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Minecraft is No Longer Just a Game, It’s a Genre

Cubelands, FortressCraft, Total Miner, Blockade Runner, ScrumbleShip, Manic Digger, Blockland (was pointed out that Blockland is older than Minecraft, point remains the same though!), etc. all share one thing in common: they were heavily influenced by Minecraft, the wonder indie-gem that turned the entire gaming industry on it’s head and not only spawned the most successful indie title in the world but also an entire genre and funding method (alpha funding) for future games.

Sidenote: You can take from this editorial what you will as it’ll contain some history, speculation, etc. but my ultimate point is to help quell the notion that every voxel game out there is “ripping off” Minecraft. The simple fact is that game development is an evolutionary process and Minecraft just happens to be the gaming equivalent of Homo habilis or Homo ergaster (to borrow from human evolution).

Like Metroid, Castlevania and Rogue before it Minecraft has done something that few games have ever done before, it has single handedly superceded itself to become the basis by which others games mirror it. That is not only incredible it’s downright phenomenal (yes there’s a difference!).

But let’s slow down a little bit and assess some history first. Minecraft was not the first voxel-based game, which is largely what I’m referring to when I say Minecraft has become a genre (i.e. Minecraft-like), that honor actually dates back further to Inifiniminer (and maybe even further than that!).

Infiniminer was an open source game developed by an indie studio named Zachtronics that started gaining popularity in early 2009. This was the game that inspired Notch to create Minecraft and was really the basis for Minecraft’s explosive popularity upon release as many Infiniminer fans turned to Minecraft when Zachtronics confirmed development of the game was discontinued.

Few gamers actually know this however which is why so many claim that other games are “ripping off” Minecraft because they use voxels. In reality they’re copying a copy of sorts. That’s not to say Minecraft “ripped off” Inifiniminer. It’s just the natural evolutionary path.

Now, back to the point at hand that I’m trying to make, since Minecraft exploded in popularity the reason we’ve seen a large amount of other “copy-cats” isn’t because Minecraft made millions and millions of dollars (well at least it’s not the sole reason) but rather because it brought to light an entirely new type of game. Prior to Minecraft most gamers probably never even knew what a voxel was (I sure as hell didn’t!). So when Minecraft came out to the masses, it was really simply showing off a new type of game that could be successful. Imagine when the first homosapien began using tools. It’s a similar theory of evolution. Voxels were merely a new tool for game developers to use.

And use it they have. I gave you a brief list at the beginning of this article, but rest assured that is not all of the voxel-based games being developed today. This time next year I’d be surprised if we didn’t see many, many more types of those games. Which is FANTASTIC!

Let’s look at the issue with some gamer goggles on. Metroid, released for the NES in 1986, was a fantastic game. It brought the platforming gameplay of Mario Bros. and merged it with an almost RPG-like interface where your character was no longer bound to single levels. Instead you could acquire new stats and explore a huge world. Metroid revolutionized the platforming genre to create what’s now been termed the Metroidvania genre (which also borrows from Castlevania).

Because of Metroid, today we have games like Shadow Complex, The Goonies (NES), Cave Story, La Mulana, Legacy of the Wizard (NES), and many, many more games. Each of these borrowed from Metroid the core concept and style but evolved it in such a way so as to expand the genre as a whole.

The same theory will persist with Minecraft. While it’s easy to look at FortressCraft and claim boisterously: “MINECRAFT RIPOFF!” The reality is that FortressCraft is still an evolutionary step for the genre. In fact, if you play each game you’ll see there are some significant diverging paths in each game where Minecraft is becoming more RPG-like, and FortressCraft is focusing instead on creative building (with some things Minecraft doesn’t have!).

So when the next Minecraft-like voxel game appears (and it will!) please don’t try and put the developer down for “copying” Minecraft. Minecraft doesn’t need your help in quelling similar games (they make enough money I assure you!). Instead, remember that Minecraft is now more than its own self, it’s a genre for game developers to explore.

And that’s just the natural evolutionary process…

[UPDATE: I'm well aware of Ace of Spades. Apologies for not including it as I didn't mean to exclude any specific game. My point was merely to highlight the fact that voxel games aren't merely rip-offs, but rather the evolutionary process. This wasn't a contest for best Minecraft-like.]