Tuesday, 17 May 2011

On Minecraft, Zeitgeist, And Indie Megahits

Gamesindustry.biz has an interview up with Daniel Kaplan (reg rqrd), the business development officer at Mojang Developments, the firm created by Notch from the success of Minecraft.

Much of it involves discussion of the corporate "noise level" they're under, but a big part of it leapt out at me.

Kaplan: "It's really hard to tell. We still don't really know how big Minecraft is - we have to update ourselves! Last year the huge blogs like Kotaku and Penny Arcade wrote about it - that's when we realised, wow. It was already going well, but when those guys wrote about it it started to go great. They made a huge impact on our sales and brand. We are very grateful."

He's keeping it somewhat under his hat, but essentially this has been the way Notch and Mojang as a whole have been all along on the subject of the "secret of their success." This has been in stark contrast with most of the journalists I've read on the subject, who seem to be determined to promote the idea that Minecraft's success was some kind of magical feat, some organic thing that simply leapt fully-formed from the quality of the product.

This is, of course, purest crap. Minecraft is an excellent game with one absolutely masterful mechanic (the spawning of monsters at night-time, which forces the player to engage the world around them with a strict time limit from the start). But there are thousands of excellent indie games out there, and hundreds using the same paid-alpha approach as Minecraft. Why haven't they all made millions?

Because Minecraft, good a game as it is, got its success not from any inherent quality of the game, but from a thousand blogs, forums, and online magazines carrying the news on Mojang's behalf. There's a name for this kind of self-perpetuating narrative. It's called a "zeitgeist". And this zeitgest, this sheer blind luck of the draw, is the secret to Minecraft's success.

Contrary to the magical thinking of journalists, Notch/Mojang simply got lucky. That's all. Nothing more, nothing less.

But here's the awesome part. This industry isn't filled with humble people, not even amongst the indie community (hello there!). And yet... Mojang pretty much hand credit for their success to the blogs and comics. They're talking about funding other indie titles they like the look of. They even recognise the nascent block-em-up genre they've popularised (not invented, incidentally, the concept is a decade old) and seem happy to watch contenders arise. They're pushing to make their users happy, not to broaden their fan base or increase their DLC sales, but pretty much just because they want to. They've made millions, and yet they're displaying humility.

I don't say this often... but in this case it's deserved. Mojang Developments are The Good Guys.

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