19 Apr 2011

Notch, You're Missing A Trick

TLDR version: Minecraft should be a platform not a game, and the games industry will benefit from web-thinking.

Minecraft is a massively successful title. I don't play it, but I can see the appeal. I admire the fact it's an epoch-making indie hit and it's written in Java, which isn't a 'proper' games language (according to conventional wisdom). The business model is also rather splendid.

This isn't going to last. Not in the "nothing lasts forever" sense but more when looking to other titles like Ace Of Spades and imitator FortressCraft. People that like Minecraft are soon going to be swamped with alternatives that offer new gameplay experiences within a familiar framework.

Mojang could re-invest their milyuns adding cool new features, hoping to entice new players and retain existing players. They could use their vast resources to compete with an ever-increasing number of barbarians to the Roman empire. They could run the risks of trailblazing with a huge audience and alienate users with new features, or become reactive and risk losing players to competitors able to be more dynamic.

The alternative? Make Minecraft a platform rather than a game, offering paid-for mods and plugins through a centralised marketplace. Take the Facebook approach and take would-be competitors who want to take your product, add X, and market it, and instead allow them to sell X as a add-on to your own game. Keep your customer base centralised, maintain a relationship with them, and shave a small profit from other people wanting to improve your offering.

Ace Of Spades need not be a game in its own right, but instead a Minecraft mod that the developers could charge for if they so wished.

An old-school, offline, games-thinking solution to this would be to license the Minecraft engine. This doesn't do enough to reduce the barriers of entry for would-be contributors, and still fragments the market.

In the web we can do practically nothing without standing on the shoulders of giants. Think how many more games developers have been able to reach large, consolidated markets through the likes of Facebook and Newgrounds.