An interesting thing recently happened on Xbox LIVE. Minecraft, that blocky little indie sandbox game, has surpassed Modern Warfare 3 to become the most played game on the online service.
So what? You say. To which I have to respond, “So plenty.”
You see, Call of Duty has had a stranglehold over Xbox LIVE for a long time. And why shouldn’t it? COD is one of the most successful franchises to ever come out of any medium. It’s a blockbuster series that has an insane amount of money behind it; COD can outspend just about any other entertainment product on the planet. We expect über-refined gunplay and phenomenal multiplayer maps each and every year, and, for the most part, COD can afford to provide that.
But the game that finally dethroned it wasn’t the effort of hundreds of people and umpteen millions of dollars; it was an indie game originally created by one man and ultimately handed off to a tiny team of weird Swedish people.
This indicates a major shift in the gaming industry. Most obviously, this shows that indie game developers are truly able to not only survive in the gaming word, but to thrive and even impact it in a major way. This isn’t too far off from a prediction I made well over a year ago in a column called “Indie Games Save the World.” Sure, the title was incredibly hyperbolic, but my general thesis was that indie games are going to provide fresh ideas that the triple-A developers would be too afraid to try out, thus preventing the industry from stagnating and games from becoming too repetitive.
Now, some might argue that Minecraft isn’t truly indie anymore. And that’s probably at least partially valid. I mean, after its millions of sales, Mojang, the development studio that arose from the success of Minecraft, is now raking in the dough. They aren’t exactly struggling to make ends meet, scraping together games on a shoestring budget in between shifts at their depressing day jobs purely because they love game-makin’ with the same type of enthusiasm that rednecks generally have for baby-makin’.
Still, Mojang doesn’t have the backing of major publishers (unless you count Microsoft’s support for Minecraft on XBL, though judging exactly how much they’ve been able to influence Minecraft’s sales figures is murky at best.) And Mojang tends to have a very “indie” philosophy when it comes to development. Minecraft creator Notch is as known for making controversial statements that fly in the face of major publishers as he is for making everyone’s favorite sandbox game. He’s had very public confrontations with EA, Microsoft, and Bethesda, after all. (Though the Bethesda thing was, in Notch’s own words, “just lawyers being lawyers.”)
Still, whether you consider Minecraft to be truly indie or not, this also shows a shift in Xbox users’ preferences. The 360 is known for its violent franchises; the big dogs on Microsoft’s console are Halo, Call of Duty, and Gears of War. Xbox 360 users love violently murdering people and aliens (and occasionally ripping them apart with chainsaws.) But Minecraft is a different sort of game. Minecraft allows you to kill spiders and skeletons and creepers, sure, but you’ll spend much more of your time building fortresses, mining for ore, and farming. Its draw is that it lets you create rather than destroy.
While this doesn’t necessarily signify a shift in the 360’s demographic (the amount of people playing a Call of Duty game at any given time is still staggering), it does show that genres that don’t involve multiplayer gunplay can still be extremely successful. And that’s to say nothing of the ways Minecraft could potentially challenge and change game design philosophy in general. But I’ve already spent hundreds of words explaining how it could do this. (Don’t believe me? Check out my column titled “Endings and Beginnings,” or this article called Minecraft and Puzzle Games.”) So I digress.
My prediction: Minecraft is changing things. I’ve said it before, but it’s no less true than it was when I brought it up a year ago. While many will argue that Minecraft’s fundamental ideas were lifted from other games (Infiniminer, anyone?), that doesn’t change the impact it’s managed to have on the industry as a whole.
Whether you like the game or think it’s a worthless pile of blocky poo, it’s hard to deny that Minecraft is important. (In fact, that’s why I gave it such a high score when I reviewed it last year.) Even this far into its lifespan, I think it’s worth watching this crazy little indie title. You might just be staring the future in the oddly pixilated face.
Editor / News Director
Date: October 26, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*