Minecraft, a blocky open-world game originally created by Markus "Notch" Persson, later developed under the company Mojang, now owned by Microsoft, is undoubtedly one of the most popular games in recent history. Whilst a simple game at heart, it allows creative minds to be unleashed. It has a huge community of players, mod developers, map builders, and texture pack designers, all with the aim of enjoying the game and extending its core features.
Microsoft purchased Minecraft's developer, Mojang, in 2014 for $2.5 billion. At the time, it was seen as a large sum of money for a company that essentially relied on one single game. But it made sense; with Microsoft's huge gaming umbrella, Xbox, and Minecraft's massive player base and room to grow, there was a lot of routes Microsoft could take with Minecraft. In the end, the company has ended up taking the micro-transaction route with the Minecraft Store on the Bedrock edition of the game, helping to bring in regular income from current players through the selling of virtual currency, Minecoins, that are spent on add-ons to the game.
If you ask original players of Minecraft from 2011-2014 about the game, they'll probably say they either don't play it, or don't play it as much. Minecraft saw its heyday between 2011-2016, experiencing record growth in downloads and players, thanks in part to the number of YouTuber's that created content for the game.
Despite how popular Minecraft is, things began to quieten down a little. Many YouTuber's moved to other games that have since taken a leading role, such as Fortnite, Rocket League, amongst others. Content on YouTube began to switch to other games, and Minecraft's largest YouTube player base began to move to other games. DanTDM ("The Diamond Minecart") is a strong example - the world's richest YouTuber in 2017 - began to move away from the game.
But recently, something has changed. YouTuber's look to be getting a little bit nostalgic and returning, at least for now, to the realms of the Minecraft world. If you have a history of watching Minecraft on YouTube in the past, you're probably starting to see YouTube's algorithm begin to showcase recent Minecraft videos... from some large YouTuber's. Taking DanTDM as an example, Dan has recently posted a video titled "Revisiting the Old Minecraft Lab" which in less than 24 hours has garnered over 1.7 million views, delivering more views than most of his recent videos.
But it isn't just DanTDM. Other YouTuber's have begun taking notice of the game too...
Vikkstar, known for his Minecraft and more recently, Fortnite gameplay, has also started uploading regular videos of Minecraft. Here's an example:
Does anybody remember the YogsCast? Well-known for their Minecraft mod reviews under the name "YogLabs", but also for their (failed) game, YogVentures. They, too, have started a new series of Minecraft.
It's not clear if Minecraft's player base is seeing a sudden growth again, or if people are simply getting nostalgic, but people are once again taking notice of the game. It comes at an important time for Microsoft, as the company continues to release major updates, such as the Minecraft 1.14 update which brought a number of new features and changes, and whilst the company continues to try to push people to the Bedrock edition of Minecraft which works on games consoles, mobile, and Windows 10 - this edition of Minecraft is important for the company as it includes the micro-transactions.
One threat to Minecraft is, surprisingly, one of the companies behind one of the largest Minecraft servers, Hypixel. Hypixel is a well-known mini-game Minecraft server, supporting thousands of players each day. Hypixel is now working on its own game that, to some degree, competes with Minecraft. It's called Hytale, and the company is preparing for an upcoming beta release of the game and has been teasing it. It's clearly already gained a fan base from the amount of community interaction online - and it's not clear how, or if, this will affect Minecraft.
Regardless of whether Minecraft is still as popular as it once was or not, it's clear there is still a demand amongst the gaming community for a game with Minecraft's characteristics, whether that's Minecraft or another game, that demand will be fed by something. Is Microsoft best placed to take on this demand, or will it let it slip to other games?