Is Minecraft still Indie?

Minecraft

Is Minecraft still an Indie Game?  Everyone here at the Indie Game Magazine has been struggling with this very question and the ramifications of covering the behemoth that is Minecraft.  Quite a few arguments have arose and both sides seem to have excellent points.  In this article, I am going to try and layout some of the debates that we have had internally and try and present both sides of the argument.  At the end, we’re going to ask our readers to help us come to a conclusion and weigh in on the subject.

There’s no denying that Minecraft started as an Indie Game

This is the one fact that everyone seems to agree on.  Minecraft was originally conceived by Markus Persson (“Notch”) as he played some Infiniminer.  Notch started working on the game by himself with the concept of making the game fun and accessible.  This open development is definitely part of the success of Minecraft.  Notch made the game available to play while he was developing it and this allowed people to purchase it at a reduced price for years before it was finally deemed complete.

But what started as a small indie game project, quickly exploded.  Minecraft became a huge financial success and has sold over 6.5 million copies directly from their website alone (there’s also Android, iOS  and Xbox versions of the game).  The popularity of the game during development lead Notch to hire a slew of new people and create his studio Mojang.  Mojang currently employs 16 people and is probably one of the largest “indie” studios around.

so that begs the question…

Is Minecraft Still an Indie Game?

Of course you answer will very much depend on your definition of independent games, but that’s another article.  Here are the 2 sides of the argument as I see them:

Minecraft is absolutely an Indie Game

Minecraft was conceived and primarily made by one guy with the absence of any publisher money or funds upfront.  The fact that it is successful and has grossed well over $150 Million dollars doesn’t take away from it’s independence.  Mojang and Notch are very active in the indie game community and continue to work on the games that they want to make without the influence of mainstream publishers.  Mojang has even gone head to head with large publishers in the legal arena over their next game, Scrolls. Mojang is fighting the good fight for indie developers is an excellent example of what and independent game developer can do with financial success.

Minecraft isn’t Indie  anymore

There are a ton of different arguments that I have heard thrown-out there that disqualify Minecraft from being truly indie.  Based on your definition, any one of these arguments could sway you.

1. Minecraft is a clone.  Like big publishers and game studios, Minecraft stole from the innovation and experimentation of the indie game community.  They took a novel gameplay mechanic and threw more time, money and features at it.

2. Mojang is too big and/or successful to be considered indie.  An indie game is supposed to be an artistic expression of a small group of people.  Great works of art cannot be composed by a team of 16 people and there’s no indie bands out there with their own business developers and customer support personnel.   Being an indie developer is about wearing multiple hats.  You have to be programmer, designer, marketer, and customer support.  When you employ 15 people and have millions of dollars, you cannot embrace what truly being independent is all about.  It’s about interactive and personal artistic expression.

3. Mojang has become a publisher.  Just like Electronic Arts or Activision, Mojang is all about making money.  They’ve picked up and are publishing other games like Cobalt and are all about porting their game to as many platforms as possible.  Look for them to serialize their games soon.  How much longer until Minecraft 2 is announced?

All of this leads to the next question and debate here at the Indie Game Magazine:

Should IGM continue to cover Minecraft?

On the one hand, our Minecraft posts (on average) get way more views and traffic than most of the other indie games that we cover.  More traffic means more ad revenue and makes sense from a business perspective.  On the other hand, Minecraft is already a super successful game and doesn’t need coverage to help sell copies or keep the developer afloat.  They’re doing just fine and many of our writers prefer to cover the many awesome and innovative games that you’ve never heard about.  Of course, writing about Minecraft means that we could potentially get more traffic to the site leading to more people discovering other cool and indie games.  What do you think?  Is Minecraft still an indie game?  Should we continue to cover it?  Should we cover it more?  Let us know in the comments below and vote on some of these issues in our poll below.

