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I believe everybody has heard of Minecraft. It is a deceptively simple game, that was made by a single indie developer, and sold more than 500k copies - despite having no active marketing and being technically a buggy alpha-version.

That is really great success for an indie game. And I think we can all learn much from it. So I want to examine Minecraft's game design: what, in your opinion, makes it so great? What choices work well, how they combine together to make a great game? And what design decision are bad (I don't think everything is ideal in Minecraft)

What do you think?

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I prefer to take a wait-and-see approach. Converted to CW for now. –  Tetrad Nov 1 '10 at 15:02
    
So this kind of an unofficial pre-mortem? –  deft_code Nov 1 '10 at 19:07
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I think this is a perfect game design question. Any game design question is going to seem "subjective" by the standards of a technically-oriented person, but there can be useful answers that are not quantitative but are still not opinions. My only issue with the question is that it is a bit general. –  Gregory Avery-Weir Nov 2 '10 at 17:21
    
Real answer? Just luck and the right content to the right time, with a community base (classic client). No real aim at all, sitting in nowhere with no quest generates some kind of addictiveness. –  daemonfire300 Nov 5 '10 at 21:24

7 Answers 7

It's fun without being a chore to play.

Personally, (and this question is going to be subjective anyway) I find the whole remove-build blocks mechanic to be a compelling reminder of playing with lego when I was a kid, except now the things I make are required to survive the zombie hordes.

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Also, this:

http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2010/9/17/

It's like getting to be on the "staff picks" of the App Store.

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Having Penny Arcade comic about your game does wonders, of course. But that's not exactly a "game design" issue (-8 –  Nevermind Nov 1 '10 at 12:41
    
Well no, but if they LIKE it, then yeah, it is. So make game they like, and they'll give you free PR. :D –  Stephen Furlani Nov 1 '10 at 12:45
    
it was already pretty big before the penny-arcade feature. That just fanned the flames. –  lathomas64 Nov 1 '10 at 18:19

The game works well because (in part) it appeals to many different types of play. It allows for exploration, construction, combat, socialization, optimization, and creativity. Its graphics are quite cute, while it often becomes very tense due to the player's fragility.

The game also provides an excellent feeling of accomplishment and increasing power. At the start of the game, the player is quite vulnerable and weak, and nearly every player gets the "huddling in a dirt hut" experience. As the player gets more resources and learns to build a more effective base, she is conquering the world around her. By late-game, the player has mined down to the core of the earth, has an expansive castle network, controls elaborate monster-traps, is wearing clothes made of diamonds, and no longer has quite the same fear of a lone skeleton.

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I think this is the best way to express this idea. I love MC because it alternately caters to my desires for: Building big projects, exploring dangerous places, dungeon crawling, roleplaying, experimenting with the simulation abusing the system, conquering the world, and on and on. –  CodexArcanum Nov 1 '10 at 15:25

I've think about this every time I play the game.

What bug me is that someone made a open-source clone of the game: Manic Digger. The clone, for some reason, doesn't have the same feel as MineCraft does, and I do not know why.

One of the reasons I think MineCraft is popular even though there's a lot of bugs, is because Markus is very close to his fans/gamers/customers. It gives you the feeling that you know him.

When I create something, even tough it isn't finished, and I show it to my closest friends, they tend to be impressed. They're impressed even though theres a lot much better working projects out here - but because they know me, they think it's more well done.

I think this goes for MineCraft as well. Because we sort of know Markus, we tend to like what he does better.

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One of the key components to it's virality (and therefore success), is how varied and personal the user stories are. There are certain games that you can't just help talk about them when you're in a group. Blizzard games are a perfect example, WoW players and SC2 players will talk about their respective games with other people who care every chance they get. I find that to be very similar to the behavior of people who play minecraft.

Why is that? Judging from the stories I've heard, a lot of it is due to the content creation. People are proud of their bases/traps/other emergent gameplay elements. The fact that the game isn't hyper realistic at all leads to some very interesting side effects. And the ease of death (like the point Gregory Weir made), means that the game isn't one of those games where you're just going through the motions to get to the next cutscene or see the next level. Smart players will come up with interesting ideas on how to better survive the world (like placing a chest near the spawn point filled with backup weapons and laying down some construction pointing to their home base, or maybe take advantage of the infinite fire bug of previous versions to have a scorched-earth-style breadcrumb system) and enjoy sharing that with other people.

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+1 Personal stories is a great way to put it. Games with good personal stories, I find, are often very popular and wonderfully replayable. And make great pub talk! –  CodexArcanum Nov 1 '10 at 15:29
    
wish i could vote this up more then once –  lathomas64 Nov 1 '10 at 20:39

It's full of emergent gameplay!

Empower the player to be able to build and break anything, give them a loose goal (survive the night) and the means to do it any way they see fit, and everyone's experience is different. This is in stark contrast to the majority of games today.

I think it also helps that it can be played in the browser as an applet. You can tell someone about Minecraft, and then show them just by going to minecraft.net and clicking a link, from any computer (with Java installed). Don't underestimate the power of ease of access. I think this is what helped get it started, but now of course everywhere you turn there's an article or a YouTube video about it and it might not be as important any more.

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People have built things with clay, brick, wood, stone and paint for years. They have loved doing so and often create just for the joy of creating.

To be able to do so online in collaboration with friends is even more awesome.

Add being able to sit in your own house/bed while you do so... I'm there.

Seriously though, A lot of it for me was the potential. This guy is willing to work with developers (enough to provide an API) and intends to Open Source it. If it weren't for those two things and the alpha price, I'd have skipped it.

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