The games industry is usually pretty good at taking a very good idea, and beating the fun out of it until we're all sick to death of it. We take it as read that success will breed copycats. So here's a question for you. Minecraft is easily the most successful new idea in gaming in near memory. It was our 2010 game of the year. Mojang have raked in 4 million sales of their brick building game, and it's still selling. These are numbers that would should make any industry suit sit up and take notice. Why hasn't the mainstream industry jumped in with their own version?
It gets better. It's not just that Minecraft is selling well. It's that Minecraft has been quite cheap to develop. For a good while, Notch worked alone building the framework. There's very little art or sound resource (read, humans making stuff to sell) required. Compared to the development teams employed on games like Assassin's Creed or Call of Duty, the costs of developing a Minecraft clone is chump change.
Minecraft is getting an official port to the Xbox and to some phones, which is great news for Mojang. But it certainly doesn't mean that there isn't potential for different takes on the Mine/Craft genre.
Independently developed Minecraft clones are proven successes. Terraria, a 2D Minecraft clone available on Steam went from nothing to one of the most played PC games after a six month development period. FortressCraft is an Xbox Indie game, produced outside of the normal dev/publisher relationship that's consistently in the top five selling games on the Xbox 360.
Yet the traditional publishers haven't even lifted a finger.
I honestly think the market for games like Minecraft is far, far larger than even Mojang have been able to exploit. I've seen the way it grips kids and adults alike, seen the way entire families fall in love with making their own hovels/caves/daunting recreations of Stalag Luft. Minecraft's success is entirely without marketing budget, or a retailer or publisher getting behind it.
Why the success? Minecraft is a game about exploration and co-operative construction. These are basic human activities that we all love, that are creative, that cross age-groups, classes and sexes. So why do I think we've seen so few Minecraft clones? The games industry has made billions from appealing only to the very masculine activities of destruction and competition. We've seen the industry ignore a phenomenon before; it was called The Sims, and it built an empire. It was an empire built on some of the same ideas; creative construction and roleplaying.
I don't think there's a good reason why Minecraft hasn't been cloned. I just think the industry doesn't understand it, or even how to repeat the success. Minecraft and Mojang make people happy by being open, by encouraging creativity, by being nimble and by being extremely chilled about how players use their game. All of those qualities would be beaten out of any Minecraft like project by the layers of approval and management that are symptomatic of the modern industry, and crush the creativity from many of their products.
There is so much potential in Minecraft and Minecraft-like games. I can't wait to see what the genre can do. But I'm impatient. Bless Notch and his gang, but they're only a few men, and they've got other projects on the go. I want to see what Minecraft would be like with a passionate team of 10, maybe 20 people working on it full time.
4 million copies sold? That's just a genre getting started. Come on, industry. Let's see what you're made of.