Minecraft. You can’t spend a day browsing the internet, without some reference to the gaming phenomenon. It’s strikingly simplistic, but addictive gameplay has built thousands of careers on YouTube. It’s defined the gaming industry and is played by almost 200 million people today. It’s also sprouted many other block-inspired games, like its own Minecraft Story Mode, Minecraft Earth, and Terraria. Even ten years after its release, when most releases would have been forgotten, it’s going strong, rivaling Fortnite. And for several reasons, in 2019, it’s only getting stronger.
No One is Ever Really Gone
Arguably, Minecraft was never really gone. With Minecraft Earth releasing in 2020, and a Minecraft movie scheduled for 2022, it’s evident that the game’s huge fanbase has remained active throughout the last decade. It is obvious by the amount of exposure the game is gaining over the internet that there’s been a recent resurgence in popularity. Interestingly, it’s also clear that the game’s population hasn’t fallen dramatically since its 2011 official release. According to Google Trends, interest in the game has been slowly degrading since its July 2013 peak. It reached its lowest point of interest fairly recently, in October 2018. But since about April of 2019, the game has rapidly increased in popularity, rivaling the rapid growth of Minecraft’s in the early 2010s, and even that of Fortnite. Is this sparking a new gaming rivalry?
But what caused this sudden spike? And why after a decade of the game’s release, is Minecraft back as the biggest current game? Like most things, we need to travel back in time to see why it lost its popularity in the first place, to see why it’s again exploding in 2019.
It’s 2013 and Minecraft has arguably just had its most popular year. Millions have been playing, and the title has taken the internet by storm. But most importantly, and dangerously, players are happy with the game. Now, because the player base was content with Minecraft, the developers, Mojang, slowed down releasing any gameplay changing updates. This is because they were afraid changes would turn players, who were happy with the game’s state, away. Cut to 2014, and the game enters a stage of no major updates for two years, coinciding with the supposed ‘Dark Ages’ of Minecraft. This is where interest in the game really began to fall. Ironically, without updates, to Mojang’s greatest fear, interest in the game began to dwindle. Despite some updates, by 2017 hundreds of Minecraft YouTuber’s decided that there time playing Minecraft was over. So the game hit rock bottom. Oof.
Over the next year, the game would continue to suffer. The majority of its player base would migrate to over to game that took the industry by surprise. Fortnite. Like Minecraft a decade ago, Fortnite took the media and game industry by storm. As this game grew in popularity, Minecraft fell far — Minecraft references across the internet were quickly replaced with Fortnite, so mining for diamonds quickly became a distant memory, and trying to find a golden SCAR became everyone’s favorite pastime. That’s the important Minecraft history behind us; so why is history repeating itself?
In 2018 the aquatic update was released, but as Fortnite was still growing its empire, it wasn’t covered as largely by the media with most content creators and publications leaning towards what everyone was currently engaged with. Skip to April 2019, and the “Village and Pillage” update was released, and since then the game has been on a massive rise in popularity, coinciding with the Google Trends explosion in Minecraft search interest. Coincidence? I think not. But why didn’t the Aquatic Update have the same effect, and bolster the player count like Village and Pillage, and why did Village and Pillage cause such a rise in popularity? The answer, no joke, is because of memes (which really do have a massive implication in gaming), Fortnite, and a hint of nostalgia.
One of the reasons for Minecraft’s decline in popularity is because of a lack of internet exposure, and the best way to gain internet exposure, as shown through the recent ‘Raid Area 51’ Facebook event, is through internet memes. After the “Village and Pillage” update, the trailer gained huge exposure as of the images and videos that would derive from it, which therefore lead to players returning to the game.
Nostalgia also had a hand to play in this. This was the first time Minecraft was exposed over the internet on this level in a few years. As a result, it led to many wanting to revisit the game to build a cobblestone house, mine diamond and defeat the Enderdragon again. Like the few years before, to revisit their childhood memories, or as a joke. And as all jokes do, they can grow and get out of hand. So more references were made, leading to more players returning, and so on.
The game that would replace Minecraft, would also revive it. Despite absorbing so many of its players, Fortnite would also be a catalyst to return them from its gaming empire. Since the start of 2019, Fortnite has been growing into something reminiscent of Minecraft from 2014. Some are getting bored with the game, others are treating it more as a joke, but most importantly, Fortnite is losing internet exposure . This has led to Minecraft recently regaining its old player base, overtaking Fortnite, in becoming the more popular game again. The reason that the Minecraft Aquatic Update didn’t cause this revival, is because Fortnite was at its height of popularity. So the pull to play Minecraft was far less, as people weren’t as disinterested in the badly aging Battle Royale as they were in April of 2019.
The Resurgence of Minecraft
As a result of these two factors, Minecraft is literally spiraling into the 2013 levels of popularity. The fact the game is becoming a bigger meme, YouTubers and the media have latched onto its growth. In turn, this is propelling it to larger levels of success. Pewdiepie is a key example; each episode of his Minecraft series (started 21st of June) has over 10 million views, with the first and most popular at almost 20 million. Many other content creators are following suit, reviving the games massive population, not only in-game, but over the internet, and right now is a massive trending topic on YouTube, and as a result, the rest of the internet.
Minecraft is continuing to grow as a result of its resurgence in internet communities. When will it stop? Maybe it will continue to grow and stabilize. The more likely option is that people will lose their sense of nostalgia. Like all people, become bored and move on to the next trending game, whatever that may be. But whatever that is, for now, Minecraft is back at the number one spot in gaming.