Amidst an explosion of sandbox style games, Minecraft has both set the bar and pushed the boundaries of creativity, thanks in large part to its gargantuan community of players that doesn’t stop growing. Mojang Studios’ indie game quickly became one of the top games in the world, currently boasting over 140 million users worldwide. Players were attracted to the endless creative and customizable options, spawning shareable servers, YouTube videos, and, eventually, live events. What started as a game created by one man became a world for millions to share with one another. Mojang Studios’ Chief Storyteller Lydia Winters ,spoke with us about Minecraft’s meteoric rise over the past decade, and how its community is directly responsible for that thanks, in large part, to Minecraft Live.
When Minecraft first released in 2009, it was called Cave Game, and it stood out in the gaming community for making players harvest resources before building. By 2010, the game had enough fans to warrant an in-person meetup with Markus “Notch” Persson, Minecraft’s sole creator, in Bellevue, Washington. That first gathering saw roughly 30 dedicated fans come together to share their love for the game. Considered a success, the first official MineCon took place the following year in Las Vegas, amassing over 5,000 attendees. MineCon organizers, always thinking about Minecraft’s community first, chose to alternate between North American and European locations in order to make the event accessible to fans unable to travel overseas. The final MineCon took place in Anaheim in 2016, bringing together 15,000 attendees.
Those early conventions held two main attractions for the community: panels with game developers and the chance to share Minecraft creations with fellow players. The former allowed fans to interact with and ask questions of the people making their favorite game, as well as hear upcoming content announcements such as the Redstone 1.5 update or the Minecraft: The Island novels. The latter enabled the Minecraft community to connect and inspire one another by competing in in-game building competitions, among other things. However, by 2016, MineCon had grown so large it lost some of its intimacy from earlier years, and to keep that feeling, Mojang decided to make a change, and Minecraft Live was born.
“We decided to turn [MineCon] into this live show where everyone could watch and feel the community was all there together hearing directly from us,” recalls Winters. “That’s the thing that’s gone through from MineCon, to all the things we named it, to Minecraft Live. We want the community to feel like they get to know us and hear what we’re talking about and understand the why – it’s not just ‘here’s the news’…we want you to hear from our development team.”
Preserving the Spirit Through Digital
That first digital year was a learning curve, according to Winters. The team at Mojang wanted to make what was then called MineCon Earth “the biggest and coolest show,” bringing in A-list celebrities like Will Arnett to host and amp up the spectacle of the event. However, attendees and fans of Minecraft weren’t sold on this approach. “The community feedback was ‘but we want it to be all about you in the community’ so we took that and shifted [MineCon Earth], and the next year we had creators onstage with us…and the focus was on our team and the community.”
Fans took well to the change, which exemplifies Mojang Studios’ commitment to Minecraft’s community. Minecraft Live incorporated new ways that the players could directly impact Minecraft’s trajectory, such as allowing them to vote on what elements are incorporated into the game – something that has become a third tentpole to the event, joining developer panels and community interaction. Minecraft Live 2021 took place in October, and boasts over 9.7 million views on YouTube at the time of this writing.
“With Minecraft, it’s constantly in a state of the developers and the community speaking together, and the community is giving us direct feedback,” says Winters. “We’re saying here, look at this early and tell us what you think. On that side, the community is always affecting what we’re doing.”
Winters attributes the massive Minecraft fandom growth over the years to its community, fueled by the advent of VOD and live-streaming platforms like YouTube and Twitch. Minecraft regularly tops both sites in views, and top creators have millions of subscribers that engage and inspire other players. Winters breaks it down this way. “You think of when we had 5,000 people in Vegas. Let’s say I had a YouTube channel that had 50,000 subscribers, right? A lot of those 5,000 people knew who I was, but it’s still less than 5,000 people. But then we got to 15,000 [attendees] – our content creators and YouTubers, they had millions of people. Every person knew [who they were]. So it’s like the scale of the community changed over the course of those years.”
According to data revealed at Minecraft Live 2021, Minecraft has over 141 million active monthly users. It’s rare for a game, no matter the quality, to maintain relevance and grow its userbase over the course of a decade, but through Mojang’s commitment to encouraging and listening to community input, that’s exactly what Minecraft has done.
Innovation for a Better Tomorrow
The Minecraft community also has ways of creating unique experiences that few other games could provide. There are too many examples to provide in one article, especially after COVID-19, but one in particular stands out to Winters. When the pandemic hit in 2020, high school and college graduations across the country were cancelled or postponed. UC Berkeley took a different approach, building the entire university in-game and hosting its commencement ceremony in Minecraft. “And [Blockeley] came from an alumni, not a graduating class,” explains Winters. “It was like ‘you all deserve a graduation’ and I think that’s as Minecraft as it gets.”
Minecraft can also be used for educational purposes, or to circumvent restrictive internet areas. As one such example, Reporters Without Borders created the Uncensored Library, which republishes censored articles and books in-game. For Winters, two such programs stand out as exemplary of what the Minecraft community is capable of. “What I really love is Education Edition, and then our program with UN Habitat Block by Block.” says Winters. “Both have real world implications, being able to empower people to have a different way to express themselves. That’s how I feel about how our players experience Minecraft and how it’s changing the world.” She goes on to describe how Minecraft is used in some schools to help autistic students when they are feeling overwhelmed, or in hospitals to help patients going in for surgery or chemo.
The Road Back to Gathering in Person
As the Minecraft community continues to push creative boundaries within the game, the team at Mojang is constantly looking ahead to its next Minecraft Live event. “It’s really a process of looking at what’s coming for the next year. We work with the development team. What update are we going to talk about and how can we think about the content?” says Winters. She also reveals the planning process is constantly evolving; a show outline in April could completely change by the time Minecraft Live takes place in the fall.
With in-person gatherings now returning, Mojang hopes to use the event to rekindle MineCon – but not in ways fans who attended the Anaheim event should expect. Winters explains that there have been years of development and community growth since 2016, and the Mojang team couldn’t (and shouldn’t) plan for the same old MineCon. Minecraft Festival, scheduled to take place in Florida late this year, after being postponed due to the COVID-19 Global Pandemic in 2020, will balance the universal accessibility of Minecraft Live with “something special and entirely different too.” At the end of the day, it’s all about the game.
“It’s been really easy to actually focus on [Minecraft]. Just being able to speak more and talk about the impact that Minecraft makes, because Minecraft doesn’t have a story, but we have so many stories of how our community is using the game, and that’s what I’m so passionate about.”
Minecraft continues to be one of Fandom’s top communities. Be sure to check out the newly launched interactive recipe book, created to help Minecraft enthusiasts, be they seasoned or brand new, up their crafting game.