Markus Persson

N.B.: This review was of Minecraft in its earliest outing; see here for a more recent (and favorable) take on the game

Back in the day, I entered Habitat and played around with it. And I remember Chip Morningstar telling me that it "wasn't just a game," and thinking "Too bad! It could be a pretty good game!" That is, if you bolted on some, you know, actual gameplay. Something to do. An objective.

Some years later, as part of a project, I did a survey of just about every online visual chat environment, from things as simple as Comic Chat to actual 3D environments. And came away thinking "Why?" Because even though there were some cool things, like The Palace, in the final analysis, text is better and the other stuff just gets in the way, if what you want is, you know, chat.

Now, there are lots of definitions of "the game," and I don't intend to flog that particular horse any further today, at least; but one thing that is common to virtually all of them is goals. Not that all games need a win condition, but if the structure doesn't enable goal-directed activity on the part of the players, either explicitly or implicitly, it's not a game.

Not that being "not a game" is itself an inherently bad thing; but let's unpack this "goalness" of games a bit. Games are interactive, and game players have goals; an interactive structure without goals has no -- well, no goals. No point. No reason for further interaction.

Which is why I get very irritated with people who want to do "more" than or "go beyond" or "not be limited to" games; what they think they are saying is "I want to create art beyond the pathetic dweeby little things that you degraded gamers seem to enjoy," but what they are really saying is "I want to create pointless applications."

And it is a source of enduring wonder to me that Second Life has attracted so much venture money and press attention even though, you know, it's just Habitat with a scripting engine bolted on.

Which brings us to Minecraft, which has gotten a fair bit of attention in the indie community.

Minecraft is an impressive technical achievement; it's a 3D construction kit that allows you to create your own virtual worlds by placing and removing textured, cubical blocks. You can then move through your construction, or spawn "mobs" controlled by idiot AIs to wander semirandomly through it. You can host your "world" on your own server, and many people (a couple of dozen, anyway) can be in the world simultaneously -- and, of course, they can chat.

It's particularly impressive because it runs, at a reasonable framerate, in the browser, using Java -- and is created by a one-man team. Ten years ago, a much larger team would have been necessary, and you certainly couldn't have done it in the browser (or you could have, using VRML, but it would have been as slow as molasses in January).

The term "sandbox" tends to come up a lot here, and that's what this is -- but of course when we talk about sandbox games, we mean entities that still have metrics and allow us to establish implicit goals -- games like SimCity or Roller Coaster Tycoon played in sandbox mode. The only real possible goal here is "create something visually interesting," or possibly "destroy someone else's creation" (griefplay). Which is okay, and if you like wasting time this way, fine, but me, I stopped playing with Legos a long time ago.

So yeah, impressive application. But pointless, of course.

Now mind you, some of the directions Persson is taking the game are less pointless; e.g., he's announced a "Dungeons & Levers" expansion pack that would allow you to create a trap-driven dungeon environment, which at least holds open the possibility of player-created puzzle-based gameplay. But I feel about this much the same way I feel about games built inside Second Life: Why bother? Why not make a real game? In fact, why not make a real game with the world creation tools for people to create their own levels? Wouldn't that be less, you know, pointless?


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Design focus

I take a similar stance on Minecraft: it's an interesting concept, but I can't really see myself having fun with it for very long.

I think it's largely an issue of how the developer(s) approached game design. I was one of the developers for Infiniminer (which according to the About page inspired Minecraft). We went through a similar process of revelation during the release and updating process. People weren't playing the game in the competitive mode we designed, and it took us a while to figure out why. The competitive mining gameplay just wasn't compelling the way it had been realized. We added in an official sandbox option and watched the server list convert to it. Eventually we realized that no reasonable amount of tweaking would create the game we wanted, so we abandoned the project.

The problem came from designing around "technical feature" instead of "fun gameplay." We all learned that lesson pretty clearly. We all know that graphics don't make a game good, but it's also true that a technical feature (in this case, a deformable environment) doesn't either. Start by finding something fun, and design around that.

