Sam Nixon
Word From a Nerd: Exploding growth of ‘Minecraft’

‘Minecraft” is probably the most recent and most gargantuan gaming phenomenon that I chose to sit on the sidelines for.

Aside from catching the odd YouTube video of someone building a functioning in-game cannon out of digital blocks of wood and tinkering with a pixelated pickax for a few hours soon after the game’s launch, I haven’t really been gripped by the frenzy.

While I wasn’t paying “Minecraft” much attention, it’s for damn sure that others have been. Microsoft announced on Monday that it planned to buy the developer behind the game, Mojang, for a staggering $2.5 billion. Mojang will come under the Microsoft Studios umbrella, which owns several popular game series like “Halo” and “Forza Motorsport.”

Since its launch in 2009, “Minecraft” has steadily risen to the most popular computer game in the world, selling 16 million copies on PC and Mac, and upwards of 54 million copies across various platforms it is available on. The Playstation 4 and Xbox One versions of the game were released earlier this month.

The game has spawned an insane following that’s extended beyond the keyboard and mouse, controller and screen. I’ve seen little kids smacking their parents in the side of the leg with foam “Minecraft” swords on more than one outing to Target, and a quick web search finds Lego tie-ins, T-shirts, jewelry, coffee mugs and more. The game is well on its way to out-Pokemoning “Pokemon.”

To me, the coolest thing about the “Minecraft” phenomenon has been the community that’s sprung up around it. Social media sites, particularly YouTube and Reddit, have really helped to carry the game from a cool concept, to a cool concept worth $2.5 billion.

There are countless YouTube channels solely devoted to players showing off their latest creations, and seeing weird blends of pop culture recreated in blocky goodness is immensely entertaining. It’s easy to lose a few hours watching a blockman trounce through an exact replica of Kings Landing from Game of Thrones, or explore a recreated Midgar from “Final Fantasy VII.”

The one person who seems to be completely over the “Minecraft” craze is the game’s creator, Markus Persson, better known to the gaming community as Notch. In a blog post (appropriately titled “I’m Leaving Mojang”) accompanying the announcement of the buyout, he outlines how the huge influence of the game has moved beyond his control, but still manages to tangle up his life. He writes, “I’ve become a symbol. I don’t want to be a symbol, responsible for something huge that I don’t understand, that I don’t want to work on, that keeps coming back to me.”

It’ll be interesting to see what Microsoft plans to do with the colossus and how they’ll use it to bolster their own gaming offerings. A significant portion of “Minecraft’s” playerbase is very young, a demographic that the company hasn’t really had the opportunity to cater to with its other gaming franchises. The colorful community that has sprung up around the game shows no signs of slowing, and as Notch puts it in his farewell post, “In one sense, [“Minecraft”] belongs to Microsoft now. In a much bigger sense, it’s belonged to all of you for a long time, and that will never change.”

Sam Nixon writes “Word From a Nerd” every Wednesday for the Colorado Daily.

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