8th Nov, 2022
David Pakman was asked by his son and daughter, who were then eight and ten years old, to get Minecraft. Pakman, a tech entrepreneur, and investor, says, "I didn't know what that was." Soon, Pakman joined the family a few more times and became hooked. Pakman created his own server to host a private community so that the entire family could play together. Slowly, his children's buddies joined, and three years later, more than 100 parents and kids from his neighborhood log on to Pakman's server. They have built libraries, airports and castles, as well as churches and farms. It's the foundation for a lot of the interaction between the children in the town.
Microsoft is becoming a profitable and fast-growing company by purchasing Mojang, the parent of Minecraft, for $2.5 billion. Mojang, which has just 40 employees, reportedly made over $100 million in profits last year. Microsoft has a platform that Minecraft provides with strong elements of mobile and social usage. These are two areas where it has struggled in the past. Perhaps most importantly, Minecraft is a great example of intergenerational success that other games and services cannot replicate. The Verge spoke to dozens of parents who saw Minecraft as a great tool for bonding with their kids, and a gateway to computer science education that could help restore some appeal to Microsoft's brand for the next generation. Ari Paparo, an entrepreneur in ad tech, plays Minecraft with his children. "My eight-year-old son said that if Apple wanted to be more cool, they would buy Minecraft rather than Beats.
Steven Sorka, a Toronto-based software developer, has never defeated Minecraft. It doesn't matter that he gets killed by the Ender Dragon. You can spend hours enchanting swords or trying to defeat the Ender Dragon. Many children are happy riding pigs, building homes, and exploring cities, says Sorka, who is playing with his 11-year old daughter and 20-year-old stepson. He believes the game's flexibility is the key. "There are many games that cross generations, but Minecraft seems like a perfect storm of Lego adventure and adventure that appeals to all.
Minecraft is also very popular with younger players because it is easy to learn and hard to lose. Sorka says that there is no minimum skill level. "If you die, you respawn. You might have dropped some things, but it doesn't really matter if your main purpose is to run around and follow your big brother. He used to play with large groups of adult friends but now he spends most of his time with his children and their relatives. "I would love to play more video with them, but there aren't many that have a low barrier of entry and catch the attention of young children."
But just because you can't lose doesn't mean that things can't go wrong. In Minecraft parlance, there will always be some bullies in any group of children. Parents can create their own servers to allow their children to play on. This allows them to exert control and protect their children in a way that isn't possible in the real world. Pakman recalls that he received a panicked call at work. "Some kids had gotten into the server and were destroying houses and killing players. I decided to ban a few of these wrong-doers. We now have anti-cheat technology and griefing-protection software on the server to bring some order to the world. It's not too much, but enough to keep the community healthy.
Peter Grace claims that his son was interested in the game from the age of three when he saw him play it. "He quickly became very fond of this game, as many children with autism do." Grace created Blocktown.org, a family-friendly server that now has several dozen regulars. "It has certainly prompted my son's desire to build custom mods to Minecraft. I recently bought a book on programming for him to help him understand the basics of Java before we move onto Java.
Trei Brundrett was the chief product officer of The Verge's parent company Vox. He played with his sons Aedan (and Joseph) on the couch. They began by playing together on the couch, in the same world via a LAN (local-area network). It was like playing LEGO with him, but much more interactive. We would spend hours building huge cities, and we would divide up the responsibility for connecting them. The boys wanted to move on to custom games. This meant adding mods. "Aeden learned how to download, install and find mods on his local machine. He quickly mastered many of them. He wanted his own.
Aedan sat and watched for a while as Brundrett learned how to create mods. He enrolled in a camp to learn Java. He eventually created his own mod, a simple block that he could add to the world. The mystery of programming, software, and mods vanished. I have never seen him happier. My kid was not only playing a game on his computer but he also hacked it, just like me on my Apple IIe. It was amazing to sit next to my son and hack on a game together.
Over 12 million Minecraft games have been downloaded to the Xbox console and 16.6 million copies of Minecraft have been sold for Mac and PC. Hacking Minecraft requires a real computer and not a tablet or smartphone. This is a great advantage for desktop operating systems such as Windows. Hacking can also mean learning about servers and APIs. It is possible for kids to learn this stuff while they interact with Microsoft's cloud. This will make them more likely to use its other products and services later on.
It remains to be seen if Microsoft can keep Minecraft's momentum going and absorb some of its goodwill. Brundrett says, "I worry that Microsoft may lack understanding of this ecosystem." "But, I have worked for Microsoft through my own software company and I know they understand what it means to create a world that is easy for developers. They also provide great documentation and tools. Brundrett believes there are many ways to improve the interaction between Minecraft players and how different communities interact with each other.
However, repairing all the imperfections could make the charm even more appealing. Brundrett states that it might not be as easy as having to sort through all the mess. "It's not enough to follow instructions. It's important to do extra research and take risks.