Minecraft's design really fascinates me. The game looks so simple on the surface, but it's architected in such a brilliant way. It's no luck that it's the most popular game of all time, even through they barely spent anything on marketing.
To understand the psychology behind the game, I have used the Hook Model developed by Nir Eyal as a framework. It's a model in 4 steps that helps you understand why some products hook people in and create habits that integrate the product in their lifestyles.
Every habit starts with a trigger that initiates the action.
There are 2 types of triggers: external and internal.
These triggers come from your environment. For Minecraft, the strongest external trigger is YouTube. Since the beginning, the creators of Minecraft encouraged fans to put videos on YouTube and that helped growth a lot. It's partly why it's the most popular game on the platform until this day.
Vu Bui, their chief operating officer, told the Guardian: "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."
These triggers come from the users themselves. It's when they are making mental associations with the product, they tie it to an emotion. Here, negative emotions are strong triggers, because we want to get rid of them, so they will push us to act. Minecraft like many other forms of entertainment relies on the trigger of boredom. The game is interesting, it's intrinsically fun to play and there is always something new to interact with or create. It's a bit similar to Instagram and YouTube that have endless feeds of new content to make sure you are never bored.
Loneliness is another internal trigger for Minecraft. The game is social, it's built around their community. People love sharing and connecting with other players. Friends can invite you to play, you can chat with them, see what they are building and collaborate together.
2. SIMPLE ACTION
When you design an experience, you want users to make a certain action, but the key here is to make that first action as simple and easy as possible. According to Nir Eyal, “the simpler you can make the action, the more likely it is to occur.”
For Minecraft, it's simply starting the game. If you are invited by a friend, you can join their world in a click, and if you want to create your own, it's matter of seconds. You pick the mode you want to play and from there you do whatever you want. There is no real goal in Minecraft, so you are the one setting your goals. It means you can play only 10min if you wanted to or spend hours on it.
3. VARIABLE REWARD
Activity level is a function of how soon the participant expects a reward to occur. So if you know something interesting is about to happen soon, you will play harder. On the opposite, if you leveled up recently and have to collect thousands of points before you can do it again, you will be a bit less active because your motivation will be lower.
Randomness maintains the player's interest longer and makes them more consistent. They don't know exactly when the reward will come, but they know it roughly based on their previous experience. If the reward is interesting, there is always a reason to continue playing. That's why Minecraft has this element of variability. In every game, you land in a new random map and each map has unique resources, some of which are rare and difficult to find, so playing becomes like an exciting exploration.
Now that you have triggered your users to take actions and you made them happy with rewards, what is the 'bit of work' they can do to increase the likelihood of coming back?
In Minecraft, after you played the game, you have more reasons to come back because you now have the world you created waiting for you. Maybe you build a structure that is unfinished, or you customized your character with skin packs and you want to show it to your friends.
The point is that you left something in Minecraft, you have invested part of yourself into it and personalized the game experience to make it yours.
Next time the player sees a trigger for Minecraft, they will be even more willing to play the game.
The cycle continues.
Hope you enjoyed my analysis! Let me know if you have any questions!
I am going deeper in this video I made. Feel free to check it out if you want to learn more