How is Minecraft captivating millions?

Minecraft Logo

With the epidemic of the sandbox building game called Minecraft spreading all over the world and through the homes of millions, what exactly is Minecraft? Why is it the digital exemplification of crack cocaine? How is a game that has no real end goal captivating the attention of so many consumers over such a broad variety of people?

Origin of Minecraft

To get to the bottom of this, we’ll have to go way back in time, six years to be exact. In 2009, a Swedish programmer named Markus “Notch” Persson released the sweeping phenomenon we all know today as Minecraft. However, back then, it wasn’t Notch’s original intent to make billions of dollars from a game as simple as Minecraft. In fact, until Notch quit his job in June 2009 and founded Mojang, Minecraft was just a side project 1.

Markus "Notch" Persson. Creator of Minecraft.
Markus “Notch” Persson. Creator of Minecraft.

His “rough draft,” Cave Game, wasn’t the full game that Minecraft is today, but the basic elements were established. Gradually, the game developed more and more into the game of Minecraft that we know today. After the base game was made, Notch added multiplayer and introduced survival mode (a mode in which the user has limited health and hostile creatures are introduced to add difficulty to the game). Things began to escalate and Minecraft received updates on a regular basis going through both the alpha and beta stages of development. However, even though Minecraft was available for purchase since its alpha stage, it wasn’t fully released until November 18th, 2011 at Minecon in Las Vegas, as Minecraft. One day later, on November 19th, Jens “Jeb” Bergensten was given creative control of Minecraft to allow Notch to focus on new projects. From then on, Minecraft has continued to grow in popularity with an ever increasing user base of 19,050,265 copies sold (just on PC/Mac) 2 and an additional 35,000,000 sold as of 2014 3.

Unique Business Model

One of the attributes of Minecraft that sets it apart from other Indie (independent developers) and AAA (a term used for games with the highest development budgets and levels of promotion (i.e. Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto) titles is its unique business model. For starters, Minecraft is currently being sold for 26.95 USD, more than half of what AAA titles sell for on release day. But with AAA games, after a consumer has already paid nearly 60 USD for a AAA game 4, the developers will release DLC, usually with four installments over the course of a year at 15 USD each, just after a couple of months. Unlike these money-sucking games (that admittedly, I have purchased my fair share of), when Minecraft is purchased, it comes with all of the content released to date, and any future updates for free.


Compounding on the economical price of Minecraft is the freedom in which users can create and publish their own content and turn a profit. There are many cases of just an average person getting lucky on YouTube and becoming famous and even developing careers by creating videos of them playing Minecraft. The potential for generating revenue indirectly through Minecraft isn’t limited to just YouTube videos however. Many users have been able to make a living just by receiving donations from other people viewing their podcast, playing on their custom maps, or even playing with their mods.

The YouTube logo recreated in Minecraft.
The YouTube logo recreated in Minecraft.

From the get-go, users have been allowed to publish Minecraft videos freely. Unbeknownst at the time, this was actually a huge help in spreading the word about Minecraft. With so many content creators playing the game and showing the general mass just what it was all about, it was only a matter of time before the crowds came rushing to get their own copy to be able to live the “Minecraft experience” for themselves. With little to no advertising, Minecraft has soared to the tops of sales lists 5 and broken dozens of records in the process 6.

Variety of Gameplay

Once a person actually gets the game and starts playing, what is there to do? There can’t actually be that much to do in a universe consisting of just little cubes, right? Well, there is actually. There are practically endless possibilities to what a player can do or create, all the way from exploring caves and fighting monsters to building fully functional computers and designing castles.

A typical cave with monsters in Minecraft.
A typical cave with monsters in Minecraft.

Minecraft uses an algorithm known as “perlin worms,” which is basically a program that creates random terrain and caves all throughout the world 7. Due to this randomness, each world in Minecraft is unique. The uniqueness of each cave makes each trip down a dark cave into a new adventure with unforeseen peril and prospects of treasure lurking behind every corner.

Once a player has looted the caves to his or her heart’s content, where are they going to store their newly acquired wealth? What would be a better place than inside a vault that he or she created, or a castle, or just a little shed by a lake. In Minecraft, the user has the freedom to build anything he or she can think of, wherever they desire, and however they wish. The only limit is the creativity of the user.

After finishing up the house, dragon statue, and a 1:1 scale replica of a Star Wars Star Destroyer, what else is there to do? With Redstone (basically the equivalent to electric wires and logic gates used in simple circuits), a user can add life to their creations and build complex machines. By using on and off signals and positioning the wires into specific patterns, a user can create each individual part of a computer and connect them together to form a functioning computer 8.

An example of a semi-complex redstone circuit.
An example of a semi-complex redstone circuit.

Even if all of the previously mentioned areas of Minecraft get stale and boring, there are hundreds of community created mods that can be installed for free 9. These mods can enhance any of the already existing parts of the game, or even add completely new content. Since the mods are all created publicly by the community, the creativity of the mods are also only limited to the imagination of the mod makers. Mods can change anything from the way the terrain is generated to adding nuclear reactors.


