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Minecraft likely played for over 68 million years, old enough to witness the dinosaurs go extinct

How much do humans play Minecraft? (Image Credit: Microsoft)
How much do humans play Minecraft? (Image Credit: Microsoft)
Izaak
ANALYST
Modified 17 Sep 2020, 07:25 IST
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A little while ago, GAME published an article on the total playtimes of some of the most popular games, which revealed that Fortnite had achieved over 10 million years of playtime. Many of you noticed, however, that Minecraft was suspiciously missing from that list, despite having 480 million registered accounts and 112 million active monthly players 9 years after its initial release. So what’s the total playtime for Minecraft?

How much does Minecraft get played?

The first problem with finding out how much Minecraft has been played is that, unlike games like Fortnite, Minecraft can be played offline or over local area networks without an internet connection. This means that, even if Microsoft and Mojang wanted to track total playtime, there would almost certainly be plenty of hours unaccounted for. 

But that takes us to the second issue; there isn’t any authoritative data about global playtimes in Minecraft. There is data about the number of users but the only data about playtime has to do with Minecraft China, which has some unique circumstances.

For those of you who don’t know, Minecraft China is published by NetEase in 2017 and is free to play within China. According to quite a few reports, Minecraft China has over 300 million registered users and racked up over 400,000 years of playtime in just 2 years in real time.

That means that the 300,000,000 registered Chinese Minecraft players averaged 5.84 hours per day per user for 2 years to achieve a total playtime roughly equivalent to the age of modern humans.

Minecraft global player count and estimating total playtime

It’s fair to state that the Chinese Minecraft community certainly sped up the collection of hours and years of playtime for the decade-old game. Unfortunately, total playtime is still a mystery but if there’s anything to be learned from the Chinese account, it’s that Minecraft is certainly a fun and addictive game.

Statista.com has apparently kept track of Minecraft’s monthly player count each year from 2016 to 2020. During that time, Minecraft went from 40 million players per month to 126 million players per month, a threefold increase. 

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Unfortunately, this data does not include numbers prior to 2016, nor does it include playtime. Additionally, with Minecraft China releasing in August of 2017, it’s notable that roughly half of the gained players came after that date.

If we apply the average Chinese playtime to the total player count per period then we end up with this rough estimate.

(June 2016 - Feb 2017) 40 Million Players x 5.84 hours/day x 30 days/month x 8 months = 56,064,000,000 hours

(Feb 2017 - Jan 2018) 55 Million Players x 5.84 hours/day x 30 days/month x 11 months = 105,996,000,000 hours

(Jan 2018 - Oct 2018) 74 Million Players x 5.84 hours/day x 30 days/month x 9 months = 116,683,200,000 hours

(Oct 2018 - May 2020) 91 Million Players x 5.84 hours/day x 30 days/month x 20 months = 318,864,000,000 hours

Total hours = 597,607,200,000 hours of playtime from June 2016 to May 2020.

Total years = 68.22 million years of playtime in 4 years!

Flaws with estimating Minecraft playtime like this

Firstly, this estimate only covers a very small window of time (June 2016 to May 2020) for a game that was released in 2011 and had a playable alpha build in 2009. Additionally, this estimate makes the assumption that the average active Minecraft player plays as much as the average playtime spread around the 300 million registered Chinese players.

However, there are some very serious flaws within this time period. Firstly, according to Statista’s own survey on the number of active global players, the player count did not jump by 300 million following the Chinese release. The number of registered Minecraft users in China must be higher than the number of active monthly players from China, meaning the average playtime of each player is likely much higher.

However, I believe that playing Minecraft for 5.84 hours a day is ambitiously high (though the numbers from China almost certainly mean the average among those who play is higher), and I have a difficult time believing that all these players average more than 5 hours a day.

However, this estimate is limited only to the last 4 years and completely ignores the 7 years during which people played Minecraft before player counts were tracked. Furthermore, there are the previously mentioned issues of tracking players who play disconnected from the internet, such as through school or neighborhood LANs or offline on single player.

Therefore, it is perfectly acceptable to estimate the total playtime of Minecraft as higher than the 68 million years calculated within just that short window.

Understanding 68 million years of time

68 million years is a long time, certainly older than anything we could consider human. Going back 68 million years would take us into the last 2 million years of the Cretaceous Period, a time when the very first primates appeared on Earth. These great grandfathers to all human life would have survived one of the most well-known extinction events on the planet, the one which wiped out many of the dinosaurs.

Truly, there is no way to understand just how monumental such a length of time is, except on a geological level. 66 million years ago, Europe was just a collection of islands, India was a massive island the size of modern-day Australia, and much of the world was enduring an ice age brought upon by a massive asteroid which impacted modern-day Mexico.

It would take another 30 million years for India to crash into Asia, beginning the formation of the Himalayas and the creation of a land barrier between China and the rest of the world. Primates evolved and split as niches were found and those best suited and best able to survive lived on.

63 million years ago, primates would split into two groups, the wet and dry nosed primates. 30 million years ago, the New and Old World Monkeys would diverge, having been divided by an ocean for long enough. 20 million years ago would see the division of apes between those which would become gorillas, bonobos, chimps, and humans, and those which would become orangutans.

14 million years ago, gorillas began their divergence and 10 million years ago, we began to leave our cousins behind as we embarked on our own journey as a species.

If the small, skittering creature which once hid from dinosaurs had spent every waking moment of its life playing Minecraft, as the asteroid hit and the world changed, as monkeys appeared and evolved into the planet’s most successful species, it would still likely be short of the total playtime our species has put into this game alone.

Published 17 Sep 2020, 07:25 IST
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