Valve comes to mind as the perfect example of the right way to do it. Left 4 Dead started with some developers playing rounds of Counterstrike Source against large teams of knife-wielding bots. They had fun gameplay before even starting on the actual project. This is a much more natural way of developing a game; look at how most sports evolved. No one wrote down every complexity of basketball before people started playing; someone was just enjoying the activity of throwing a ball into a hoop and decided to find a way to keep track of score. If we can develop games by the same natural process, we're sure to find some incredibly appealing gameplay.

I don't see why building a

I don't see why building a game inside Second Life is different from building a game inside Java, Flash, Source, or whatever other general "pointless" tool you want to use.

Second Life

Why limit yourself to SL players?

A Few Things to Consider

First of all, as is emphasized by the creator as well as the entire community, Minecraft is in it's very much alpha stages and the creator is working on many different game modes (I actually didn't hear about the trap-door one, sounds awesome) so it's not really fair to judge it as you would a full fledged game or even one that had reached it's design goal (which this, incidentally hasn't yet).

And second; it really is fun. You get to create massive structures, or beautiful ones and walk around in them. I guess some may not like their Legos as much as they used to, but for me they have only gotten better as I have been able to imagine more and the same goes for this game. Notch designed it this way, to be fun, not just as some random mechanic. And just because you set the goals for yourself (which actually works better since you will rarely run out of fun ideas) doesn't really mean it is less entertaining or engaging by a long shot.

Now I can understand that some just may not like it, but tell the thousand strong pre-orders and many, many more registered users who play it on a regular basis that it isn't fun. Heck, even if you had to pay $14 for it in its current stage I'd buy it.

Goal: Make a Game

Is game design a game? There is a goal: making a good game. It's interactive, at least if you use an iterative process. (Granted, in this sense, you could argue that Visual C++ is a game. Slippery slope?)

Still, from the description, I'd put Minecraft and Second Life in the same category as Game Maker or FPS Creator or RPG Maker or PyGame or UnrealEd. They are tools that you could use to make a game. (Interesting that you bring up Legos; when I was young, I mostly used Legos to make game boards, and the only reason I stopped was when it occurred to me that I could do the same thing faster with paper, index cards, and a box of game bits.)

At any rate, the point in all these cases is to enable game creation for people who don't necessarily have hardcore programming skills. Why not judge it in that respect, as a tool, rather than as a game qua game?

Game Creation Kit


Is that the intended end? If so, the current product focusses purely on terrain layout, which while important to level design, is only one part, and IMO far from the most important part, of game design to focus on.

I don't put Minecraft in the same category as, say, Blitz Basic, because at least externally, it does not appear intended to be a game design creation kit; rather, it appears to be another futile attempt to create a "non-game game," a "virtual world for the rest of us," even a "virtual world creation kit" with the Koster-like notion that "virtual worlds" are a superset of games, or at least a superset of the game genre of the MMO, when in reality non-game virtual worlds are, in essence, crippled MMOs, a subset rather than a superset.

Ian, I actually did the same

Ian, I actually did the same thing with Legos when I was about 8 after playing Front Mission. However, I disagree with "the point in all these cases is to enable game creation" as the end result isn't a game. You're essentially creating Lego blocks, not the rules governing them. Perhaps something along the lines of LittleBigPlanet's online multiplayer that would suppourt a couple dozen people would work better?

The funny thing is I've said

The funny thing is I've said much the same about many table top RPG's and heard the exact same 'it's more than a game!' arguement back. Costik, I'd even suspect you'd argue table top RPG's are more than just being a game, or whatever, yourself. Though I'm totally prepared to be wrong on that.

