Why Minecraft is the most important game of the decade

Image: Mojang/Xbox Game Studios

When I first heard about Minecraft, it was how its creator, Markus “Notch” Persson, had made an outlandish amount of money through PayPal. In 2010, a few months after putting the unfinished version of his game up for sale, the Swedish developer had raked in more than €600,000. The cash came in so quickly that the payment processor eventually froze his account to prevent fraud. Almost exactly four years later, that massive take would pale in comparison to what Microsoft paid for Notch’s company — an astounding $2.5 billion.

Counting Minecraft among the most influential games of the 2010s is a no-brainer. According to its developer, Mojang, Minecraft recently became the bestselling video game of all time, beating out Tetris by moving over 176 million units. Unlike Tetris, it hit that number in a single decade.

Building a platform

Minecraft has achieved this success because it’s more than a game; it’s a platform, a pocket dimension inside your computer or game console or smartphone or prototype augmented reality headset. It can become anything you need it to be.

Press a button, and Minecraft generates a world eight times larger than the surface of the Earth. You can walk across it for years, or you can dig beneath the surface and use the treasures you find to build a fortress atop a mountain. Take a little time and you can make castles and cities, or just settle down in the country with a herd of pigs. Minecraft is somewhere you can be alone, when you need to be — your own giant world.

Community has been the single largest factor in Minecraft’s growth over the last decade, and it happened even as the game launched. The sheer gravitational power of its blocky little worlds forced people onto YouTube in order to properly explain what the hell the game even is. As Minecraft grew, so too did this new personality-driven aspect of gaming. Now there’s an entire industry of people who essentially perform games like Minecraft on demand.

But it’s also the perfect place to build a community. The game has grown a thin veneer of narrative over the years, but the story has been an afterthought. The most memorable moments are the anecdotes players share in playgrounds, offices, and on countless livestreams.

Without Minecraft, Twitch might have never gotten off the ground. Without these blocky digital worlds, it’s safe to say that there might not be a “PewDiePie” or a “Ninja,” or the dozens of people around the world nipping at their heels.

Without Minecraft, games themselves would be very different today. Minecraft set off a kind of arms race. Suddenly the market for video games was much, much larger than many in the mainstream thought it was or ever could be. There was a yearslong scramble to create the next big thing, and the next big thing had to be just as popular on YouTube and Twitch as Minecraft.

It took a while for game developers to figure out what that meant.

Follow the leader

For a time it seemed like every new project was open-world, every new game had to include mechanics for construction, and everything had to have elements of resource gathering and survival. Suddenly, everything new and exciting was being launched directly into early access. Games didn’t need to be finished anymore; developers were committing themselves to building things entirely in the open, rather than hiding them for years behind layers of secrecy. For a time — and almost by necessity — Kickstarter became the funding platform of choice for every independent game developer. How else were individuals and small teams supposed to take money from consumers hunting for the next breakout hit?

Most games that tried to be the next Minecraft failed in the attempt. The biggest exception was Fortnite. But, seven years into development, Epic Games’ attempt to fuse Minecraft-style building mechanics with a third-person shooter had veered wildly off course. When the game initially launched — on retail store shelves, while also still in early access — all it managed to do was hurt people’s hands.

Yet, just like Mojang with Minecraft, Epic managed to build a game that was actually a platform. Of course, the company also created the powerful game engine called Unreal, which is itself a platform. But Fortnite was unique, something pliable and stable, whose core mechanics Epic could style and adapt into something else. The gamble paid off, and now Fortnite’s battle royale mode stands as the next contender, the thing most likely to knock Minecraft off its throne as the biggest game of all time.

All the while, people have kept on playing Minecraft. It’s become a comfortable space, especially for YouTubers and streamers who find themselves in a rut. In a very real way, even after a decade of development, Persson’s most significant achievement isn’t the number of units Minecraft has sold or the quality of the games that have been inspired by it. His biggest success is in creating a legacy — something that will continue go on long after his departure.

Minecraft’s legacy is its ability to create and support communities, both inside the game world and out. A decade from now, despite whatever toxic tirade its billionaire creator latches onto next, Minecraft will still be bringing people together.

