According to the Minecraft blog, Minecraft has around 10,000,000 users globally. And it’s no surprise that a game with that kind of following has also taken the tween world by storm. The game, created by Swedish programmer Markus "Notch" Persson and later developed and published by Mojang and now available for play on computers or the XBox 360, has inspired young users through gameplay that includes space for both exploration and achievement. The 2011 “Golden Joystick Award” recipient revolves around breaking and placing blocks, allowing youth to play by themselves or, better yet, with others, to create worlds of their own and to fend off foes. Often cited as an example of “sandbox” or “emergent” gameplay, the game relies on the simple acts of its users to inspire relatively complex gaming dynamics.
What lessons can we learn from Minecraft’s success? We polled players and other experts to identify what Minecraft gets right:
- "You can make anything you want." According to one kid expert, Minecraft’s open-ended game design puts kids in control. He notes that "You can build a house any way you want. You can also make statues, mines, and make tunnels." Like loose parts playgrounds, Minecraft gives kids pieces with unlimited functionality and lets them play. This game gives kids the keys to the castle, allowing them to make the world what they wish it to be.
- "There are also portals that take you to other places, other worlds." Minecraft combines reality with fantasy, and escape with deep strategy. While part of the game’s appeal is constructing an environment that kids control, the other appealing aspect involves discovering new spaces to explore.
- As one of our clients recently noted, Minecraft’s two modes appeal to younger and older kids: explore or overcome. Minecraft nimbly navigates the tricky territory between early childhood and late childhood, letting all play, while upping the ante for the older set. While younger kids might especially appreciate the ability to investigate a world without a virtual “leash,” older kids find satisfaction in anticipating and countering attacks from virtual villains. Constructive play combines with good guy/bad guy play, which piques the interest of boys of many ages.
- "You can download characters from the Xbox - your character can wear armor that protects you from enemy characters." Avatars are nothing new, but the ability to be who you want within the context of a world you create makes customization more concrete.
- Finally, Minecraft takes gameplay social. For kids, Minecraft takes the constructive play usually associated with solitary activities (think LEGO) to the social sphere.
So what can brands learn from Minecraft?
- Put kids in charge. Let them create, and inspire them to finish the story (versus completing it for them).
- Consider entry points for younger kids (explorers) and older kids (controllers).
- Enable them to make it their own. Let them enter the story through avatars or first-person perspective.
- Foster friendships. Make social play possible.