Microsoft’s Minecraft is one of the biggest games on the planet.
Minecraft is already one of the best selling games ever made, up there with Tetris, Mario and Grand Theft Auto. Now it’s crossed a new milestone, counting more than 1 trillion views across YouTube.
The world-building game first appeared on Google’s video sharing service in 2009, and has grown to become one of the biggest communities on the platform. There are more than 35,000 active creator channels making videos on Minecraft, YouTube said, across 150 countries. That’s on top of the 140 million people who play Minecraft across the PC, mobile devices and video game consoles.
In an age when tech companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft are worth more than $1 trillion, it seems like just another number. But for Mojang Studios, the Stockholm-based development team that created Minecraft, it’s a reminder that the game has been growing steadily, even when many of us turn our attention to other things.
“It’s kept going up,” said Lydia Winters, Mojang Studios’ chief storyteller, who started her career making videos about Minecraft on YouTube before she was hired to a team of seven people about a decade ago.
The game’s appeal has continued to grow, even since Microsoft bought Mojang in 2014 for $2.5 billion. “Minecraft is more than a great game franchise — it is an open world platform, driven by a vibrant community we care deeply about, and rich with new opportunities for that community and for Microsoft,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said at the time. Microsoft and YouTube said the game has steadily grown since then.
Whether or not you’re watching Minecraft all the time, a lot of other people are.
YouTube and Mojang
Part of Minecraft’s appeal is how its blocky Lego-like art style gives players tools to build their own worlds, and tell their own stories. Most popular games are known for their ultra-realistic war simulation battles or engrossing storylines. Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros., one of the most popular video game franchises of all time, is known for its quirky characters and intricate puzzles.
The Minecraft community by comparison creates all sorts of worlds and videos. One popular earlier one, from creator CaptainSparklez, garnered 145 million views with a Minecraft-inspired riff on Coldplay’s popular song Viva La Vida, called Fallen Kingdom. Another depicts the creator Dream speeding his way through the game’s “end” in less than 23 minutes, garnering 29.6 million views. The creators often make money from their videos either through sponsorships or by including ads and splitting a percentage of that income with YouTube.
“From the beginning we’ve let them play the game the way they want,” Winters said. “There isn’t a right or wrong way to play.”
Minecraft’s success on YouTube has been a key to its growth. Earnest Pettie remembers that one of his first times learning about Minecraft was when he was a curator of viral videos and he stumbled across popular Minecraft clips. One of the most popular videos to spread across the internet then was when someone re-created Star Trek’s Enterprise-D starship in Minecraft, racking up more than 2 million views after uploading the clip in 2010.
“I don’t think you guys have ever appreciated how absolutely huge the Enterprise is,” video maker Halkun said in his 3:09 tour of the ship. The video has racked up more than 12.8 million views in the 11 years since.
“The game itself is effectively a canvas,” said Pettie, who now leads up YouTube’s Culture and Trends Insights efforts. He noted that the pandemic created another boost for the game, as many people were stuck at home in search of entertainment. So they turned to socially focused games they could play with friends nearby or across the web, like Minecraft, a similarly designed competitor Roblox, and the hit online battle game Fortnite. “Social connection is a universal human need people have,” Pettie said.
Not all of Mojang’s efforts have been as successful as its flagship game. Minecraft Dungeons, an action-adventure game in Minecraft’s style, received mixed reviews when it was released last year, according to a survey by Metacritic. CNET corporate cousin GameSpot gave the game a “good” review, noting that the biggest disappointment was that Minecraft Dungeons focused on fighting monsters, instead of offering a new twist on its namesake’s formula of world building. “Rather than shift our expectations of what games can be, it’s banking on its own popularity,” GameSpot’s Steve Watts wrote.
Minecraft Earth attempted to bring the Minecraft formula into augmented reality, which overlays computer images on the real world. Hold up your phone’s camera, and Minecraft elements are added on screen. The game launched in 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic began its spread. With many people around the world encouraged to stay indoors, Mojang shut down the game earlier this year.
The original Minecraft game, meanwhile, continued gaining steam, both among existing fans and people who weren’t even born when the game originally launched.
Lewis Ward, an analyst at IDC covering the game industry, said he’s seen this firsthand with his 6-year-old daughter, who plays Minecraft and Roblox. He said the child-friendly nature of the games makes him comfortable with her playing them for extended periods. “Even before the pandemic, my child would play together with friends, one on a computer and one with a tablet,” he said.
He noted that Minecraft continues to be one of the most heavily played and best selling games each year across the industry, and he expects that’ll continue as more companies look to build digital “metaverse” worlds for people to socialize in.
“With Minecraft,” he said, “you know what you’re going to get.”