By John Wesley Hardin
Photo credit: John Wesley Hardin
On November 18, five thousand kids, parents and gamers of all ages descended upon the Mandalay Bay Convention Center for Minecon. No, it’s not a convention for fans of the mining industry, but of the underground, hit video game, Minecraft.
Minecon Las Vegas souvienir t-shirt, all sold out on the first day.
Three years ago, Markus “Notch” Persson was an unknown video game developer in Sweden. Then he made Minecraft. Minecraft is what is known as a “sandbox” in gamer circles; a game world without a lot of rules, that allows players to build whatever they want. Minecraft’s combination of retro graphics, a randomly generated, infinite gameworld plus the ability to build just about anything, captured the imagination of game fans. They flocked to Minecraft and built everything from roller coasters, to full size space ships to gigantic, 8-bit analog computers that actually worked.
Now, three million downloads later (@ $20 each), Notch is a wealthy independent game designer, and the focus of an intensely devoted fan base. At Minecon, he’s mobbed like a rock star wherever he goes, with kids and grownups alike asking for his autograph and getting their pictures taken with him.
Early this year, Notch ran a poll on Minecraft.com, asking where players would like to see the first North American Minecon held. Las Vegas handily beat out the other candidate cities, and so the date was set for the weekend of November 18th. A video game popular enough to have its own fan convention is pretty special, but then something really unusual happened: Two weeks before the convention, Minecon sold out. Five thousand tickets, at $90 a ticket, were spoken for.
Gamers from all over converged on Mandalay Bay.
That’s pretty much the holy grail for convention runners. It must bode well for the chances of another Minecon, right? Well... “Each person who attended cost more than we charged, so it’s probably a bad thing that we sold out,” says Notch with a smile, “but I definitely want to have another one. Maybe with more sponsors next time to help with the costs.” The sponsors at this Minecon must have been happy; people stood in line for 20 minutes to buy Minecraft swag from clothing and novelty retailer Jinx.com, and the coterie of invited independent game developers got to display their projects to thousands of avid indie game fans.
Jones Soda was among the very happy sponsors.
Minecraft fans get hands-on with Minecraft themed toys.
As for the fans, they couldn’t have seemed happier. They came from all over. They happily waited in the aforementioned lines to spend their money. They sat through developers’ panels which delved into the game’s computer code, and took every chance to play Minecraft on the fast, powerful computers set up in the game room. They played Minecraft on their phones while waiting in line, they played Minecraft sitting in the halls, they showed up in home made costumes, or bought costumes to wear at the convention.
The Developers' panel gives Minecrafters an inside look at the game.
Ken Thompson is the president of Cole2sworld, and he makes a living running Minecraft servers for people who want to host their own copies of the game for other players to experience. He’s been playing computer games for 30 years and has never seen a game with such a diverse player base. “It’s a really unique gamer cross section” he says, and that is born out by surveying the crowd at Minecon. They are young and old, well dressed and nerdy, hip and geeky, all at the same time. Of course, not everybody was a fan.
“My son is the Minecraft fan” said one man who had come all the way from Toronto, Canada,” but it wasn’t hard to talk me into going to Las Vegas.”
An Ender Dragon from Minecraft.
A young fan runs for his life from the Ender Dragon.
A Minecraft fan models the latest in fashionable head-gear.