I think a game, table top or program, can sort of stimulate in the viewers brain a creative...hallucination/dream/vision/inspiration, whatever you want to call it. Such hallucinations can be a great inspiration for actually making a game. However, I think people often mistake the hallucination for something that is already in existance and already in the game, rather than something that could be made. Then they argue strongly about the game already being more, when it isn't - but the idea they have is a jolly good one, if they go and actually impliment it.

Seems to be an early piece of something bigger

I played this game when I first heard about it a few months ago, and it reminded me of some advice I'd gotten from one of the old Looking Glass devs: if you are making a graphics game, spend half your development time on the IDE. That's what I was "playing," the basic component of an IDE.

So I'm playing around with it and I'm thinking that the guy probably wants to remake Dwarf Fortress (this game's graphics look a lot like the 3D map renderers people made for that game), recognizes the problems that game will probably always have implementing graphics, and decides to design the graphics piece first. Then he puts this graphics piece, really part of the IDE for a more ambitious game, out as a little toy to get some feedback/free QA, and moves on to implementing the next piece.

It appears that he knows the limitations of a one-man development team and is leveraging the internet to overcome as much of it as possible.

It is wholly appropriate to criticize this by saying 'this isn't really a game' because it isn't a game. If he just stopped now nothing has been accomplished. If he added traps or whatever, nothing's been accomplished. If he used this as a building block to reimplement dwarf fortress or something like it then he'll have something worth reviewing.


It reminded me somewhat of an 80s game called The Sentinel - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sentinel_(computer_game) - which was all about rebuilding the landscape "on-the-fly" - and had an actual game too!

But yeah, at the moment this does feel somewhat pointless. As if that's entirely a bad thing. Although the technical achievement seems pretty good.

this game is pointless?

OMG, what an observation.

A pointless game?

As oppposed to world of warcraft or halo which is a productive use of your time?

when in reality non-game

when in reality non-game virtual worlds are, in essence, crippled MMOs, a subset rather than a superset.

Are non-game web pages supposed to be crippled subsets of MUDs?

Is Google Earth a crippled MMO?

Malakhon, you can see it's

Malakhon, you can see it's being judged by whether there's a goal, not by whether its productive in some way.

Consumatopia, does it present itself as a non game?

Virtual Worlds

Google Earth is not a virtual world. Web pages are not a virtual world. My point isn't that anything that isn't a game is pointless; many things have a point, including Google Earth, my dentist, and even the Republican Party. The question is whether a virtual world that is not a game has a point, and the answer is inherently "no," since if it had a point, it would be a game. Or possibly a learning environment or the Metaverse or something.

Why would you choose to continue to engage with an interative system unless you expect to achieve something through it? The achievement might be real world (I continue to interact with Microsoft Word in order to write documents) or it might be metafictional (I continue to interact with WoW in order to get phat loot and gain the next stage in my cooking skill), but without objectives, either established by the real world or accepted as the game's fiction, why do I care?

"Why would you choose to

"Why would you choose to continue to engage with an interactive system unless you expect to achieve something through it?"

I'm having trouble working out where you draw the line here with regard to what constitutes an achievement. You seem to be suggesting that producing a word document is an achievement in a way that producing a structure in Minecraft or a building in Second Life is not.

games and goals

The question is whether a virtual world that is not a game has a point, and the answer is inherently "no," since if it had a point, it would be a game.

Games have explicitly defined goals. The question is whether virtual worlds without goals explicitly defined by the world creator are "inherently" pointless. Since lots of other things lacking explicitly defined goals are not pointless, this is obviously false.

If you backed down from the "inherent" part of your claim, there might be a coherent argument to make, but you'd have to be more explicit about exactly what aspects of virtual worlds make them likely to be (rather than "inherently") pointless in the absence of explicit goals.

Why would you choose to continue to engage with an interative system unless you expect to achieve something through it?

Experience and engagement can never be first-order goals by themselves?

games and goals

Games do not necessarily have to have explicitly designed goals. Dungeons and Dragons does not have an explicit goal, although it has an implicit one (gain more EP); players define their own goals in the context of the setting and story reveled by the GM. Sim City does not have explicit goals, but it has a sufficiently variegated and flexible system that players may select their own goal from a wide variety of potential objectives.

