Heaven was a place on earth for the biggest fans of Minecraft this weekend as Minecon – the global gathering for players of the hugely popular game – came to London.
My sons, Toby and Callum, are huge fans of the game and went along both as spectators and experts to help me understand the significance of what and whom I was seeing.
It was the first Minecon held for 18 months during which time the 70 millionth copy of the game was sold and Mojang itself was sold to Microsoft for $2.5bn (£1.6bn).
In total, 10,000 fans visited the Excel convention centre in London’s Docklands for Minecon and, in doing so, set a Guinness world record for an event dedicated to one video game.
The convention drew attendees from more than 73 countries, with some coming from as far away as New Zealand just to join in.
Brian Gow, visiting the show with his son Davis, had not travelled quite so far, coming only from Edmonton, Canada. Minecon was, he said, forming part of a longer European trip.
“It’s our first Minecon,” he said. “We’ve played the game since early on so seeing it evolve so quickly is really interesting.”
He added: “I teach communications and technology at university and I talk about Minecraft quite a bit, about open source and communities and the players that make it bigger than it otherwise would be.”
Minecon: A fan’s view – Toby Ward (Aged 11)
Minecon was fun-filled – there were a lot of activities and other things to do – you could play Minecraft against other people in the Tournament area. I beat lots of people at the Hunger Games – a version of Minecraft made like the books and films.
You also got to meet a lot of people who are part of the huge Minecraft community. There were Mojang developers, staff and lots of YouTubers.
The Pack was at Minecon – they are a group of YouTubers who make a lot of Minecraft videos. They answered questions and met lots of their fans. I got to meet Mr Woofless who is my favourite YouTuber and I got him to sign my Minecon badge.
At Minecon the panels, discussions and Q&A sessions were tilted towards the players and helping them learn how to get more out of the game – often by putting more in.
There were many sessions on modifying, or modding, Minecraft to upgrade and change its basic blocks and creatures. In other rooms, show-goers talked about how to mod the game’s code to turn it from a block-building exercise into a capture-the-flag or team deathmatch-type game.
There were also lessons on setting up servers that ran the modified code and on how to attract players to these places and keep them happy. Other sessions dealt with ways to use Minecraft to learn programming or other school subjects.
Chris White, who came from San Diego for the event, said Minecraft’s diversity was part of its strength.
“A lot of people have made their own game, inside of the game itself,” he said.
“I love how you can do anything you want in it, the amount of people you meet; how you can have your own server; how many people you can be friends with and play against.”
He added: “I’m surprised at how big Minecon is, I knew 10,000 people was a lot but this, it’s enormous.”
Minecon filled every hall at the sprawling Excel exhibition centre. The main presentation stage hosted the opening ceremony, a Minecraft game show, costume competition and a dance show celebrating the game. Another hall was given over to an expo involving a tournament area, Minecraft-themed funfair booths, statues of blocky Minecraft animals and merchandise stalls.
Hands-on with Hololens augmented reality headset – Callum Ward (Aged 11)
When I was using the Hololens, it was amazing. I’ve never tried anything like it before.
I thought that it was cool in the way that you could project images on your wall, as a TV, or on a table as a perspective on Minecraft. But when you try to move around it is not that accurate and needs some improvement.
I would prefer the normal control system for Minecraft because the controller you get with Hololens is not very good. They really need to improve the control system and make it better.
As well as being a hit with many individual players, the game’s success has made stars of many people who make Minecraft-themed videos – day in, day out. This year Minecraft became the most watched game of all time on video-sharing site YouTube.
Any vlogger or YouTuber recognised as they walked around the show was mobbed by fans who waylaid them to get an autograph or take a selfie with their idols.
One of the most popular sessions at the show was with a Q&A on Saturday on the show floor with a group of of popular vloggers and YouTubers known as The Pack. Between them the members of The Pack – Mr Woofless, PrestonPlayz, JeromeASF, BajanCanadian, Vikstarr123HD and Lachlan – have an average age of 20, and more than 15 million subscribers.
YouTuber Mr Woofless, aka Robert, said: “It’s been amazing to meet fans that I wouldn’t be able to meet in North America. It’s definitely an experience being in an area in which people will swarm you.
“It can be difficult at times but it is absolutely rewarding in a sense that I would never have understood a year ago,” he said.
Minecon was a way for him and other YouTubers to connect with people they otherwise only know via a user name or text comment, he said.
“It’s a game that has grown mainly because of the community and I think that’s what’s amazing,” he said.
Mr Woofless also gave advice to people who make their own videos to share with friends and online.
“Making videos is difficult, keeping it fresh, keeping it entertaining, keeping it always at 400%, you have to go in, go strong and start every video with absolutely all of your passion,” he told the BBC.
“That’s difficult but it’s about balance, I think. Take that 30 minute run in the morning, it’s about eating right, about spending time with friends and having a consistently balanced life,” he told the BBC.
At the convention, Mojang also talked about features in forthcoming versions of the game which will include letting characters carry and use objects in both hands. In addition, some elements of the game, an area known as The End and its final boss – the Ender dragon – are also getting updates.
The first trailer for Minecraft: Story Mode – which turns the game into an episodic adventure – was aired at the show and gave people a glimpse of the story that will be played out in that.
Mojang owner Microsoft also took the opportunity to give attendees a glimpse of the version of Minecraft it is preparing for the Hololens augmented reality system. Microsoft staged a competition to pick 50 convention goers who were able to don the helmet and get a look at the invention.
But despite the enthusiasm and creativity on show, not everyone who attended was sold on Minecraft’s appeal.
“I hate video games,” said Melvina Lecaros who was chaperoning her son Jose around the event. “I’m really not pro spending a lot of time in front of screens even though it clearly does make them happy.”
She said of her son “he has learned a lot of programming from it, and some science and geology, so he and his friends have got that out of it”.
However, she was sceptical about the supposed educational side of it because, she said, often all they seem to do is run around hitting other players with swords.