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There are 34 comments

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  1. Dominic Tarason

    Mojang may be well-funded, but they’re still a tiny studio who got where they are by being a tiny, poorly unfunded indie studio. If Robot Entertainment (co-developers of Age of Empires Online, many of them ex-Ensemble Studios people, etc) are indie, why not Mojang?

    Hell, ThatGameCompany recently went fully indie, because they managed to secure millions of investment dollars from venture capital. That’s still indie, though – well-funded, but the indie scene has so much more money sloshing around now that it would be churlish to cut off people because they actually caught some of it.

  2. Kriss Jessop

    Like you said, it’s that arguement of dictionary definition versus philosophical definition.

    Mojang is an independant company that doesn’t rely no a sub-studio or AAA publisher, yet at the same time the fact that they have bucketloads of money kind of defies the “spirit” of an indie studio or game.

  3. Michaël Lievens

    Being an indie or not is not a big deal really…

    Yesterday we launched a very special Kickstarter Bundle with 9 games in 1 campaign so people know about it and help us to improve them a bit if they want.

    Some are already saying it’s mainstream², what makes me laugh because I’m an Homebrew Game Maker and always been :-)
    I just see this as an opportunity to improve what I already do and produce better games in the future.

    I’d rather prefer giving some money to someone like Notch for Minecraft than giving all of it to a bank system refusing to help me to fund my gaming company…

  4. Baton

    Hello,
    I’m reading You since 6-7 months, and I’m also making videos from indie games (something like reviews) and I’m starting to think, that there’s no indie games anymore. Every game is depend from something. Talking about indie games now is not like 4-5 years ago. And for me indie = creative, something new and something that no one made before. And Minecraft was something new in begining, there are tons of clones this game, but original Minecraft is still only one :) (sorry for my eng, I’m student from Poland)

  5. L4mppu

    What are these codes?

    To answer your questions. Minecraft is indie and will always be. Mojang becoming AAA wouldn’t make their past games AAA. Psychonauts is AAA even though Double Fine devolved into indie company.

    I think it is ridiculous to real news sites like IGM cover Minecraft because it already gets enough coverage and is getting little boring.

  6. Ax

    I don’t see why Mojang becoming a publisher would not make them independent. They publish the efforts of indie-centric studios and ethically that is indie. Just because a company is a publisher, like mojang has become, it doesn’t make them bad.

  7. Rev.Dogma

    Ok here is my two cents on the whole subject. The way i see it is, yes Minecraft started as an independent game 100% without a doubt. I don’t think any one is really arguing that point. However, since Minecraft has never stopped being under development It’s status is open to change. Since it’s inception Minecraft has gone on to become a commercial success.

    Beyond the amount of money it’s made and beyond the “size” of Mojang, or whether Mojang is or is not a publisher, it comes down to something very simple.

    Minecraft has had commercial involvement and support from other major companies. Examples Include: The fact that the XBLA version was developed and published by THIRD PARTY companies (4J Studios, and Microsoft). Also, Lego is now manufacturing a series of Legos based on the game. Lastly there was even a Minecraft special edition Sony Ericsson phone that was released to celebrate the release of the mobile version of the game.

    This involvement with other companies alone by definition (or least in my mind) means that Minecraft is now a COMMERCIAL SUCCESS and has officially shed it’s indie label.

    I feel that this matter is less speculation and opinion when observed in this light.

    I no doubt understand some people will not agree, however I feel that any developer that gets into bed with a major corporation or company (and continues to pursue that path) is no longer deserving on of the indie label on the specific game or product in question.

    Either way My opinion of Minecraft will never change. It’s an amazing game that brought on a social phenomena that was well needed in the indie video game world. It has spurred mass attention to the indie video game world from the mainstream media all the way down the every day consumer.

