A cut-price PC game with basic, blocky graphics has been capturing the imaginations of gamers the world over and, thanks to the slow burn of word-of-mouth recommendations igniting into a populist frenzy, Minecraft has become a huge cult hit even before its official release.
With most of the development work done by just one guy, Sweden's Markus Persson, Minecraft is most definitely a commercial prospect, but the current work-in-progress version is offered at half price (€9.95) to those that buy now and fund its future development.
Concieved as a twist on classics such as the territorial defense game Dwarf Fortress, Dungeon Keeper's corridor monster hunting, RollerCoaster Tycoon, and especially influenced by the free indie game Infiniminer, Persson's brainchild has taken off like few others.
Minecraft's curiously compulsive terrain forming is also reminiscent of Populous, crude yet expressive graphics are like an early Zelda or a happy Doom level creator, and the zombie survival mode becomes a bizarre mental mish-mash of Left 4 Dead's panicked routefinding, Command & Conquer's resource gathering, and a hallucinatory episode based entirely on LEGO bricks and cardboard cut-outs.
Speaking to industry website Gamasutra in March 2010, Persson was pleased at having seen sales increase to 200 copies per day for a total of 6,400. Six months later, the daily figure for paid downloads is passing 10,000 and total sales are over 270,000. All that for something that's available as a free browser-based game that isn't even finished.
A minor niggle obstructing some players' exploratory progress was the lack of a comprehensive tutorial, but an enthusiastic community put that to rights with a bevy of YouTube videos and an extensive standalone Wiki.
One of them, September 27's "Building Megaobjects in Minecraft", became the most viewed gaming video for the entire week leading up to September 29. Witness it for yourself, as an intrepid player reveals his own pet project - the bare bones of Star Trek's Starship Enterprise, replicated at a magnificent and colossal 1:1 scale.
Most viewed YouTube gaming videos, week ending September 29
1) Building Megaobjects in Minecraft - 347,825 total views
2) TotalBiscuit teaches LisaNova how to play StarCraft 2 Pt 1 - 295,928 total views
3) HD Starcraft 2 NEXgenius v Losira - 269,019 total views
4) Predator Missile in the FACE! - 231,573 total views
5) Horde Guild Mount - Scorpion / Kron'Kar Annihilator (v2) - 194,219 total views
6) Gun Size Matters (UNRATED CUT) - 145,715 total views
7) Super Luigi Galaxy - Episode 25 - 100,560 total views
8) Cataclysm Beta - Heroic Stonecore Part 2 - 149,097 total views
9) Cataclysm Beta - Singing Sunflower Companion Pet (Plants vs Zombies) - 90,423 total views
10) Hot Chicks in TRON!! - 87,906 total views
Investigate Minecraft further at the official site
http://www.minecraft.net, fan-made wiki
http://www.minecraftwiki.net, and the development blog
Read the Markus Persson interview at Gamasutra and find further game coverage at RockPaperShotgun.