If, however, you at any point in a game find yourself thinking "what the hell am I trying to do here?", the game is failing you.

"Experience" can be a goal, but "experience what?" And "engagement" is so nebulous a term as to be meaningless in this context.

The difference between 'toy' and 'game'

I think the problem is that people write software and assume that it automatically becomes a 'game' instead of a 'toy'. The difference between a toy and a game is game which is made of toys is that despite being composed of toys, the game has the goals and rules associated with how to play with the component toys.

So, the fair thing to do would be to call Minecraft, and even Second Life, as on-line multi-user environments or multi-player toys. There may be plenty of games which one can play using the component toys in Minecraft, but it's not a game without those. But that just means that it's just like Second Life, a nice set of toys which some people look at and think "Hey, we can make some nice games using that!"

If anything in which players

If anything in which players can find their own goals also counts as a game, the term applies to too many things. Not only would that include D&D EP, it also has to apply to Linden Dollars. Or to U.S. Dollars, for that matter.

Let's drop "explicitly", and just say that it has to have a designed or defined goal. Such goals would still be a subset of goals in general. Therefore, not being a game would not make something inherently pointless.

If, however, you at any point in a game find yourself thinking "what the hell am I trying to do here?", the game is failing you.

I tend to think this is wrong, but it's a debatable point. The idea that's "inherently" true, though, is obviously wrong. As an aesthetic claim it's arguable, as a logical claim it's ridiculous.

If, however, you at any

If, however, you at any point in a game find yourself thinking "what the hell am I trying to do here?", the game is failing you.
As I said before, I'd say D&D is failing you in just that way. But then you bring up an 'implicit' rather than explicit goal of EP collecting.

And people here are bringing up 'implicit' goals, like 'the experience of it'.

Just as much as your not going to agree EP collection in D&D is not an implicit goal and you invented it, neither is any of these guys going to admit they are just inventing a goal that isn't there.

I'll admit it.

Actually, I'm perfectly happy admitting that these are user-invented, unforeseen goals. I'd only object that characterizing such as "a goal that isn't there" is wrong--user-invented/discovered goals are just as real as developer-designed goals by any reasonable definition of "goal".

But by the same token, in

But by the same token, in reviewing the developers work, Costik can only review what they have given him. In strict terms of what the developers have given him to review, your particular invented goal really is not there/not part of that package.

Eg, I think counterstrike has had mods made that include zombies - but if one were to just review counterstrike itself, one would be correct to say it has no zombies in it. Same goes here for goals - even if the mod is just in your head that you have goal X, it's a mod, not part of the actual product produced by the developer.

Sounds a reasonable distinction?

Counterstrike zombie misses the point.

But the difference here is that we're talking about games that are designed to accommodate the undesigned for--virtual worlds that serve as something approaching empty vessels for user goals. In that context, you can evaluate the game's potential--whether it's a versatile enough system to accommodate unforeseen goals. You can evaluate the sorts of goals users are already finding in the game, and you can hypothesize as to the sorts of goals users might find later in the system. Lots of reviews consider the potential for user generated content.

(Actually, while it wouldn't make sense to look at zombies to evaluate counterstrike, it would make sense to look at said zombies to evaluate the process of modding counter-strike.)

Further, there's a huge difference between saying that the true point of something is beyond the scope of a review and just declaring that the absence of designed goals makes something inherently pointless.

So, no, I don't think your distinction sounds reasonable.

There's also a huge

There's also a huge difference between reviewing a new type of paintbrush and reviewing a game.

Words often seem to build up some sort of totemic value people are unwilling to let go of. But words are essentially a way of looking after your fellow man (or so I assume), using them the same way other people use the word so as to look after those other people and not let them go into something they might otherwise have avoided. To call this a 'game' is to cease looking after your fellow man in that particular way. Calling it a game is like calling the red light on a traffic signal 'go'. You may very well believe it to be so, but it's ceasing to help your fellow man to act on that belief.

