Minecraft is changing the future of gaming

Up until this point we’ve refrained from talking about Minecraft because we felt we didn’t have that much to add to the conversation. There is a lot to dig into about Minecraft, but so much has been said about the game by so many insightful people. That said, there is one thing that hasn’t been touched on much: what effect is this going to have 10 years down the line? Once in a rare while a single game comes along that affects the entire game industry, and Minecraft is definitely one of those phenomena. It’s such a behemoth in the game space, of course it’s going to make waves. Usually though when a game becomes a mega-hit like this, its influence is seen largely in the number of people trying to clone the game to make a quick buck. In extreme cases, these mega-hits can lead the whole game industry to focus their efforts around the genre they popularize. We saw it happen with first person shooters, it happened with MMOs, it’s currently happening with MOBAs.

I think Minecraft is a fundamentally different situation, and I think that because Minecraft has gained massive popularity with a particular group that almost none of these other mega-hits do, and that group is young children. That is important, because Minecraft is radically different than the types of games most of us grew up playing. You see, for most of us we grew up with action games, reflex-based games. Kids of the Nintendo era grew up with platformers, and so when they reached their teenage years and became the principal target market for the triple A industry, many of them looked for high action play. Later some of these kids inevitably also joined the industry and brought with them the experience and the knowledge that all those years of play had given them, as well as the biases and ingrained ways of thinking. This led to an industry increasingly focused around action play, about adrenaline games. We’ve moved from platformers to first person shooters, generation to generation. NES kids grew up to give us things like Halo for the next generation to grow up. In fact for almost the entire history of the medium most of the games that are hits with a younger audience, that people would start picking up by the time they were 7 or 8, have had the same core engagement: reflex challenges, adrenaline and mastery.

“In fact an entire generation are perhaps for the first time being trained not to expect instant gratification from their games.”

Now, all of a sudden that’s changed. All of a sudden we have hundreds of thousands of young people being introduced to gaming with a low fidelity game about building. The ripples from that are going to be enormous. Think about the patience that Minecraft takes to start. You can’t really just button mash, you can’t just slam on the controls and watch things explode. This is a wholly different expectation than most of the games for youth have had in the past. In fact an entire generation are perhaps for the first time being trained not to expect instant gratification from their games.

Imagine what that does to design, especially mass market design, 10 years down the road. Imagine if we could expect a little more patience from the player before they hop into the action. Imagine if we could count on the player being willing to do a little more work before the game really opens up. This creates an incredible breadth of new play opportunities. It doesn’t mean we’ll have to fundamentally change the genres of games we produce, but it lets us do more with them. Games like the old Thief or Mech Warrior or games in the vein or Rainbow Six become much more viable for the first person shooter designers working at triple A companies if we can expect players to come into games with a willingness and maybe even an expectation to have to put in a little bit of work up front to really get the most out of their games.

It also potentially changes what genres we build. Look at the triple A space today. It’s filled with games that are an evolution on what that audience played when they were a little bit younger, games which can bring the existing audience from one title to the next because they’re already familiar with it, already comfortable with the genre and the mechanics. Now look at the indie space. For every wildly innovative indie game we see a dozen games playing to our nostalgia, our fond recollections of earlier days.

Imagine what happens when that audience’s nostalgia, when the genre and the mechanics they are comfortable with, centers around a building/crafting game. It may well become a lot more viable for genres that haven’t seen triple A budgets for 20 years to return to the triple A spotlight. It may become reasonable for companies to branch into genres that we haven’t seen big teams work on since the original heyday of the PC. Of course this doesn’t mean we’ll lose our first person shooters or our racing games, but it does probably change the percentage of the industry that’s going to be focused on strictly action oriented play, and in 15 years when many of the people who are entering the industry are the people who grew up putting in their 10,000 hours on Minecraft, you better believe it’s going to change what they create. Will it radically alter how we fundamentally understand games? No, probably not, but can you perhaps expect to see more crafting systems in your shooters, can you expect to see more digging and mining and building in your RPGs? Almost certainly. We are an industry of human beings, human beings influenced by what we grew up with and what we grew up loving, and today’s generation has grown up with Minecraft, so can we expect this Minecraft generation to change the industry? Absolutely. As the creators and consumers of the future, their voice will weigh in on what games get made and how they’re crafted.

When looking at the Minecraft phenomena, it pays to stop and take a moment to look at the broad view and think about how the games of tomorrow might be influenced by the wild success of one game with the children of today.

SCHOOL OF GAME DESIGN