  8. Reno Evangelista

    1. Minecraft is a clone. Like big publishers and game studios, Minecraft stole from the innovation and experimentation of the indie game community. They took a novel gameplay mechanic and threw more time, money and features at it.
    - This makes it not indie how? Nobody ever complains about games like Dear Esther or Proteus steal off Yume Nikki. No they just throw awards at garbage like that and sing praises about how these kinds of games expand the range of what a game can be.
    If you’re proclaiming that an indie game is supposed to be a work of art and then making the claim that being a copy invalidates it then you obviously don’t know much about art. Hemingway is supposedly a great American writer but everything he wrote was written on the back of Sherwood Anderson. The Imagist poets stole all their ideas from Chinese and Japanese poetry. Lots of artists “stole” from other artists. Nobody cares because the thieves made whatever they stole their own by altering it to fit their needs.
    2. Mojang is too big and/or successful to be considered indie. An indie game is supposed to be an artistic expression of a small group of people. Great works of art cannot be composed by a team of 16 people and there’s no indie bands out there with their own business developers and customer support personnel. Being an indie developer is about wearing multiple hats. You have to be programmer, designer, marketer, and customer support. When you employ 15 people and have millions of dollars, you cannot embrace what truly being independent is all about. It’s about interactive and personal artistic expression.
    - Yes, obviously things like the Pyramids of Giza and Ankor Wat must be fucking plastic souvenirs then. The idea that an individual authors an artwork is extremely faulty. All artists are not expressing themselves, they are expressing the culture they come from. Timeless, valuable art is representative of the ideals of a particular time or place or people. Not just one single person.
    3. Mojang has become a publisher. Just like Electronic Arts or Activision, Mojang is all about making money. They’ve picked up and are publishing other games like Cobalt and are all about porting their game to as many platforms as possible. Look for them to serialize their games soon. How much longer until Minecraft 2 is announced?
    - This is just speculation and hipsterism now. You don’t like that they’re willing to support the people who can’t? You assume they’ve sold out because they want to share with others what they had to work harder to achieve? You’re so attached to your precious little title of “indie game” that you don’t want them to support innovation in the gaming industry because it ruins your cred? Go fuck yourselves.

  9. Reno Evangelista

    This is what I hate about indie gaming. You’re more concerned with your stupid hipster labels than you are with actually promoting innovation in the gaming industry.

    You talk a big talk about art but all it really shows how little you know about art.

    1. Art history shows that artists steal from each other all the time. This isn’t just a silly “oh the trends match up” thing. Literally everything Ernest Hemingway was was an inferior version of Sherwood Anderson. It’s just that Hemingway had a better backstory and was disgustingly quotable. The Imagists stole their style of poetry from the Chinese and the Japanese poets. Then they had the gall to translate the same poets all while pretending they were “avante garde.” The newest of the new.

    2. Great art is never made by more than one person. That’s why we consider the Pyramids of Giza and Ankor Wat to be more like children doodling than actual art.

    A lot of art/literary theory goes to the trouble of debunking the idea that the artist stands alone. Maybe you should actually pick up the books instead of assuming you know what art is because you had a kindergarten class that you spent eating paint.

    3. Speculative. They’re making money, but Minecraft 2? Is your tinfoil hat on too tight? I go back to the beginning. Is not the point of forwarding indie games as a movement to quash the growing lack of innovation in AAA titles? Or is it really just a bunch of pretentious communistic hipsters acting like they’re better than everybody else because they do it with less money? Mojang has always been in the support of small titles. By becoming a publisher they give to those who don’t have. You’re going to villainize them for that?

  10. JimVonMoon

    Of course Minecraft is still an indie game. A game shouldn’t be stripped of its “indie badge” just because it made a lot of money. However, Mojang is not an independent developer anymore. Notch said that himself and it makes perfect sense. They hire to many people to be considered indie.

  11. The Indie Game Magazine

    Reno –

    No one here is saying that being AAA or not indie is bad. In fact, a lot of us play a lot of mainstream games.

    Furthermore this article was about compiling and introducing a variety of peoples opinions – not about criticizing Mojang or Minecraft.


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