🎯 Minecraft: A canvas for creators

The playbook behind the biggest game ever

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Hey folks — Tom here

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Today marks 6 months since the first edition of Strategy Breakdowns! Early next year I’ll do a dedicated write-up reflecting on the journey so far: highs, lows, metrics, and of course… strategy.

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Minecraft: A canvas for creators

Chess Move

The what: A TLDR explanation of the strategy

No matter what industry you’re in - you can learn a lot from video game creators:

  • They pioneered best-practices for product onboarding, activation, and retention.

  • They were early adopters of digital growth trends like content and community.

  • They build viral loops and ‘customer delight’ into the DNA of their product.

  • Their customers are super-fans and relentless net promoters.

There’s a reason ‘gamification’ is such a common topic in product design huddles.

Today we’re breaking down Minecraft, the best-selling video game in history.

Over 300 million sales.

Nearly 140 million monthly active players.

The strategy behind it all?

The fact that Minecraft is more than just a game.

💡 Strategy Playbook: Don’t just build something to be ‘used’ or ‘played’. Build something your users can transform, monetise, and create with.

Breakdown

The how: The strategic playbook boiled down to 3x key takeaways

1. Community-led growth

Minecraft’s original creator Markus ‘Notch’ Persson released the earliest alpha version of the game directly to TIGSource forums for free.

Although more of a sandbox than a complete game, players immediately attached to it’s unique art-style and loveable feel.

Releasing to a small but passionate community who valued creativity and experimentation fuelled the game’s original organic growth spurt.

Due to Minecraft’s satisfying engine, players quickly took to modifying the game.

New items, gameplay mechanics, texture packs, skins, sounds, and worlds were created and shared around the community, transforming Minecraft into a platform for imagination.

Some early mods like The Aether had such extensive maps, storylines, item trees, NPCs, and lore, they felt like an official expansion pack.

Multiplayer servers, mini-games, and mods for in-game economies provided Minecraft worlds with even more community-centric mechanics.

‘Mods’ turned players into creators, and the game, a canvas.

2. User-generated YouTube content

Minecraft was built with several characteristics that gave it inherent suitability for YouTube videos:

  • It’s randomly generated open-world nature led to infinite content possibilities.

  • No instructions, levels, missions, or narrative gave each Minecraft creator total creative freedom in a unique world.

  • Survival and exploration aspects were perfect for episodic progressive adventure content.

  • Building and creative elements allowed players to construct their own storylines, characters, and worlds.

Several popular video formats emerged:

  • Let’s Play: Hit record → play for an hour → upload. Driven by the creator’s personality, with little editing required.

  • Speedruns: Compete with the YouTube community by achieving certain milestones in the shortest time possible.

  • Tutorials: Step-by-step guides teaching viewers how to do/make specific things in-game.

  • Animations: Short movies, skits, and music videos using the Minecraft aesthetic.

YouTube became the exponential force multiplier for Minecraft’s marketing, generating over 1 trillion views on videos featuring the game.

Today, there are more Minecraft videos on YouTube than any other game.

3. Expansion into new verticals

Minecraft: Education Edition marked a strategic shift into a b2b market.

Minecraft had an unfair advantage over other edtech and e-learning platforms: Kids already loved it.

Plus, the flexibility and adaptability of the game allowed teachers to mould the game to fit various subjects and teaching styles.

Education Edition provided teachers with resources, lesson plans, and training to integrate game-based learning into their curriculum.

By repositioning Minecraft from a leisure activity to a legitimate educational tool, Education Edition extended Minecraft’s Total Addressable Market beyond gamers, to students and teachers.

Rabbit Hole

The where: 3x high-signal resources to learn more

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