Another Evening With Minecraft

It’s 8:30pm …now going on 8:45… “Hey! Turn off that @#$% iPad and start getting ready for bed”. My yelling sounds an awful lot like my father’s tone back in the day. It’s a school night and time once again for what’s become an evening ritual at our home: the arduous process of prying my 7-1/2 year-old son away from his beloved Minecraft.

It’s a rather addictive game. It all started earlier this year when my son blazed through the Skylanders Giants game on PS3 —awesome by the way, considering my wallet desperately needed a break from the biweekly runs to GameStop/EB Games searching for a growing list of elusive characters.

I’d say the marketing geniuses over at Activision created a brilliant revenue stream with the Skylanders franchise. Progression in the game is tied to purchasing individual characters, each sold separately of course or in packages of three. Each character possesses magical powers and abilities specifically suited to completing certain levels. The game’s narrative is completely structured around these characters and the incentive is to accumulate as many characters as possible with the necessary powers which enable you to keep moving forward through the story.
Keep in mind these characters are roughly $10 – $14 each and there are more than 30 characters —honestly I’ve actually lost count.
Naturally I’ll contain my excitement for the latest release in the Skylanders series, Swap Force, launching a mere 18-days from today and which will of course include a whole new series of characters we’ll need to run out and buy.

Minecraft on the other hand doesn’t involve purchasing physical characters or accessories like Skylanders’ Portal of Power. Rather, there are a vast array of virtual add-ons including “seeds” and tools that enhance a player’s ability to create more elaborate worlds. Most of these tools are free, though as you might have guessed, some of the more exotic seeds will cost you a few dollars.

Minecraft is peculiar in comparison to many of the high budget console games which tout slick photorealistic environments that starkly contrast with Minecraft’s low-fidelity 1980’s-esque 16-bit graphics and sound. The simple bitmapped textures lining the mostly planar surfaces remind me of some of my earliest exploits learning to model and render objects in 3DS Max. It’s quirky and very nostalgic in a way for someone like myself who grew up playing Intellivision.

Game theory aficionados might refer to Minecraft’s game play as a “sticky experience” similar to the likes of Farmville or Angry Birds because the game is designed to essentially go on and on with no real end in sight.
If kids appear to be spending copious amounts of time immersed in building Minecraft worlds, the silver lining, I’m happy to hear, is that experts suggest the game may help develop spatial, construction and planning skills.

As of this writing 12,233,127 people have downloaded the PC/Mac version of the game; there are 7,710,647 fans on Facebook, and more than 800,000 people are following
Jens Bergensten, one of the game’s lead developers on Twitter.

With it’s soaring popularity it begs the question, where’s LEGO’s answer to Minecraft?