There have been many attempts to recreate the success of Minecraft, but as of yet, nothing has even come close. With all of these ingredients (constant updates, affordability, support from the community, and freedom of creation) being mixed together into one big pot of success, Minecraft has soared to the tops of sales charts, spread across the world like a pandemic, and captivated the attention of millions of diverse players. In the span of just under six years, Minecraft has changed the gaming scene and altered the expectations of gamers when searching for a new game. Minecraft has shown that games don’t have to be full of hi-tech graphics and mechanics in order to be huge hits; what really keeps a game going is enjoyable gameplay and a community to match.

Works Cited

  1. Minecraft. Mojang AB, n.d. Web. 26 March 2015.
  2. Minecraft. Mojang AB, n.d. Web. 26 March 2015.
  3. GameCentral. “Minecraft is now second best selling video game ever.” Metro. n.p., 24 June 2014. Web. 25 March 2015.
  4. Loftus, Tom. “Top Video Games May Soon Cost More.” 10 June 2003. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.
  5. GameCentral. “Minecraft is now second best selling video game ever.” Metro. n.p., 24 June 2014. Web. 25 March 2015.
  6. Lynch, Kevin. “Minecraft: Ten of the best block-busting world records.” Guinness World Records. n.p., 11 November 2014. Web. 27 March 2015.
  7. Byte56. (2013, April 6). Cave generation with Perlin worms [Msg 2]. Message posted to
  8. “Tutorials/Redstone computers.” Gamepedia. Curse Inc., n.d. Web. 25 March 2015.
  9. “Minecraft Mods.” Curse. Mod List, n.d. Web. 25 March 2015.

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  1. This game causes more grief in my house than any other, I have banned it.

  2. a truly phenomenal game.

  3. Sia Ama

    My 12 year old son adores this game and needs to have his fingers pried off the keyboard.

  4. Like the game but the graphics are still weird for me.

  5. Siothrún

    I also know of schools using Minecraft to teach their students certain subjects (with the right mod, for example, language). Math and physics are also other applicable subject possibilities. Also, having the ability to write mods for the game will give other gamers/coders experience with coding and managing gameplay. I feel like these are also keys that keep Minecraft going strong.

  6. This game is simply amazing. I bought this a little before i bought Destiny and i have been playing this waaaaay more.

  7. I loved playing Minecraft a while back, not so much now after playing so much but I still recognize it as a great game.

  8. I think that Minecraft as a 11 year old that used to play Minecraft back when I was young. I consider Minecraft a place for creativity. For people to do things and feel rewarded by their own thoughts. In school Minecraft was the trend. Everyone would play Minecraft, they would talk about it and do everything related to it. By adding multiplayer to Minecraft it gave the ability to connect to people around us and combine our thoughts to make it the best possible objective you could every achieve. I was hooked on Minecraft. I literally spent hours and hours thinking about what to make next and what to create.

  9. flagging

    story sucks, I don’t feel connected with my character.i was expecting more mass effect style relationships

  10. Minecraft is a game that is driven by self determination. There are no pre-set goals only what you decide is your goal. That being said, it is an open world game that allows you to harvest any and every material and use them to build your own structures. You can also refine those materials into tools and more manufactured items. It is a pure sandbox game, there are also enemies you can fight and you need to do certain things to survive, so it has elements of a survival game, but it is much more focused on being a sandbox and surviving is rather simple, thriving is as challenging as you want it to be.

  11. fortier

    Wow a game with blocky pixels!

  12. Awesome game, surprisingly deep and immersive. Going deep into dungeons and mine shafts presents a sense of danger and fear.

    • Hildreth

      Building gives a sense of pride and ownership. World is expansive and daunting. Instant classic.

  13. Grissom

    I was immensely sceptical with regards to Minecraft. It looked too simple with no sort of goal. However, it’s like GTA, where you may start with a set goal and then end up doing your own thing. (only worse, much much worse). Take this as a warning, if you’re yet to get into the whole Minecraft thing then DON’T, ignore this totally, and go and do something else (literally ANYTHING else) However, if you, like me, have made the mistake of downloading this, then your life if now pretty much over. Don’t say I didn’t warn you :-p

  14. MaddieMoo

    Oh yassss

  15. OG Bogglebob

    My son died from malnutrition from him not getting off of minecraft

  16. I have never been a fan of Minecraft but after reading this, I think it is interesting. It is an alternate world where you can create anything that comes to mind. It is not only a game but a community and I have full respect for anyone who plays Minecraft after reading this article

  17. I’m still not sure how to play or what the point is, but I am intrigued nonetheless.
    I think the interesting thing about this phenomenon is that there is no model for creating a successful game. Maybe Malcolm Gladwell would disagree with me.

