Minecraft as platform

Fun appreciation of Minecraft by Robin Sloan.

To play, you must seek information elsewhere.

Was it a conscious decision? A strategic bit of design? I don’t know. Maybe Markus Persson always intended to create an in-game tutorial but never got around to it. If so: lucky him, and lucky us, because by requiring the secret knowledge to be stored, and sought, elsewhere, he laid the foundation for Minecraft’s true form.

Minecraft-the-game, maintained in Sweden by Persson’s small studio, is just the seed, or maybe the soil. The true Minecraft (no italics, for we are speaking of something larger now) is the game plus the sprawling network of tutorials, wikis, galleries, videos—seriously, search for “minecraft” on YouTube and be amazed—mods, forum threads, and more. The true Minecraft is the oral tradition: secrets and rumors shared in chat rooms, across cafeteria tables, between block-faced players inside the game itself.

When I first started working on the Amazon Web Services team in 2003, one of the things Jeff Bezos hammered home to us was the importance of building everything at the most atomic level possible so they could be reassembled in ways unimaginable even to us. I had lunch with him once and we were talking about our interests outside of work, and he mentioned his love of this book Creation: Life and How to Make It by Steve Grand. The book discusses, among other things, how complex things can be built if you have the right building blocks, and one of the most important attributes of those building blocks was that they be defined as simply and atomically as possible.

So, for example, when we discussed a payment web service, Jeff didn't want a security layer built in. That was something separate from the core of an atomic payments service which should just be about sending and receiving money. 

I have not played Minecraft before, but Sloan's article gives me the sense it has that same atomic nature that characterizes generative platforms for really creative work.

My favorite networked services all have that quality, but capturing value from these building blocks in the form of revenue is a trickier problem and often involves building products and services on top of that very platform.

One of my favorite and most beautifully atomic building blocks of the web, Twitter, is grappling with that same issue. I've been meaning to share some thoughts on some possible ways forward for Twitter because the possibilities are fun to contemplate and it's a service I really love. That's a subject for another post, but suffice it to say that they have huge potential given their elegant architecture, and that can be both a blessing and a curse as some Chinese proverb goes.