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Opinion: Building On World-Building

In this reprinted #altdevblogaday-opinion piece, PixoFactor associate producer Adam Rademacher analyzes how Minecraft clones, or Minecraft-likes, can improve on the indie world-building game's sup
[In this reprinted #altdevblogaday-opinion piece, PixoFactor associate producer Adam Rademacher analyzes how Minecraft clones, or Minecraft-likes, can improve on the indie world-building game's super successful formula.] Minecraft is a good game. Well, let me rephrase that. The idea behind Minecraft is a good game. At its core, Minecraft has an inherently fun mechanic that it exploits for great and vast profits from its userbase, which recently surpassed the population of the country it was made in. But there is more to be had… The Problem With Minecraft Psych! There is no problem with Minecraft. As it stands, it is exactly fun as it was intended to be (or they wouldn't have released it). The problem I'm here to discuss is that of Minecraft-likes, or the recent appearation of Minecraft clones in both 3D and 2D games. While there's nothing wrong with being a clone or 'drawing inspiration' from a genre of game, in this case, world-building, if you're going to make a game and draw heavily from another, extant game, you should least improve upon it. Take the core mechanic of Minecraft: building. Easy to understand, easy to do, hit blocks to collect them, move them, and place them elsewhere. Millions upon millions of people have had fun crafting the world of their dreams. It's a little like Lego on steroids, complete with challenge and the social circles of acceptance on the internet. An improvement on the Minecraft core mechanic would improve one of three things:
  1. Increasing its appeal (either to more people or to its core fanbase)
  2. Augmenting the core mechanic of building
  3. Increasing its profit potential
Since the parallel has already been drawn, let's look at how Minecraft (a game) improves upon Lego (a toy):
  1. The internet makes it much easier to share your creations with distant friends, increasing its appeal
  2. The core mechanic of building is augmented with the challenge of staying alive and finding materials
  3. Its profit potential is much higher as it is a digital service and not a physical good. Overhead is lower.
Dorian in my Fortress of Solitude (Terraria)
But We Are Improving! But the games are improving. Right? Well, take Terraria (which I've been playing a lot). This game is essentially… Minecraft in two dimensions with the extra challenges of bossy monsters and dungeon-y areas. Some people could argue that this is an improvement, and the game is certainly fun, but the improvements are in the wrong area. What?? How dare I say such a thing! The wrong improvements? Let's look at the same three improvements:
  1. The 2D graphics (though a visual improvement) look retro, appealing only to core gamers — not increasing penetration or adding to the fanbase of the genre
  2. The ancillary mechanic of combat is augmented with more difficulty
  3. The business models are essentially the same, however, the price point on Terraria is lower
Dorian does not approve.
These are not clear improvements to the genre. In fact, some of them are detractors. So, what can we do to build the world-builder genre even further? We need to come up with solutions that improve upon the three points as stated before:
  1. Improve its appeal by improving the graphical fidelity, reducing the technical requirements (browser-based, mobile-based would be ideal), or integrating further social-networking features
  2. Augment the core mechanic by improving the functionality of building pieces, or by providing a supporting service to building
  3. Develop new business models which increase the profitability by sponsorships, ad delivery, or microtransactions
What would this game look like? If you follow @Notch's development team at all, it might be Minecraft in a few years. They are already addressing point #2 with new functionality such as Piston blocks, and #1 will be solved in time with advances in technology. #3, however, is the easiest way for a Minecraft-like to build upon the genre and make its mark. Implementing a Minecraft-like funded entirely off microtransactions, sponsorship, and in-game advertising would be a phenomenal step for the genre, though one we may not see for several years. [This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]

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