Fine, call them non-games, but don't call them pointless.

Whoa, I am totally happy calling these virtual worlds non-games. I am also happy calling them games. I have no attachment to the term "game". (The more restrictive the definition, the better it is for my argument, actually.)

My only point is the essential absurdity of saying non-game virtual worlds are inherently pointless. I'm not sure you even disagree with me on this. The logic of your arguments supports my position, but you seem tempted to try to draw substantive conclusions from the arbitrary boundaries of arbitrary word-tokens like "game".

These virtual worlds are playable, review-able worlds. Whether you want to call them "games" or not is up to you, but you decide to review, you have to review it in terms of what it is, not in terms of whatever words you're attached to.

The red light on a traffic

The red light on a traffic signal doesn't have to be associated with 'stop', but it is. When we go to a traffic signal and see red, we just think stop - we don't think perhaps it means something else this time. Same with the word 'game'. It has some strong common associations, with are pretty common associations as seen in most board and even computer games and they are the correct associations in those products.

If the authors of this game communicated that to Costik that it was a 'game', even just in the websites texts, then they are showing a 'red light', so to speak. Something that has strong associations.

If they didn't tell Costike it was a game and he's brought that set of assumptions in himself, okay, I totally grant your arguement applies and is correct. But I'm pretty sure he was told it was a game - but I could be wrong. Am I?

Uhh, isn't there the singleplayer survival mode?

I have mostly no idea what you guys were talking about because of my small vocabulary, but, I know that there's the Indev/Infdev mode that was released, or was it only released after this review?

I'd hate to not sound constructive...

So, in my honest opinion, Costik needs to revisit this game. Not just the "Classic" mode... But the "Alpha-Infdev" mode. Sure, it's a good 12 dollars American, but you get a whole game. For half price. Notch, the developer of this "application" is dedicated, and perhaps a very well known one, if you decided to snoop around.

First off, Minecraft is in Alpha, and "Classic" at this point doesn't even show the greater majority of the great features in the alpha.

Second off, you say "of course when we talk about sandbox games, we mean entities that still have metrics and allow us to establish implicit goals". This game is one of those. Sure, you can't zone a commercial district and wait... Or set an object on your queue to be created a la Civ... The single, implicit goal in the main branch of the game dubbed "Survival"... Other games you've reviewed, such as STRANDED II, don't even compare. The test of "Classic Survival" is enough to suffice an actual game. Later versions, going into infdev give a grander scheme of play. Whereas in the initial survival mode, you could mine blocks *not like in "creative". Sure, in all other iterations, this remains a steady mainstay, but in fact, things such as crafting, armor, weaponry, etc... Were added. Link: http://minecraft.net/survivaltest/

Now, I hate to demean/defame the game developers featured on this site, but they don't have have much on Notch. Notch is a throwback to older developers, who actually talk to their clients. In fact, one can often expect grievances/problems reported to the official forums to be fixed in the next NEARLY DAILY UPDATE. Though patches happen a lot in most other games in alpha, even beta... People would often expect that only bugfixes are ever affected in these updates. See, on an almost weekly basis, users get a Seecret Friday update. Usually, they are the addition of a new "mob", or even new "blocks". Now, see... I may sound like a rabid fan boy, but in essence, if you thought the creative mode was devoid of substance, and perhaps stupid... You ought shell out 12 dollars American to buy this product. Now even if you despise the product, you could get a refund within thirty days of purchase. How's that for a deal?

Link providing show of client/distributor interaction, as well as the heap of updates provided in the mean time: http://notch.tumblr.com/

"one-man team"

"one-man team" is an oxymoron.

My son is playing this and apparently it has evolved into an actual game. I hope it becomes a graphical front end to Dwarf Fortress.

