The news earlier this week that Microsoft had splashed out US$2.5 billion on Mojang, the makers of the block-building sandbox creation Minecraft, swept the internet and the media like a virus.
Gamers were stunned and concerned for what it meant for the future of The Little Indie That Could. Veteran freelancers and editors took a longer view, with many retelling charming stories on the couch with their children or their friends’ children.
If you have any fondness for the internet then Minecraft has affected you or someone you know. I’m not a fan, but a close friend of mine met his wife among the pixelated Creepers and the blocky hills and mines.
These kinds of tales are common, given that Minecraft has over 100 million registered users. Microsoft said more than 2 billion hours had been played on the Xbox 360 version alone in the last two years.
It’s a staggering achievement for a game that could be purchased in beta form – a progenitor of the Early Access route so common on PC these days – for a measly $10. And just how important Minecraft is in our culture will only truly be known in the coming decades, when the millions of children around the world playing on their tablets, iPhones and consoles grow up.
One much more recent and curious impact Notch’s creation has had on gaming, however, has been the way its popularity has allowed personalities to flourish, resulting in fledgling Let’s Players and online critics becoming genuine online stars.
YouTube channels have grown into networks, and mildly successful entertainers have transformed into the closest thing YouTube has to corporations.
Joseph Garrett, the 23-year-old Englishman responsible for the Stampy Cat channel, is one example. Despite only starting his efforts a couple of years ago, his prolific nature – uploading at least one TV-length Minecraft episode every day, often alongside other episodes – and his high-pitched tones have proven a major hit with fans, particularly children.
His channel has over 3.75 million subscribers; the channel trailer alone has over 5.7 million views. Garrett told The Daily Mail earlier this year that he receives around 3,000 messages a day asking for tips about games, and the tens of thousands of views for each of his daily uploads generates an estimated $US1.2 million to $US9.5 million a year according to Socialblade (after YouTube takes its cut of advertising revenue).
“You need to be getting the massive figures, but if you do manage to get right to the top, there is big money there,” Garrett said.
He’s not the only one raking in the dough though, with Adam Dahlberg, the Washington-based brain behind Sky Does Minecraft, also turning his gaming passion into a full-time job.
Dahlberg might only upload around one video per day on average, but with more than 10.4 million subscribers and hundreds of thousands of views for each video – figures that the ABC or even Channel Nine would be happy with – he’s able to pull in an estimated $US474,200 to $US3.8 million a year.
His penchant for animations and mock-up songs also have a much better traction of going viral, with this take on Coldplay’s ‘Paradise’ having been viewed almost 50 million times.
Minecraft has also been a great stepping stone for pre-existing YouTube channels. Lewis Brindley and Simon Lane had already found some online fame through their World of Warcraft videos, but it was their Shadow of Israphel series, based on their combined adventures in the LEGO-like lands, that helped propel the Yogscast duo to ‘online sensation’ status.
“Six years later with over 20 million subscribers, billions of views and more than 20 channels in the mix, The Yogscast shows no sign of slowing down,” their website says.
The Yogscast team now has an extensive network of eighteen active commentators, three animators, three managers, two business administrators, four editors, three artists and two technical specialists.
It’s allowed Brindley and Lane to engage in some philanthropic work, which isn’t an exploit you’d usually associate with gaming. Nevertheless, in 2012 the Yogscast team were able to leverage their massive online popularity to raise over £63,000 for Oxfam, earning them the Most Popular Foundraiser award from the JustGiving online charity platform.
That good work continued last year with the “Dwarven Diary Drive”, a collaboration with the Humble Bundle e-retailer and multiple game developers that ended up raising a staggering 700,000 pounds by Christmas. Charities that reaped the rewards included War Child, Little People UK, GamesAid, SpecialEffect and Oxfam, with Lane himself being re-created as a DLC character for Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed as a way of thanking the Yogscast team for their promotional efforts.
Whether Minecraft will continue to be the phenomenal launching pad it has been under Microsoft’s leadership is another matter, but it has already transformed the lives of millions of people worldwide.
The personalities it spawned have branched out into other games and avenues – animation, singing, podcasts, merchandising and live shows – but one suspects that as long as there’s a server to join, that little block-building world started by one game will continue to live on.