Why Minecraft took off

Posted by Alex Jordan on

ModDB has an article up about how and why Minecraft took off so quickly.

The article is aimed at indie developers, and it actually makes some unique points that haven't been done to death in other indie gaming zines and blogs. Here are the six points that the article stresses:

  1. Minecraft is unique
  2. It's "frictionless"
  3. It has demonstrable depth
  4. It's easy to buy
  5. It creates viral marketing material
  6. And it's reached a tipping point

Some of those are no-brainers, like it's depth and unique-ness. (Although, the guy behind Dwarf Fortress would beg to disagree.) And the list has at least two unfair elements, as #5 and #6 are effects of popularity, not its causes. (Well, okay, #5 is both.)

However, the "frictionless" tag really intrigued me. The writer meant that the game - the freeware, online-only gimped version - was ridiculously easy to play. You log into the guy's website and play the game through your browser. That is one hell of a marketing tool, and one of the reason's why I've been eyeing the Unity 3D engine, with it's multi-platform support that, incredibly, allows you to play games through your web browser without even needing admin access. Neat, right? The old adage for indie gamers working on PC is that "everyone has a PC!" Well, everyone also goes online and uses a web browser. Tons of potential there.

In fact, having a free, albeit feature-incomplete version of your game on your webpage is a double godsend. First, your game becomes just as frictionless as Minecraft: you visit the website, click Play, and voila. If you have a compelling game, all you need to sink your hook into a potential customer is for them to give you page hit and try the game. Secondly, you expand your market from just avowed PC gamers... the Steam, Direct2Drive, Play Greenhouse crowds... to potential PC gamers, i.e. everyone that has a web browser and could conceivably choose to purchase your game. In fact, it's entirely possible to have the purchase consist of web page access to another, feature-complete version of the game on your webpage, rather than just a downloadable copy.

And not only do you reach a broad market through a universal platform, you also minimize piracy that way. I wonder if browser-based games behind pay walls will be the wave of the future.