Please Revisit the Game

I don't know if when you wrote this review they had the "Alpha" version, but it really seems like you played "classic mode" which admittedly sucks. Alpha on the other hand is open ended but gives small goal-based tasks as part of the game. You collect resources, you turn those resources into useful items, or other resources which you can then turn into useful items. While many indie games which feature mechanics like this are extremely obtuse and difficult to figure out (cough Dwarf Fortress cough), Minecraft can be noted for its relative intuitiveness combined with complex possibilities. The game is being constantly updated and more features are being added all the time. It isn't simply a sandbox for building the coolest thing, but there is utility in what you build. The game's influences from Dwarf Fortress are clear and it follows a similar arc: Early game you have a lot more goals and tasks you must perform, enemies come out during the night time and you want to establish a makeshift shelter to survive your first night, as the game advances you find yourself exploring new possibilities as you no longer need to worry about your immediate survival you become more free to try new endeavors, find new resources, build better tools and weapons, expand your, one-time lean-to into a magnificent palace, etc. From the looks of your review it seems you were right "Classic" mode in Minecraft is nothing more than a pointless little thing to say "look at this mechanic I'm going to turn into a game." Now it's time for you to play the game which has frankly earned its indie-cred and certainly earned a place on this site.

After seeing the Rock Paper

After seeing the Rock Paper Shotgun posts about it I'll have to give it a second shot, but I'm miles behind in my reviews so it might take a while.

Game is solved

I'll just write a short summary in case anyone sees the discussion here and thinks there's some sort of difficult issue with the word "game". Because there is not.

A game and the physical objects (or toys) you play the game with are two different things.

A game is a collection of rules, some of which are objectives.

You are only playing a game when you are trying to reach the objectives defined in its rules.

Many rules are unbreakable. For example: In baseball you are not allowed to shoot fireballs from your eyes, but since this isn't possible to do in the first place, no one wrote this rule down. On a computer however, the entire possibility space for a game needs to be defined.

Now here comes the important thing to realize: Even with complete control over the possibility space you can of course never decide which objectives are in the head of a player. It follows that a collection of silicone in a particular formation never is a game.

So Minecraft is nothing special in this concern. It is a toy, like Zelda or Tetris or any other software that enables game-playing. How easy it should be to find an objective in such a possibility-space for it to be good, is a valid discussion.

Of course we can call anything a game in normal conversation, but it's important to also have the definitions ready when confusion occurs.

want to play

I want to play minecraft.

I have different opinions

I think you are being too hard on this game. This is a CHILDISH sandbox game that uses IMAGINATION, the 2 reasons why it has risen up in popularity. Technically, this game is NOT a game, however, this is more like a toy.

This brings me to my next explanation. SANDBOX games are called SANDBOX games because they are actually quite like a hi-tech sandbox. You build, destroy, command and use IMAGINATION. When IMAGINATION is the focus, goals are superficial, so they aren't needed. When IMAGINATION is the focus, people think hard and have fun thinking. When IMAGINATION is the focus, you don't have to WIN, you just have to create and this really applies to the sense of deep baby-like childhood that you seem to be ignoring. Calling this game pointless is only semi-true. Is IS a waste of time. But the fact is, it's stretching our minds and letting us create anything, everything, only if you put your mind to it.

Also, when you said, "So yeah, impressive application. But pointless, of course," I thought to myself...


I just think you are being ignorant and pushing this game aside after dissecting its technical workings, when you haven't really taken the time to even TRY to enjoy this game. Try not to judge these sort of games so harshly when you just take a look.

I know this is from long ago

I know this is from long ago now. But I'm curious - I hear the game has a night and day cycle, these days, and monsters come out at night. So there's a fortification element. Were the monsters in it when this review was made?
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Nah uh, back when Greg reviewed this it was effectively a rudimentary digital-Lego simulation. As I mentioned earlier, I'm going to email Notch in a bit and ask if I could get ahold of a review copy of the current version.


I like this game because itis fun