’s being developed.

  27. What are you talking about, and where are you quoting “wrong” from, why is that in quotes? MineCraft is great to play with friends, and it’s very fun to learn what’s going on and how to play, and finding out just how much you can do.

  28. Why success? The idea! Because nearly everyone played with blocks in their childhood. Because Minecraft gives you a sense of freedom to create anything you can imagine.

    And then you get bored.

  29. Word on the street? you mean the one on pshome? :P

  30. it’s not the graphics that make the game, (those games only target 12 year olds with omggraphicsoverloaditis). I, myself am 12, but actually look into a game with good gameplay. Minecraft defies the “graphics make a game” theory which is pretty much been destroyed by the ton of games around that are pretty cool.

  31. This game is an amazing games, not because of the graphics, but because of the gameplay, i hate people who think that a game with bad graphics means its a horrible game, This game HAS good graphics in my opinion, and if you dont think so, there are hundreds of texture packs for minecraft, just goto google, or minecraft forum. And Notch started mojang before he minecraft was in alpha stage, and he got a team AFTER this was posted, so stop giving the poster Shit

  32. Minecraft is incredibly cathartic and a great game.
    Notch has a nice rolling dialog with the community which is refreshing.

    The thing that’s pissing me off now is this,
    Every marketing douchesack is now scrambling to “decode” why minecraft is so great so they can copy paste the “formula” and be the first to creat “minecraft 2”

    Love minecraft
    Hate the over analysis that’s going on now

  33. I agree with many of the people above me. Now it is in Beta and is even better! Oh and he does have a company. It’s name is Mojang. He has had this company for a while.

  34. I agree with Arion. Why do people think bad graphics means a bad game?
    Older games but proof. Zelda, Mario 64, Metal Gear Solid. Fair enough they’re classics and were good graphics at the time. But I have only recently started MGS for the first time, What a Game.
    Anyway, more to the point:
    -Every Map is Unique
    -Near Endless possibilities
    -Although still in development new stuff added all the time
    -Fun Single Player
    -Better Multilayer than Single Player
    -Can host your own server for you and friends only
    -Endless Building potential

    I’ve seen some of the things coming in the next update, which is rumored to include paint. Now if this means you can paint wool to any colour from lets say a colour range in Microsoft pre-installed paint, The building only gets better!

  35. why do you kids base everything off the graphics of a game? The only time something has “bad graphics” is when it’s so horrible you can’t tell whats going on. In minecraft,however, you can easily tell what’s,what. Stop judging games by there graphics and start judging by there gameplay.

  36. A lot of what makes Minecraft work for me is how simple and easy to use the interface is. I’ve played many professional, expensive games that made it absurdly cumbersome to do things like switch weapons/tools or target a mob to kill.

    Minecraft would have a lot of fun sucked out if every time you wanted to mine a bloc, you had to focus on the bloc, press something like “T” to lock the target, then press another key to attack it. I’ve seen very expensive games that make simple things like this clunky and slow.

    I mean obviously there are many other levels on which the game works, but it really struck me with this game how refreshingly straightforward the interface is — I wish other game developers would note how important that is.

  37. I blame Pedobear. He lured so many people into trying it with its “open ended” nature.

  38. A game needs to be fun, a lot of fun.

    It’s a lot of fun when it has very good gameplay or very good graphics, and with today’s technology and attitude it’s not possible to mix them.

    Minecraft has a very fun gameplay, the graphics is not too bad either if you like clean graphics. I like also vector graphics a’la Star Wars coin game. The problem to make it look also very good is technology and the limits of indie game developers.

    Crysis has very good graphics, but not very fun gameplay. The gameplay is kinda mediocre, some would say it’s even worse.
    The problem to make Crysis also have a very fun gameplay is the attitude of publishers and investors. If an indie could make a game look like Crysis (it needs lots of artworks and money to do that), he would hit another big success, like minecraft did.

  39. I think you answer your own question there…

    It may do everything WRONG when presented to a money man. But it does everything RIGHT when presented to a gamer. Hence the success.

    The game is in alpha state (meaning it’s still in very early development) – And yet is in a very stable condition

    The game has blocky graphics – But has a sandbox three times the size of earth as a result and avoids the grey/brown murk most games are set in these days in favour of bright colours.

    The game has no tutorial, but you can check some youtube videos players make – ..and see how much fun they are having exploring and building.

    The point of the game is to place blocks while running from skeletons (or something) – Yet the game stands up on that concept alone. No need for space marines and big budget writers putting out generic macho dialogue which quite frankly is a breath of fresh air.

    The developer itself has no company (no time to mess with the legals side of things yet) – More time to work on the game and add new features.

    The game development is done like this: “There’s no design doc, but there are two lists; one for bugs, and one for features I want to add but think I might forget.” – Keeps it in terms the average gamer can understand.

    I think part of the reason for it’s success is exactly what Eric Spain already highlighted above me. But also because it’s a game for gamers, not a game for venture capitalists.

  40. I would say it’s because it’s fun. And then you could say lots of games are fun, but Minecraft doesn’t keep you away from the fun, unlike many modern games.

    What? That’s crazy talk. Most people would ask: “If games are meant to be fun, then why would they keep you away from it?” So they can have their intricate dialogue or cutscene. So they can extend the gameplay to 30 hours and put that on the back of the box. So they can charge $14.95 a month as long as you chase the carrot.

    Minecraft was simple. Here you are, you can build stuff. It tapped into the human psyche of wanting to create, but in such a fun way that it was enjoyable while it occured. There was no waiting. You didn’t have to level up to unlock new blocks. There were no building quests or kill quests. You played, you discovered, you created and you learned; all in a very fun way.

    If you think back to other games that you’ve enjoyed, think about how much fun you had in that game, compared to ones you feel you should have enjoyed more, but were kept away from the fun parts for some silly designed reason.

    That’s my theory.

  41. Because, somehow, MineCraft is a very special case so it can get away with doing things the way it does, and not “by the book”.
    Also, the viral power of MineCraft is totally fantastic.

  42. It’s an awesome phenomenon. However, how many other games didn’t do things by the book and totally bombed? I think it goes like this: Chance of Success if doing things by the book = OK. Chance of success if throwing out the book = very small, but if it does happen, success can be massive.

  43. Things being done differently seem to stand out a lot more then the usual ‘by the book’ style. If you ask someone who’s stuff went viral they usually just as surprised as you. :)

  44. I try not to think so much about why X game is popular and not Y. Even if Markus Persson believed his idea was good even himself couldn’t predict such huge success. Taking some notes doesn’t hurt but in the end 2 guys with the same game wouldn’t get the exact same result so I take some and leave a lot.

    Wrote some thoughts about that some weeks ago: http://www.over00.com/?p=866

    And yes Penny Arcade, Reddit and Digg all helped for the recent wave but if I remember right the game was fairly popular even before that.

  45. Word on the street is that a inclusion into a Penny Arcade comic, a Reddit post, and a Digg post, all within a short period of time, had a lot to do with the viral spread of this game. I don’t follow any of those regularly, so I can’t confirm.

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