"I do like Minecraft, but really more from the perspective of the fact that I really feel like that's something we should have made. [...] It's really impressive to me to see how they've been able to take that idea and turn it into a product."
Why nobody beat Minecraft to the punch has been a lingering question ever since it hit the mainstream. It's a simple concept — a sandbox wherein you can build whatever you want with basic building blocks — but it hadn't been done before in a way easily accessible to consumers.
Could #Nintendo have pulled it off? Not likely, and certainly not in the same way Minecraft did. We only need to look at the defunct Lego Universe for why. Back in 2015, former Lego Universe developer Megan Fox explained some of the game's woes on Twitter. One of the largest problems? People love building phallic objects. When your brand caters to children and is trusted by parents, having a persistent multiplayer game where children could stumble across such things is a real problem.
There's more to Fox's chain of tweets, which is a good read. But this is the fundamental point:
Nintendo has many of the same brand concerns as Lego. Nintendo's platforms and games are enjoyed by people of all ages, but we love them as adults largely because we enjoyed their IPs as children. When your company's moneymakers are titles such as Super Mario and Pokemon (although it's become a bit risqué), releasing a game which will inevitably be littered with crude genitalia is a concern. Or other crude things.
Even without a Minecraft-like title, we can see Nintendo's concern in their consoles' basic functionality. Their online capabilities are far behind other consoles largely because they need to consider a young user base. How do you control a child's online experience? How do you curate what they do or don't see? Consider Super Mario Maker and how locked-down its online experience is.
Since the demise of Lego Universe, Lego is set to release Lego Worlds in early 2017, though it's currently available in early access. They've backed off of the MMO gameplay and distilled it to primarily single player with optional multiplayer features. It's safer for children to play and, hopefully, they — and their parents — will know who they're playing with when it comes to multiplayer.
Minecraft's history is also worth considering. If Nintendo had made Minecraft, we'd see what we always do with Nintendo: the title would be exclusive to their console. Had their version of Minecraft released on the Nintendo 64, that's where it would have live and died, not necessarily due to a lack of popularity, but simply because that's the life cycle of most Nintendo games.
Minecraft first released as an incomplete title on the PC, where not only were players willing to play an unfinished game, but were able to provide feedback during early development. More, the game benefited from the viral nature of content on the internet. Early adopters, all the way back in mid-2010, showed off the game's capabilities through YouTube and other content platforms, popularizing Minecraft while it was in early access.
Fans were able to mod and alter to the game to overcome any perceived shortcomings, adding new content and game modes to provide the title with longevity. Minecraft was a playground for grownups long before it became a favorite among children. Minecraft didn't need to think of the children and never did.
If parents freaked out about an unimplemented sex scenes in Grand Theft Auto — a game obviously not for children — imagine their reaction to stumbling across a phallic monument in a theoretical Super Mario Minecraft. The long-term damage to Nintendo's brand would have far outweighed the profits of a console-exclusive building block game. Only now that Minecraft paved the path and set expectations can companies like Nintendo and Lego take risks with the genre.
Minecraft didn't need to concern itself with polish and purpose as Nintendo does. Minecraft didn't need to worry about a plague of genitalia like Nintendo and Lego do. Minecraft didn't care about brand or legacy. Minecraft worried about Minecraft and Minecraft had nothing to lose.
What do you think? Could Nintendo build a game like Minecraft?