10 years of Minecraft success: a lesson for indie developers
Minecraft is not just a legendary game, it’s a cultural phenomenon. Having appeared in 2010, it instantly became popular and is still among the top games. We’ve analyzed the Minecraft team’s path to success, promotion strategy, and relevant metrics. What can game developers learn from the Minecraft case? Is there a universal secret to success? And how can one stay popular for ten years?
Minecraft was originally an indie project developed by Markus Persson, for whom programming was just a hobby. In 2009, he was into Infiniminer. In it, you could gain resources in a limited time frame. Soon enough, the project ceased to exist and its source code was published. After that, clone games began to appear. Marcus’s game called Cave Game was one of them. Its gameplay developed rapidly, and then the project changed its name for Minecraft.
Markus Persson on the game concept: «Back before anyone knew who I was, I used to wanted to make huge games. Games where you can do anything and everything you see is there for a reason. No fake doors that don’t lead anywhere, no trees you can’t cut down, and no made-up story being told to the player to motivate them. Instead, the player would make their own story, and interact with the game world, decide for themselves what they want to do».
The alpha version was released in 2010. Then the game became known in the indie world, but in 2011 everyone knew about it. By the time the game was officially released on November 18, 2011, Markus Persson had already become a millionaire. In the same year, the mobile version of the game was released for iOS and Android. Nobody expected Minecraft to become one of the best selling video games in history (second only to Tetris). In 2014, Microsoft bought the company. In 2018, 144 million copies of the game were sold (most on Android and iOS).
What is the Minecraft secret?
- New genre and simple idea
The gameplay is based on a simple idea of using cubic blocks. Everything in the game is made up of Lego-like parts. By destroying the blocks, you can get resources and build objects.
The game breaks the usual rules: it has a complex system, there are no character levels, and no measurable progress. Users can set the goal of the game on their own. Minecraft pioneered what would later be called the sandbox genre.
- Community development and user-generated content
The game offers frequent content updates, new biomes, and features. For example, in Creative mode, the player initially has immortality, resources for building, and extra perks. In the Survival mode, on the contrary, you need to survive and escape from various aggressive mobs.
A community began to shape around the game in no time. Popularity grew due to the game getting viral. At MineCon 2011, the first event to celebrate the game’s release, there were cosplay contests, builder battles, meetings and autograph sessions with YouTubers. Minecraft now has a dedicated fan art section. It was the community, their activity and content that made the game that popular.
Karl Mannech, former CEO of Mojang, says: «We were very liberal from the beginning about what we let people do with our brand and our intellectual property, and this has created a fantastic community of players who do a lot of things in the game. There is a huge ecosystem where people charge for server space to play Minecraft with their friends, monetize their YouTube videos, and develop and sell mods».
Minecraft has always encouraged fans to collaborate, communicate, and even provide the developers with their ideas of how the game should advance. Traditionally, MineCon devoted a lot of time to the content. Users were taught to develop a community, make their own YouTube channels, podcasts, and create musical parodies. This parody, for example, has over 100 million views. At the same time, videos on the game official channel get an average of 2 to 5 million views.
Minecraft immediately realized that every user is a potential media. That’s why they have been trying from the very beginning to motivate users to create content, teach them how to do that and help them in every possible way. For example, in 2013 they announced a partnership with Twitch so that the Minecrafters could easily record and broadcast their game streams there.
- More than a game: education and charity
Minecraft has grown beyond the game to become a cultural phenomenon. For example, many educational institutions tried using it as a learning tool. The company even developed a special version of the game for that.
There were charity initiatives based on Minecraft too. For example, one of them supported the protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, one of the last relict forests on Earth. Inside the game, the entire forest was recreated on a 1:1 scale. A popular streamer Gimper had a stream showing the same map with the deforested area. That made a great impression and the fund for Belovezhskaya Pushcha increased significantly.
Minecraft promotion: the figures
According to Statista, 200 million copies of the game were sold in May 2020. More than 10 million copies have been installed from Google Play alone. On average, the game costs $6.99 or €7.99. In December 2020, Minecraft, as usual, ranked # 1 on the paid app charts in the US, Canada, Mexico, UK, Switzerland, Spain, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Japan, South Africa and dozens of other countries around the world.
The game frequently becomes an editors’ choice. Minecraft is usually the leader when it comes to getting featured – in December 2020 alone, it got featured 1,200 times in daily selections of over 50 countries on App Store. Typically, for paid apps, featured traffic is of significant help. During the pandemic, the number of new Minecraft users has increased by 25%.
In Peru, the Philippines, Sweden, South Africa, Chile, the United States, Belarus, and Argentina, Minecraft has the highest Performance Index scores of 8.2 to 9.2. This means that the game is acquiring organic traffic most efficiently in those countries. When calculating the index, the app optimization quality, ranking by key queries, and visibility are taken into account.
The ‘minecraft’ brand query is the major one in all locales but its Search Volume (a search query popularity score from 5 to 99) varies by country. The highest value on App Store is 85 in the US and Australia, 83 in Canada and Sweden, 78 in the UK, 72 in South Africa, 70 in Argentina, and 67 in Peru.
The game has a fairly high ASOindex on Google Play with an average value of 8 (out of 10). This means that the page is quite well optimized for search traffic. On App Store, the situation is worse: 6.7 in the US, 6.6 in the UK, 6.2 in Germany. This suggests that Minecraft is not engaged in search engine optimization and is missing out on extra traffic.
Minecraft keywords and update frequency
In addition to ‘minecraft’ there are a number of popular keywords by which the game appears among the search results. For example, in the US those are ‘games’ (81), ‘xbox’ (77), ‘fun games’ (66), ‘game’ (65), or ‘survival games’ (64). However, for less popular queries, the app ranking is higher. For example, the app comes first by ‘craft’ (52), second by ‘minecraft earth’ (55), and eleventh by ‘cool games’ (56) on App Store.
Over the recent 18 months, Minecraft has had its screenshots updated four times on App Store and three times on Google Play. The last three updates on App Store differ in the number of screenshots (there are two times more of them) and format as they did not have text before. On Google Play, screenshots had the same format and in the same quantity with eight screenshots with text.
Reviews and ratings for Minecraft
For a paid app, reviews and ratings are crucial. Low rating means low install chances. Minecraft has an average rating of 4.5. The lowest rating for the game is 4.1 in Austria. Curiously, Minecraft support rarely responds to reviews (there are only 77 responses to reviews in the US locale). With about 10%, there are not so many openly negative ratings (1 and 2 stars).
We have a large article about how to work with reviews. Feel free to read it.
- A simple idea combined with a new genre has viral potential.
- The growing community helps immensely to make a game known.
- Teaching users how to create content about your game is basically free marketing.
- Going beyond the game can include participating in education and charity initiatives.
- Being the store featured leader, in December 2020 alone, the game was featured 1,200 times in daily selections of over 50 countries on App Store.
- During the pandemic, the number of users grew by 25%.
- In Peru, the Philippines, Sweden, South Africa, Chile, the US, Belarus, and Argentina, Minecraft acquires organic users most efficiently.
- Minecraft doesn’t update screenshots often – about once every six months.
- On average, the game has only 10% negative ratings (1 and 2 stars).
Minecraft is a milestone for the independent gaming industry. Popularity achieved without any significant investment has inspired hundreds of game developers. To some extent, it was Minecraft who gave rise to the myth of ‘easy success’ of an indie project without any costs or promotion.
Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to make this story come true again now. The Among Us case showed us that you can strive for success for years or you can control it and take action to make it happen sooner. Don’t wait for it but keep an eye on your competitors, improve ASO before release, and use all available promotion options.