    • Let me help you out here, pal. It’s a game that gives you absolutely nothing. Literally. You’re on your own, and are there to build something out of nothing, and at the same time, to survive. The game progresses with your thirst to move up the food chain, you start the game by chopping wood down with your hands, you then make a pickaxe. You use the pickaxe to mine the nearby stone, you make a furnace, and a crafting table. You use the stone you mined to make a stone pickaxe, far more superior to your wooden previous pickaxe. You use the stone pickaxe to dig a little deeper underground, you find coal to fuel your furnace, and now you can make better parts for your future home. There are tones of articles and even it’s own wiki to guide you through it. I highly recommend it. You can build some things you’d never even imagined.

  18. In my opinion Minecraft if a very bland and boring game. I’ve played it with friends before and… They love it though, so I guess.

  19. So…I should want to use my next gen system to play a game with Nintendo 64 graphics???Huh?

  20. Candelaria

    For an indie game, Minecraft deserves everything.

  21. Probably one of the greatest games ever created. It’s simple and easy to learn. This game can be as complex or as simple as you make it. Some enjoy it for the creative aspect, some love the survival aspect. I for one love creating amazing structures in survival mode. There is nothing more satisfying then somebody coming into your seed and saying, “You made this in survival?!” I guess you wouldn’t fully understand unless you were mining for cobblestone and iron for hours. Once you get a good mining system in place, the resources start flowing. I’ve been trying to get my friends to pick it up but it’s hard to convince people to play a game that looks like it came straight out of the 80’s. Maybe 90’s. Don’t knock it until you have really tried it. And I mean really try it, not just play for an hour and say the game is crap.

  22. Wolfstar96

    Minecraft provides so many hours of entertainment, whether you’re playing with someone or you’re on your own~

  23. Monique

    Fascinating that reducing the game to simple elements but allowing player interaction with the world opens up so much creativity. Interesting subject; thanks for the article!

  24. I had known of Minecraft through my time in high school as an avid gamer, (I think even the most casual of YouTube visitors have come across a thumbnail of a Minecraft “Let’s Play”) but recently played/studied/engaged with it in college via a Digital Humanities course. The most interesting aspect of Minecraft comes from its raising questions of the word “craft” in today’s digitally-saturated times. Definitely addicting, however!

  25. Grace Maich

    I only got into Minecraft very recently (as a high schooler I resisted because it was all people talked about 24/7 and it got annoying) and I found it kind of boring to play by myself. Playing multiplayer is a whole different story, though. Teaming up with friends to go on massive cave explorations and build portals to hell… that’s living the dream.

  26. Deborah

    I love Minecraft so much! I love the graphics and the neverending newness of worlds to explore!

  27. Cojo

    What really interests me is that minecraft has exploded in the Speedrunning community. They’ve laid out their own rules about how the game is beaten and its really interesting to watch.

  28. I remember watching paulsoaresjr’s video, “How To Survive Your First Night in Minecraft” video; I was immediately entranced by the game. I absolutely had to have it. Once I had it, I spent hundreds of hours building.

    To this day, I could still spend the better part of a day mining out a cavern or building a monolith.

  29. Jeffrey MacCormack

    Minecraft is an open sandbox type environment and it is been shown for decades that open concept games are more integrated then story based games. Just like playing Legos is better than playing with GI Joes, Minecraft is better because it allows us to tell our own stories.

  30. Mindcraft is the 21st century’s Lego.

  31. I honestly have no idea why it’s appealing to me: i’ve stayed away from it for a long time, and then on a whim gave it a try. Next thing I know, I was hooked!

  32. CorbynCostello

    Minecraft is compelling millions because it has a simple look, simple objective, is a simple idea…for the most part. Minecraft is simple in the way that you need to gather materials to survive and craft many more materials from the more basic kinds just to further progress and survive longer within the game.

    However, the game has complex mechanics when it comes to the many incredibly fascinating structures that the player can create out of nearly everything around them. Not to mention that you can create many wonderfully interesting mechanics through the use of redstone contraptions.

    So now with the simple gathering, crafting and building concepts along with the bright colors and block shapes you can gather kids as an audience for this game. Then you have the more complex mechanics of the game that attract the more advanced and skillful video gamers.

    Are the graphics as aesthetically appealing as these HD graphics and lifelike, detailed characters from the Call of Duty, Batman Arkham Series, and every other popular console/PC games that are out on the market now? Quite honestly, no. However, not everyone is looking for detailed looking games now. It’s the challenge of progressing and accomplishing new achievements in any game that attracts us gamers to all types of games no matter the simplicity or childish the look of the game. It’s the content itself that matters, not just the cover. Hence, don’t judge a book by it’s cover.

  33. Jutor

    I don’t get why people seem to like the creative mode more than the survival mode. I personally prefer to play survival on hardcore. Most others I have asked however, prefer creative. Personally, I think the challenge of survival beats the construction and sandbox style of creative mode.


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