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How Minecraft Remains Successful

An exploration of the mega-franchise’s magic formula

Minecraft is a juggernaut. Not just in terms of gaming specifically, either; it has become a powerful pop-cultural force that an entire generation has now grown up with. It was also the first computer game I ever purchased — some ten years ago, as a kid. The timing was fortuitous, because this was right at the point where the franchise was seriously taking off.

Many highly successful games flash brightly for a brief period and are then extinguished from the zeitgeist; they become objects of nostalgia. But Minecraft has remained stubbornly embedded in the collective consciousness, remaining relevant many years on.

So how, exactly, does Minecraft remain so popular? Let’s explore this question further.

Five pillars of success

Minecraft does many things right, but there are five key components that underpin its ongoing success.

1. Freedom

Tell me your mission in Minecraft. You can’t!

Usually, a game gives you specific missions you must complete in order to finish it: collect eight pages, kill that boss, etc. Minecraft does not do that.

You might see the Ender Dragon as a mission to finish the game. But the game does not push you to kill him, and nothing will change if you do.

In Minecraft, you are the one who set your own goals. Building a house, creating something cool with redstone, or fighting against other players.

There are infinite ways you can play this game. And that is because Minecraft’s world enables you to do so. The simple mechanic of adding and removing blocks does a perfect job of providing freedom.

Minecraft doesn’t tell you exactly what to do in the game, but it offers you a wide range of possibilities.

2. Human instincts

Minecraft’s “Main” play mode, the survival mode, works perfectly well with Maslow’s pyramid of needs.

In short, Maslow’s pyramid describes the fulfillment of a human’s life with the most basic/physiological needs like food, water, sleep on the bottom. Building up to the top of the pyramid: Self-actualization, where you can live out your creativity and morality. In other words, live your life fully.

Minecraft’s survival mode provides the playground for climbing Maslow’s pyramid.

Basic needs

You start alone with nothing in a wild unexplored world full of danger and opportunities, ready to be explored. In this stage of the game, you need to fulfill the first two layers of the pyramid.

You are creating a shelter to be safe from the dangers of the night. Hunt animals, maybe even with your bare hands, to get food. There is no thinking about shelter design. Dirt walls would do it too, as long as you are safe.

Achievements and fulfilment

As you begin to get the two base layers in order, you slowly move up to the top 3 layers of Maslow’s pyramid. As you start to get more tools and safe space, you have time to think higher.

You start to live out your creativity to the fullest. Make and reach your self-made goals and conquer them once unexplored lands.

In a sense, this is the story of humankind. We once started with nothing and where slowly building this world to what it is today.

Humans are drawn to this behavior. Being tightly bounded to human instincts is one of the keys to Minecraft’s colossal success.

Minecraft’s survival gameplay touches us on a deep instinctive level.

3. Variation

I already wrote a bit about that in the first pillar, “Freedom.” Minecraft allows the player to play the game in different ways.

The game itself offers you three game modes:


Minecraft’s survival mode was the first available game mode. Survive, create, and live is a suitable description for this mode.


There are all opportunities and no threat. This is the game mode where you can fully concentrate on building.

It may be the case that you are not even “Playing” anymore. It’s more like creating something inside an editor. Like this, for example:


Like the survival mode, but your death is permanent. This gives the game a new difficulty and a whole new play feeling. Interestingly, adding a permanent death changes a lot about how to play the game.

Community support

The game modes stated above are just the in-house game modes. Minecraft’s large community created multiple other ways to play the game, from story adventure maps to PVP arenas.

This is expressed especially in terms of the support of mods that enable Minecraft’s play experience to get much richer.

Because of the game’s variance, Minecraft sparks interest amongst all demographic audiences. From a little kid to an older person, everyone can enjoy the game in their own way.

Every player has different reasons to play the game. And for some it is not even about “playing”.

4. Simplicity

Worlds in Minecraft are made out of blocks, which you can destroy and place. This is the key mechanic of Minecraft, the key mechanic to its success. And it is that simple.

This simple mechanic allows the player to create complicated things and make this game so rich in its possibilities.

The blocks not only contribute to the simple mechanics of the game, but they also add to the simplistic graphics, which can hardly be put in a specific category.

The easy graphics also hold the system requirements low. Most computers can run Minecraft at least on low settings.

Minecraft’s simplicity allows the game to be both simple and complex depending on the player’s preferences.

6. Music

In general, games use music to emphasize the gameplay.

What to do in a game like Minecraft? Where the player creates the rules and changes the world to his/her interest?

Here is the answer.

The game has unique and calm music, composed by the German composer C418, who does an outstanding job creating an ambient feeling through his music.

The soundtracks sound like what it feels to play the game. Some songs feel sad and lonely, which, to some extent, reflects the vibe of Mincraft’s empty world.

Other soundtracks represent other corners of Minecraft, like the endless scale of the world itself.

The music represents different feelings the player feels while playing.


Minecraft is a unique experience filled with possibilities. Here are the five keys to its success summarized:

  • Freedom
    The game offers you many possibilities to play it how you want.
  • Human instincts
    Minecraft’s survival mode touches us in a deep instinctive level.
  • Variation
    Regardless of your demographic or reason to play…you can.
  • Simplicity
    Minecraft is easy to play, and the simple graphics allow it to scale across almost any computer.
  • Music
    Each soundtrack represents a feeling Minecraft evokes while playing. This helps to enhance the game’s unique vibe even more.




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Tim Engelke

Tim Engelke

Just an aspiring game developer — I write about game development, art and other things that come to my mind.

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