Since 2011, Minecraft has been a game that doesn’t cease to grow in popularity. Though the early-access game, which was developed by a sole developer, had a modest start, it has since exploded into one of the best-selling games of all time. The simple control scheme, minimal graphics, and wide availability on everything from phones to consoles and PCs have made it accessible to everyone. It’s played solo or with friends, thanks to Minecraft server hosting. Minecraft is popular with players, undoubtedly, but it’s impacted game developers just as hard.
As it happens with other media, such as books and movies, the gaming industry tends to shift every few years when an influential game like Minecraft releases. It happened with 2007’s Modern Warfare, ushering in an era of modern military shooters; it happened with Stardew Valley, setting off the cozy farm simulator craze; and it happened with Fortnite most recently, inspiring every game publisher to make its own battle royale game. Yet, Minecraft design elements have become so ingrained in game development that most have forgotten where they came from. Below are a few examples of Minecraft design elements that continue to influence game development.
Arguably the most genius aspect of Minecraft is how its creator, Markus “Notch” Persson, monetized the game. The practice of releasing a game before it’s finished is known as “early access.” It provides game developers with an income to continue making the game, and it allows early users to give feedback that may change the game’s design. It also excuses so-so graphics and unfinished parts of the game, as it’s understood that the game is in an unfinished state.
While Minecraft wasn’t the first game to go into early access, it’s the most successful example. Without it, Minecraft may have never been finished or received the useful feedback that shaped the game into what it is today.
Building a World With Friends
Minecraft is fun solo, but it’s even better when playing with others. Bringing on friends, family, or random online players into your world enhances the experience. But rather than enter a world hosted by the game studio’s servers, which are open to anyone, Minecraft opted for private servers. A Minecraft server allows players to customize their world and limit who has access to it, preventing bad actors from wreaking havoc.
Minecraft didn’t create the practice of private servers, though it did make it much more popular. Other games like Valheim, Rust, and Ark have taken a cue from Minecraft on this front. The one downside of hosting a private server is that it costs extra every month, though the cost can be offset by splitting among users.
Technically, Minecraft isn’t a voxel game because blocks are rendered with polygons, yet the game has an indistinguishable voxel look. The graphics, while simple compared to the lifelike graphics of the current generation, are timeless. More importantly, they require few resources from the CPU and GPU, allowing players with older or less powerful computers to play the game. The low-quality graphics might have been done to save costs on development as well, but what was likely a necessity has become nostalgic. It’s why you still see games with pixel graphics being made even though the industry moved away from pixel graphics two decades ago. The voxel art design has become so iconic it’s inspired the look of games such as Roblox, Astroneer, Dragon Quest Builders, and Cloudpunk, to name just a few.
Again, Minecraft didn’t invent survival mechanics. Still, it’s generally agreed that the game set off the survival genre. If you’re not familiar, survival games start you off with zero tools and no objectives, forcing you to do everything from gathering and crafting to building and fighting enemy mobs. Survival games challenge you in ways that other games simply don’t, and Minecraft made the mechanic so fun and engrossing that survival games continue to thrive today. Games like Don’t Starve Together, Subnautica, Valheim, and The Long Dark are a few examples of this popular genre. If you want to know what the mark of a good survival game is, it’s staying up all night while continually saying, “Just one more day.”
A big draw of playing Minecraft is the building mechanic. By using blocks made of different materials, you can build anything your mind can dream up. There are Minecraft content creators who only focus on recreating locations from popular TV shows and movies.
The building is so popular in Minecraft that it’s possible to skip the survival mode altogether and play in creative mode instead, which gives you access to an unlimited amount of all the blocks. The building mechanic has appeared in some form in dozens of games since the launch of Minecraft, influencing Fallout 4, Terraria, No Man’s Sky, Valheim, the Dragon Quest Builder series, Subnautica, and more. If there’s one aspect of Minecraft that represents its lasting legacy within game design, it’s the building mechanic.
Minecraft Isn’t Going Anywhere
There aren’t many games that have broken through the gaming bubble and into the mainstream. But Minecraft, which has now been out for over a decade, is as mainstream as a game can become. Both kids and adults play this game, bridging the gap between generations by providing a common topic that people of any age can relate to. The game has only gotten bigger and better since it was bought by Microsoft, showing no signs of slowing down.
Since Microsoft purchased the game studio behind Minecraft, Mojang Studio, the franchise has expanded to include titles like Minecraft Dungeons, Minecraft: Story Mode, and Minecraft Legends. Still, the original holds a special place in many players’ hearts. While the winds of change constantly shift where the game industry is headed, Minecraft has had a lasting impact on the medium.