Join GameSpot as we celebrate gaming history and give recognition to the most influential games of the 21st century. These aren’t the best games, and they aren’t necessarily games that you need to rush out and play today, but there’s no question that they left an indelible impact on game developers, players, and in some cases, society at large.
If anything, the success of Lego should have foretold how popular Minecraft would become. Both Lego and Minecraft are built on the same idea: the joy of creating something extraordinary from many pieces of ordinary blocks. Today, Minecraft has grown beyond this simple premise to become one of the best-selling video games of all time, with nearly a dozen versions existing across PC, console, handhelds, mobile, and VR platforms.
Of course, it takes more than popularity to be influential, and we wouldn’t have included Minecraft in this list if all it was known for was being well-known. Minecraft launched into a gaming industry that was mostly devoid of standout successes from solo developers. Months before Jonathan Blow’s 2009 Braid sparked the push for indie games to enter the mainstream limelight, Minecraft released in beta and helped lay the kindling. Many individual indie developers found success in the wake of Minecraft, Braid, Super Meat Boy, and other 2009-2010’s indie game success stories. The popularity of these indie games at the turn of the decade pushed indie gaming into the mainstream and created a new demand that continues to exist alongside the triple-A market. Years later, this push for more indie games would create spaces for major indie titles to thrive, such as Stardew Valley, Undertale, Iconoclasts, Gone Home, and Return of the Obra Dinn–the latter of which is even one of GameSpot’s best games of 2018.
But even before indie gaming took off, Minecraft had a more immediate effect on the gaming industry. Though in no way easy (anyone who tells you different has never tried to make a complex redstone circuit), Minecraft remains one of the most accessible games out there. When Minecraft first launched, it offered a means for plenty of people to pick up and play a video game for the first time. You don’t need fine motor skills or perfect vision to play Minecraft, and the game doesn’t require a high-end PC to run. Younger players could easily jump into Minecraft, both because you could play it on most low-end PCs and because there wasn’t a huge learning curve to it. Plus, Minecraft has no definitive end. It’s a game designed to appeal to people’s innate creativity, allowing them to play in open sandboxes and continue building for as long as they want. There wasn’t much like Minecraft before it–accessible enough for pretty much anyone and yet complex enough to keep you playing for years. But thanks in large part to its popularity, it would not be the last. Other games would emulate Minecraft’s mechanics and features, or promise similar experiences.
Perhaps it goes without saying, considering its popularity, but Minecraft has been a hit with critics since its release. In GameSpot’s initial Minecraft review, published when the title left beta and officially launched in 2011, Nathan Meunier gave the game an 8.5/10, writing, “Visual glitches pop in at regular intervals, and some game elements seem incomplete or thrown together in haste. What’s amazing is that the core game is so ridiculously absorbing that these flaws matter little in the grand scheme of things. Even in its current form, Minecraft remains one of the most conceptually impressive indie games out there. It’s a game changer to be sure and one that will live on in the annals of gaming history for a long time to come.” We’d continue to critically praise Minecraft as it evolved and released on different platforms, with additional reviews devoted to the Xbox 360 version in 2012 and PS3, Xbox One, and PS4 versions in 2014.
While Minecraft evolved and became more complex, it continued to influence the rest of the gaming industry. Survival games that relied on complex crafting systems, like 7 Days to Die, emerged in the wake of Minecraft, as did sandbox games that focused on crafting better tools to build structures, such as Terraria. Scavenging, hunting, crafting, and base building snuck their way into more mainstream genres as well. The first-person shooter Far Cry series began restructuring itself around crafting as a means of survival with 2012’s Far Cry 3, for example, and you can find elements of base building in games like Gears of War 3 (specifically trap placement in horde mode) and the battle royale game Fortnite.
The impact Minecraft has had on the industry for the past decade is irrefutable, even if the game’s influence has changed and evolved over the years.
Minecraft helped create some of gaming’s first social media stars, too–a role that, today, we call “influencer.” Halo: Combat Evolved is largely responsible for the resurgence of machinima in the 21st century, but people also found success creating step-by-step build instructions for complex structures in Minecraft–which went on to inspire “how to” and guide videos in other games. The “Let’s Play” community latched onto Minecraft as well, as the game offers an easy way to play with friends in a variety of ways for a very long time. And with the rise of game influencers, more developers realized curating experiences that could last for months or years through near-constant updates and expansions, like Minecraft, is an important part of getting free marketing from popular YouTubers and Twitch streamers.
Today, Minecraft is still changing. It has a battle royale-inspired mode called Hunger Games, and an Education Edition of the game is included in some classrooms to help teachers explore a variety of topics with their students, such as STEM and liberal arts. Minecraft even has a story now, with credits that roll once you’ve completed the lengthy quest of tracking down and slaying the Ender Dragon. Both official expansions and fan-created mods continue to add new content to the PC version of the game, ranging from space travel to Pokémon. Minecraft is one of the strongest examples that, if made with the idea of longevity in mind, certain games can just stubbornly last and evolve to fit the current market. Consoles? Minecraft is there. Handhelds? Minecraft thrives on both Switch and mobile devices. Virtual reality? Not only does Minecraft exist on VR headsets but an AR version has been revealed as well. Minecraft will surely make the jump to cloud gaming too.
And despite being 10 years old, Minecraft still manages to inspire the inclusion of new features in other games. Alongside games like Rocket League and Fortnite, Minecraft is at the forefront of the charge to include cross-platform play in games. One of the first major games to ever support cross-platform play, Minecraft’s PC, Switch, mobile, and Xbox One versions all support the feature with each other.
The impact Minecraft has had on the industry for the past decade is irrefutable, even if the game’s influence has changed and evolved over the years. In its humble beginnings, Minecraft stood as a counterpoint to developers’ worries that releasing an indie game in beta against triple-A giants might be a mistake. Minecraft reminded the 21st century that games didn’t need detailed narratives, challenging gameplay, or HD graphics to be popular. A game that’s accessible for all can create a community built to last, and one that’s open to updates and expansions can endure for a decade. Since officially launching in 2011, Minecraft has changed how we experience games as well, helping create a community of internet personalities and building support for cross-platform play. And, of course, Minecraft has also just had a huge effect on how survival games work–creating an emphasis on crafting and building to outlast threats. Minecraft may not have inspired brand-new ways to experience games like 2006’s Wii Sports or created and popularized an entirely new subgenre like 2011’s Dark Souls, but the influence it has had in the 21st century is no less prevalent.
For a look at the rest of our features in this series, head over to our Most Influential Games Of The 21st Century hub.