Ultimately, video games aren’t a monolith. This hobby, this art form, and this industry are bigger than just one game; they’re bigger than any console; and they certainly aren’t limited to just one genre. And neither is Minecraft, a game that is now more influential and more vital than its creator could ever hope to be.


The most influential video games aren’t always the most popular, and rankings never tell the whole story. To mark the end of the decade, our editorial team published a list of the top 100 games. We’ve also created this supplemental series, in which individual Polygon writers get to talk about the most important games from that same period, and exactly how they changed the course of the industry.

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Comments

Minecraft is the most important game of the decade

To you.

I think you are missing the point. I’ve tried Minecraft a few time and always bounced off of it pretty hard. I have no more than passing interest in it, but I still accept this article is correct. Minecraft is what a whole generation of gamers is growing up playing. It is a cultural centerpiece of the current gaming landscape for the last decade, and has only really budged at all from that position in the last year or so, with Fortnite stealing some of it’s thunder. However, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Fortnite takes a good amount of inspiration from Minecraft, so even it furthers the argument.

It may not be the best game of the decade, at least not to me, but important… yes.

Minecraft is. For a decade, it has continued to grow in both its community and in development. It is a game engine disguised as a game. Those who judge it without playing, those naysayers, will never understand its value to gaming.

Skyrim doesn’t come close to the achievements of Minecraft and GTA doesn’t have the player base because of the type of content, primarily the adult themes. It revolutionized a genre. It is to open world gaming in the way that Super Mario 64 was to 3D platformers.

The fact is, Minecraft is accessible. Cost, platform, it doesn’t matter. And, when young kids can play it because it doesn’t glamorize the stuff that’s in other games, that’s just more money for MS and Mojang.

I grew up on a 2600, and honestly, I have never played a game as much as I have Minecraft. That list includes Diablo, Diablo 2, World of Warcraft, Cities: Skylines, and many other countless games. And it cost me $30 ten years ago. Best gaming investment I have ever made.

To the gaming industry.

What game do you feel has influenced the gaming landscape to a more significant degree than Minecraft?

Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim
/s

Knack 2.

Knack 2 babyyyy

Take a look at all the others in this list of 10 – any one of those.

I’m confused, who the fuck is notch? Hatsune Miku created Minecraft, everyone knows that.

One of her nicknames when she’s gaming.

She ghost wrote Minecraft under the name "Notch."

So is that list your site posted the "Best games of the decade", as the title states, or the "most important game of the decade?"

In the case of Minecraft id call it even.

Did you actually read the intro/explanation for that list? Or just complaining about using a subjective word like "best"?

to me, Minecraft showed that the mainstream was ready to overlook "crappy" graphics and try out well executed/ingenious videogames. that to me is the greatest influence of the game. retro graphics could safely harbour great games again.

What an excellent thought. It hadn’t occurred to me before.

Definitely true, but that’s only one of Minecraft’s many influences.

It’s crazy how Fortnite left Pubg in the dust. I almost completely forgot about it.

I was thinking the same thing the other day. For a time, PUBG was the game. Now it’s… gone. I mean, not literally gone, but in terms of what gets attention, poof.

What is PUBG?

I think we should also recognize that YouTube, Twitch, and now Mixer, don’t exist in their current capacity without Minecraft. It was/is large enough to transcend content creation services. Without it, two of those platforms possibly don’t exist.

Without it, two of those platforms possibly don’t exist.

Eh, while I agree that Minecraft has been a powerful force in game streaming, let’s plays, and video in general, I think that is an exaggeration. Twitch took over JustinTV almost as soon as it launched (07), and pre-dates Minecraft’s beta by 4 years. Glancing through their yearly stats, Minecraft has consistently been in the 4/5 slot since launch, with League of Legends (launched 2 years earlier) being the almost undisputed king of twitch even to this day.

You’re taking half my quote. It’s the reach of those platforms that have benefitted from games like Minecraft (and vise-versa), not to take anything away from LoL. The point I’m making is that, when you take the top ten/twenty games and remove the view totals from the lifetime views of all things gaming, the rest are probably minute.

And nobody (by current standards) was watching JustinTV. A very few select games helped create YouTube, which is important, right? What other games would you add to this list?

And yes, I do recognize the importance of other video types. DIY, Music, etc.

Minecraft is AWESOME!

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