Innovation > Imitation

Video games.
(That’s the topic.)

Minecraft is the greatest video game to be released over the past decade.

Name any game that has been released over the past ten years, and I will tell you why Minecraft is better. Skyrim? Dragons have nothing on punching trees. First-Person Shooters? Empty calories. Arkham City? Good theme parks are still parks. Parks have boundaries and rules. World of Warcraft? Anonymous idiots ruin the experience for the masses.

In the end, Minecraft has one important feature that makes it stand out from the rest of the herd — it enables the user with the unbridled power of creation.

The common public perception of gaming culture is one of a destructive and mind-melting experience that leaves the “gamer” worse for the wear. While some games are certainly nothing more than cheap entertainment, they are also nothing less — that is, any video game is at least as engaging as an episode of television.

This is important for the sake of the discussion because it is easy to underestimate the power that video games hold. In 2012 (when all is said and done), global video game sales are expected to bring approximately 64 billion dollars. For the sake of comparison, global movie revenue is about 27 billion and global music revenue floats between 30 and 40 billion annually.

Why is there such a large disparity in forms of revenue-generating entertainment? Video games hold a commanding lead in money gained when viewed in comparison to the other outlets listed above.

There are a few factors here.

  • Video games, on average, are significantly more expensive than movies or music. Not only does this boost numbers in the favor of gaming, it also detracts from the numbers of some of the other categories. Opportunity cost doesn’t only exist in Macro/Micro 101.
  • While most of the money generated for movies and music come from the United States (as they are primarily America-centric manifestations), video games are truly global.
    • As a result, the largest group of people who play video games are not from America. The Asian countries coupled with Europe and, most notably, Japan, take the first three places in the revenue hierarchy.

(This post is far more esoteric than I intended. I apologize.)

As this form of media is clearly one of the most popular in the world, should the general populace be concerned about the quality and content that it offers? Are people playing games because they allow users to escape? To fight? To destroy? To create? The answer is, unfortunately, unknowable.

As it stands, gaming culture is dominated by first-person shooters and sports franchises. These games are enjoyable, but they are also rolled out (every year) in similar packaging with few differences. There is little innovation present in the video game machine of Halo, Call of Duty, Madden, and FIFA. Why fix what is successful? These franchises print money.

(As a side note — I love Call of Duty. Black Ops 2 is a great game!)

It is easy for originality to get lost in a sea of financial juggernauts. Look at movies and music for a good example of this — how many truly independent movies make it to mainstream success? Few. Independent musicians are ground into the ground by the struggling record industries, though the internet has helped their plight some.

The video game industry, however, absolutely encourages independent participation. Minecraft was created by a lone Swedish man. It sold 8 million copies. Braid, created by Jonathon Blow, was the second-highest grossing game of XBOX’s internet store in 2008.

And the list goes on: flower, Limbo, Fez, World of Goo, Bastion, Super Meat Boy, Journey (a personal favorite), and etc are all examples of content creation by a group of very few that reaches true commercial success.

The king among the indie titans, however, is Minecraft. I like to imagine that the environment of creativity engendered by the open gaming culture allowed a creation game to reach success.

What is there to do in Minecraft? Build. Take blocks of the world — build with them. It’s the best Lego set you never had. There are monsters, sure. There is fighting. Don’t want to deal with it? Ignore it. Turn it off. Don’t like how the game plays? Install a mod. Change it entirely. Don’t like how it looks? Texture packs take care of that. You have the control — always. (Yes, I am rather fond of control.)

These practices should be encouraged.
Innovation comes from the individual, not the industry.

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