How Minecraft became the most-watched kids’ TV show in the world
James R | On 25, Nov 2014
Ask an adult what they watch on TV and they’ll reply with the usual answers: Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, whatever other show is the most talked-about at the time. Ask a child what they watch and you’ll get a completely different answer. That answer will probably be Minecraft.
The game, published by Mojang, has taken the gaming world by storm in recent years, selling 54 million copies. That’s partly thanks to its child-friendly nature, but also because of its open-ended system that allows users to build worlds, objects, anything they like – good for creativity and play, and encouraged by adults for its educational potential.
My nephew, for example, has built everything you could imagine on there, including, most recently, a fighting game world based on The Hunger Games. Has he seen or read The Hunger Games? No, he’s nine years old. But he has seen YouTube videos of other Hunger Games fans creating Minecraft worlds inspired by the series – and he wants to try as well.
He is not the only one: a report from online video firm Octoly reveals that, as of June 2014, Minecraft videos had been watched 30.8 billion times on YouTube, which arguably makes Minecraft the most-watched kids’ TV show of all time.
How has Minecraft become such a viewing phenomenon?
The answer lies partly in the unique sandbox aspect of the gameplay, with users eager to share their latest creations with friends and other fans. That ideology also encourages playground discussion at school. For those unable to play the game – like my nephew last year – YouTube is a way to take part in that conversation and understand how the game works without requiring a copy themselves.
But Mojang’s attitude towards online video is equally radical: they welcome people taking video footage of the game and publishing it themselves, as opposed to challenging them to remove them on copyright grounds.
As a result, just 183 million of the 30 billion views come from the game’s official channel. The rest are from a variety of users. Stampy, for example, is a family-friendly account that revolves around footage of people playing and exploring maps in Minecraft. He was the third most-watched YouTube channel in the world in September 2014, according to Tubefilter’s top 100 rankings, with 189.6 million views in that month alone – including my nephew.
“We have a whole slew of people who are making their entire living just off making videos about Minecraft,” Mojang’s chief operating officer Vu Bui tells the Guardian. “Just the economics of that – how many people are making a living off this one IP – is pretty awesome.”
In an era of YouTube celebrities, Minecraft has emerged as a natural companion to a growing community of homegrown talent. Stampy is a household name for many children.
For Mojang, though, that is no threat to their brand: “That doesn’t take anything away from us, and I would say it actually adds value to Minecraft, to have people who are extremely talented and creative doing things. We’ve essentially outsourced YouTube videos to a community of millions of people, and what they come up with is more creative than anything we could make ourselves.”
As a result, Minecraft’s position in the online world has soared. Compare its 30.8 billion views to other, more adult, games, such as Grand Theft Auto (estimated at 12 billion views by Octoly) and Call of Duty (10.2 billion). The latter has a significant community that has helped drive online multiplayer gaming. While teenage boys and grown adults, though, are a dominant force on the web, Minecraft reveals just how important young viewers are in the VOD age.
It is no surprise, then, that bigger business have been circling. Microsoft, in fact, bought Mojang this summer for $2.5 billion. The company may have closed down Xbox Entertainment Studios, but they have invested in an even more powerful brand, which produces original video content every day.
Octoly adds that since June, Minecraft videos have been watched a further 16 billion times, with 147,000 creators on YouTube now making Minecraft videos – up from 81,000 five months ago. Last week, StampyLongHead uploaded a Simpsons-themed Hunger Games video. It has already been watched 1.33 million times.
Minecraft is not just the most-watched kids’ TV show of all time: it’s a network of kids’ TV channels, each of them with one thing in common: anything they like.