I played Minecraft today. I played it for three hours straight, without a break, without going to the toilet, and without actually getting dressed. That’s right, I fell out of bed at around nine in the morning to wait for a parcel, sat in my computer chair, and opened up the dotexe file through a sneaky steam short cut. I bought my copy of Minecraft the day before the game went into the beta phase, purely because I decided that I didn’t want to pay for extra updates on the off chance I’d actually wanted to play the game. I had known about it for months, and played the free modes hundreds of time. I guess I fell into the trap and am now one of the 800,000+ that own the program. If you play video games, or read any up to date gaming blog, news site, RSS feeds, or geek’s twitter feeds, you’ll have heard about it, but if you still have no idea what I’m talking about, check out the Minecraft website where you can play a free version of the game.
It’s a game about creation and survival. Nothing more, nothing less. You have an avatar. A small character which is dumped into a new, albeit very blocky, world. You are left completely to your own devices. There’s no story mode. There are no set objectives. You want to explore? Go ahead. Do you want to climb the nearest mountain? Feel free! You better be ready for the shit to hit the fan when night falls though, as that’s when the creepy crawlies come out. Your character is left to punch trees, craft weapons, build houses, and mine for all important minerals that make it so much easier to survive. This entry isn’t supposed to be a review of the game, but it’s hard not to give a bit of back story to one of the success stories of 2010.
So far, that game has been bought at least 800,000 times. Let’s assume everyone paid €10 like I did. That’s almost €7,000,000 if you take out tax and paypal fees! That’s a shit tonne of money considering the game was built by one man. One man, building a game as a hobby, and then striking it big. More importantly, he did this with no ‘major label’ backing. He didn’t have Activision, EA or Microsoft throwing money at advertising campaigns to promote the thing, he just had himself, and word of mouth. Just think about that for a moment. No advertising. That’s insane! Sure, I bet he ran between forums posting about his new updates, and maybe got some people to hit up a few viral posts on more popular message boards, but there are still people out there who have no idea about the game. I still can’t wrap my head around that. No advertising. This game has sold purely on the back of word-of-mouth. I wish I was one of the first 100 to buy the game. I’d be sitting in my chair and toasting the success I would have helped create.
If we look at advertising and video games through the ages, we’re left with million dollar T.V campaigns, in-game advertising, and digital work galore. Shit, I can still remember playing Zool on the Mega Drive which was sponsored by Chuppa-Chupps. The things were everywhere! There’s that campaign for Halo 3 in which we were instructed to ‘finish the fight‘, and a similar, but much better version produced for Killzone 2 on the PS3. Who else can remember gunning around a hairpin bend in Paradise City to be confronted by Obama’s smiling mug, telling me to vote in the American Presidential Election! I wrote an essay on the back of that!
With video games finally being recognised as the big money industry that they always have been, how many are we going to see advertised in 2011? Are smaller ‘B-rate’ video games going to get priced out of the market by the new episode in the Call Of Duty series, or the new Fifa game? For the general public who don’t have sites like Eurogamer bookmarked and a subscription to Edge, television and print will be the first time they see new games. It must bring goosebumps to the hardest skinned producers when they’re thinking about launching a new IP. How does the publisher get it right? One wrong move, one bad advert, one missed target audience and the game will bomb. Sure, it can receive all of the critical acclaim in the world, but that doesn’t always translate to sales, (Bayonetta, I’m sorry! I really tried to get people to try you. Why did you have to be so bloody weird).
Microsoft spent just over $200,000,000 on advertising around the release date of Kinect. The metro had it’s front pages taken over for an entire week! Yes Microsoft, I know; I’m the controller. Whoopdee-fucking-do… How is it then, that an indie game, produced by one man, has almost hit the 1,000,000 sales barrier? I know some ‘A’ classed titles that struggled to get there, (Yes Bayonetta. I know you’re the game of last year. People just didn’t understand you. I really did try!). Is it a credit to the game? The creator? The people who played it? Either way, it’s a testament to something, as it was managed without advertising of any sort. In this day and age, that’s an accomplishment on its own.
If I were to talk to a creative in the industry, or one further, a creative director, about their favourite television advertising, I’d be shocked if I were to find a video game advertisement in their top 50 ads of all time, let alone their top ten. I guess it comes with the generation I’m from, that a television ad for Xbox Live actually manages to makes my top ten. Not only that, but a banned one too. It probably doesn’t count, but the ad it self is genius. Xbox live is the online multiplayer service provided by Microsoft for those who own an Xbox360. It allows users of all ages, all genders, all races, and all locations to play together. Bear that in mind as you watch it. It was probably banned for ‘inciting racial hatred’, or because a child would copy it and get shot at point blank by a police officer. Something like that any way. Here it is, another one of my favourite adverts of all time. Hidden in a rambling post about Minecraft, product placement, and video game advertising. I hope it makes you feel as much of a child as it does me. Pew Pew.