Minecraft isn’t just a game. It’s an art form.

All of these pictures: the sun-dappled landscapes
and surreal undersea worlds, the abstract sculptures and slightly-hazy futures were
all made…here. In the video game called Minecraft. It’s the type of art that gets collected
in coffee table books and gets made by design collectives. With more than 100 million copies sold, Minecraft
has become more than a game. This game has become an artistic medium. And it is also a business. But even though Minecraft is a liberating
game, building a business in a virtual world
can be just as tricky as building it in the real one. “At first I thought, OK, you know, the graphics
aren’t great, but I had a sort of childhood fascination with Lego. About two weeks I got bored with the whole
survival aspect and then started looking at this thing called creative mode.” James Delaney is from London, and he’s one
of the people who runs Blockworks, an artistic collective and company. He’s talking about how Minecraft works. Players choose between two different modes:
one is survival mode, which is a little like a traditional video game, since scary spiders
and other creatures come out at night. There’s also creative mode. It is a blank canvas, in which players can
design unique worlds. It really is like making something out of
Legos – you arrange a variety of digital blocks with tons of options to increase the complexity. As Minecraft grew, a new industry grew with
it. To play Minecraft online, players choose from
a bunch of different servers that can host the game. In the beginning, these servers weren’t
owned by Mojang, the company that created Minecraft. So as different servers tried to attract players,
they added lots of bells and whistles, like intriguing worlds, or maps, and even their
own mods of the game. An industry was born. All sorts of companies and guilds sprung up
to make Minecraft maps. Just like players, they were located all around
the world. “We have another director, Sean Davidson,
who’s over in Canada. We have 62 members from over 20 different
countries. But everything’s done remotely, so there’s
no office with more than one person in it.” Their company, Blockworks, started with maps
for servers, but the artistic potential kept them going. Though they might beautify their work using
plugins and textures, all of it is made in game, with obsessive detail that fans can
download and appreciate for themselves. They create beautiful surreal worlds, like
a map about…Minecraft, the game, or a beautiful dreamscape of clouds. “I started thinking about this city which
would be constructed from giant musical instruments with a very sort of mechanical steampunk theme.” As Minecraft grew, big companies saw potential
to promote their stuff through Minecraft maps. Blockworks scored tie-ins for movies like
Tomorrowland and Batman v. Superman. They even made a Batmobile. But as unusual as it sounds, building ads
inside virtual worlds is not a new idea. This is Chex Quest, a 1996 game built on top
of Doom’s engine. People got it from a CD-Rom inside Chex boxes. At the time, Doom was considered an ultraviolent
video game. So they remade it with… Chex. For a small fee, Chex licensed the software
and built a world inside a world. That trend of virtual world ads continued
in Second Life, a platform launched in the 2000s that’s still going today. Companies from Reebok to American Apparel
built virtual stores there, earning a lot of press. But as the platform started to decline in
popularity, the headlines disappeared. Minecraft, however, might have the biggest
opportunities and risks. In May 2016, Minecraft and Mojang’s current
owner, Microsoft, declared that branded partnerships – like the glorious Batmobile – were no longer
allowed. Microsoft said it “didn’t feel right,
or fun.” It also meant they wanted to retain control
of how money was made off Minecraft maps. Blockworks made out OK — Microsoft hires
them to make gorgeous maps like the seven wonders of the ancient world. They stayed in the club when other mapmakers
got kicked out of the branded map game. “We’re lucky enough to work with Microsoft,
and obviously they’re exempt from their own guidelines. I think a lot of other teams did struggle
as a result of that. And it closed a lot of doors. At the same time, it’s quite understandable
that Microsoft want to keep control over how their platform is used.” Collectives like James’s might not mind
that much. In addition to Microsoft gigs, they have artistic
projects and historical collaborations. “So this was commissioned by the Museum
of London, it ties in with and exhibition they’ve got commemorating the Great Fire
of London in 1666.” But the change in rules shows the risks of
building your business in another person’s world. Promotional map crackdowns, and even limits
on private servers, have kept the Minecraft economy kind of uncertain. When you’re playing another person’s game,
night could come at any time. And then, it’s always survival mode. We put links to all the maps we used in this
video in the description, so there’s a lot to explore and have fun with. Now I’m gonna put this gold block on the
ground. OK.


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