With more than 70 millioncopies sold since its launch in 2009, Minecraft is one of the biggest success stories of the modern games industry. It is remarkable for the community it has spawned – from developers who modify the game for fun, to the players who have become stars on YouTube with videos of their exploits.
Minecraft: a crash guide to Mojang’s world-beating game
This weekend, 10,000 members of that community will descend on London for the annual Minecon conference, organised by the game’s developer, Mojang. It is the first such event since Mojang was bought by Microsoft for $2.5bn (£1.6bn) in November 2014, and players are eager to see how the two companies plan to maintain Minecraft’s popularity by adding new features and taking advantage of emerging technologies.
For the uninitiated, Mojang itself describes Minecraft as “a game about breaking and placing blocks” where players construct a virtual landscape alone or with friends, building structures and fending off monsters along the way.
Originally made for adults by the Swedish developer Markus “Notch” Persson, Minecraft has evolved into a game for all ages with a huge community of children – a number of whom will be at the Minecon show at the Excel centre. The event will include panel sessions on all aspects of Minecraft, live tournaments and a party.
“It’s impossible for us to have an event big enough that our entire community can attend, but even to have 10,000 people who really care what we’re about, and to meet and talk to them in real life, is really special,” Mojang’s chief operating officer, Vu Bui, said before the conference.
“We want Minecon to feel like a world where the real world and Minecraft co-exist,” said Bui. “I think people will be blown away by a couple of things we’ve created this year.”
One reason Minecraft has become such a cultural touchstone for children in particular is the influence of YouTube, where a number of channels focus entirely on videos of people playing the game. Minecraft videos were watched more than 4.1bn times in May alone, well ahead of the second most popular game franchise, Grand Theft Auto, which pulled in 1.7bn views.
British Minecraft-playing YouTubers, such as Joseph “Stampy” Garrett and Daniel “The Diamond Minecart” Middleton, are among the top stars on YouTube, generating 2.2bn and 1.6bn views respectively on their channels in 2014 – more than the likes of Taylor Swift, One Direction and Beyoncé.
Bui says YouTubers are a big draw at Minecon. “At the first Minecon, people wanted to come and meet the Mojang developers. They still do, but now they just as much want to see these YouTubers who are creating videos with Minecraft.”
“They’re like the movie stars of this community, except unlike traditional movie stars, they have daily interaction with these players’ lives, whether it’s through comments on YouTube or on Facebook and Twitter.”
Minecon will also offer some hints at what Mojang has planned for Minecraft in the coming months, although Bui warned fans not to expect major announcements. A panel of Mojang staff will talk about upcoming features, while Microsoft may show off a new version of Minecraft made for its upcoming HoloLens augmented reality headset.
Education will also be a prominent topic, with panels featuring teachers who will share case studies of Minecraft being used in schools. Microsoft has just launched an online community for educators.
Bui says, however, that Minecraft’s community, rather than Mojang or Microsoft, will be front and centre at the conference.
“If you ask people what their favourite things are to do in Minecraft, the majority would have been created by people outside of Mojang,” he said. “Some people just like to watch Minecraft videos on YouTube, and others play ‘mods’ created by the community. This is not just about a game you download: it’s about the people in the community who are creating on top of it. And this is the one time of the year we get to bring that community together in the real world.”