Crafting a new kind of game

Dylan St. John, Carpe Diem Staff

Creating a video game can be as complex as filming a Hollywood movie. Today’s mainstream video game takes around a year to develop and, on average, costs over $20 million. The process involves meticulous planning, intense, drawn-out development and tedious pre-release testing. Despite all of this, according to a study done by Electronic Entertainment Design and Research (EEDAR), only 20% of games that make it to market are profitable – which makes Minecraft, a recent independent game developed in a single week, one of the most abnormal games on the market today.

Initially developed over a week in May 2009 by Markus “Notch” Persson, Minecraft was first released to the public as a developmental “alpha” release meant for testing for about $14.27. In December 2010, Minecraft reached a closer to final “beta” version, and the cost went up to about $21.44. According to Persson, Minecraft experienced around 800,000 sales during alpha phase, and currently has over 1,220,000 sales in beta. For a game that initially took a week to develop, Minecraft has brought it nearly $40 million in revenue and counting.

On the surface, the game is simple. It is based on an open world ‘sandbox’ gamestyle in which there is no objective, and players are free to do anything. Players build their own constructions and then survive the zombies, skeletons and spiders that come out at night.

When a new game first loads, the player is set in a randomly generated world made out of cubical blocks representing different materials like dirt, water, sand, trees, stone and various ores to name a few. As the player explores, new area is generated, effectively making the playable world in Minecraft infinite. The simple but deep gameplay design earned Minecraft the Game of the Year award from PC Gamer UK.

Minecraft may be the first to usher in a new era of gaming. “I really can’t emphasize enough that the video game industry is growing at a rate where there’s so much potential for things like Minecraft,” Coker said. Ned Coker works as a Public Relations Associate at CCP Games. CCP Games is the developer behind EVE Online, a science fiction massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) with over 300,000 active subscriptions. Originally based in Iceland, CCP Games’ North America headquarters are in the process of moving to Ponce de Leon Avenue.

“There’s so much [opportunity] for people to get into gaming and understand it as a real entertainment medium – to understand that it’s not just a passive activity like watching a movie,” Coker said. “You are a part of something that has a legacy. You are meeting new people and you are determining the experience that you have in a way that few other [kinds] of entertainment have.”

Online, players have already crafted the Titanic, a model of Earth, the Taj Mahal, and, using the game’s rudimentary physics engine, a 16-bit computer.

Minecraft prompts people to create something out of nothing. The player’s imagination is the only limit to what can be done. Since it is unlike anything before it, players react accordingly. “I was a little skeptical when I started playing [Minecraft], but my impression of it is I think what the impression of everybody else is – that it’s basically an incredibly powerful kind of fun tool to be able to create stuff. It’s the video game version of Legos, and everybody that I know that is a video game fan grew up with Legos,” Coker said.

Brothers Walker and Reuben Brough, senior and freshman, respectively, play Minecraft together – competitively at times. According to Walker, the exchange often starts with, “‘Reuben come here, do you want to see this?’ [Reuben] says, ‘No,’ and then he comes to look at it anyway.”

“There are no limits. It’s bigger than earth. You can make whatever you want. You have an assortment of materials and items and then there’s the challenge of dealing with monsters to go along with the game to make it more fun,” Walker said. “You can do stuff that you can’t do in real life,” Reuben added.

“We play religiously,” Walker said, jokingly.

Persson is always working on the game and has released nine updates with new content and bug fixes so far in 2011. Though he is always changing the game, Persson himself doesn’t quite know where it is headed. “This is not the [finished] game,” he said. “I’m just working on it and you can play it while I’m making it.”

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