It all started with this reddit post inquiring about minimum specs for playing Minecraft modpacks. At first, it made me very upset, as I realized that a player was willing to pay nearly 30 bucks for a game that they had no interest in playing by itself, only for the priviledge of enjoying the labor of people who saw little or no money in return for their work. Now, I'm not an open source purist; I believe that good games are worth paying for if the developer(s) decide that is how they want to distribute the game. However, I feel strongly that if a person does spend money on something, it should be done with the knowledge that spending money is a capitalistic form of voting, and therefore should go to the people who actually put work into the thing the person is buying.
Oh boy, I guess I'm contributing to the open source circlejerk myself in a way! Oh well... I'll continue...
With my strong opinions on for-profit games in mind, I was very close to submitting a post which would explain why the person shouldn't buy a game just for the mods. I even had a list of alternative games which each satisfied some core aspect that modded Minecraft does, all of which are very good, which they should consider purchasing instead. And oh, boy, was the list long: Terraria, Factorio, FortressCraft, Subnautica, Starbound, Stardew Valley, Zachtronics games...
but... wait. This person didn't want to play a block building ARPG like Terraria! They didn't want to play a survival crafting game like Subnautica, or an automation sandbox game like Factorio, either. They wanted to play a Skyblock!
The original skyblock map was released over 8 years ago, and there STILL is not a decent video game on the market which captures that experience and expands upon the concept in a compelling way. And yet, in spite of this, skyblock modpacks and their variants are, to this day, the most popular way to play modded Minecraft. Just to clarify, a modpack in Minecraft is the equivalent of a subgame in Minetest. A skyblock is an experience where you start from nothing and build outward, creating more materials and structures as you progress, traditionally starting on an island floating in the sky.
Curseforge is currently the de-facto platform for modded Minecraft since the fall of Technic, and the Feed The Beast modpack brand, home of the previous [arguably] de-facto platform and a household name for modded Minecraft, is itself based on the first well-known modded skyblock pack of the same name. I looked today at the list of the top most popular modpacks, at minecraft.curseforge.com/modpacks, then sorted by total downloads, and of 20 modpacks on the first page, I see:
- 1 exploration/combat modpack (Roguelike Adventures and Dungeons)
- 4 technological progression modpacks (Age of Engineering, The Simple Life 2, Space Astronomy, SevTech)
- 1 tower defense modpack (Invasion)
- 1 unthemed progression modpack (FoolCraft)
- 2 "everything but the kitchen sink" modpacks (All the Mods, All the Mods 3)
- 1 Harvest Moon themed modpack (Farming Valley)
- 10 skyblock modpacks (Skyexchange, Modern Skyblock 2, Crash Landing, Regrowth, Modern Skyblock 3, Project Ozone, Forever Stranded, StoneBlock, Agrarian Skies 2, Project Ozone 2)
- Better performance due to a much simpler environment
- The beginning progression differs greatly from the traditional start (although there is usually some tree punching in the beginning)
- De-emphasis on combat for acquiring mob loot, increasing appeal for players who are not as good at combat, jaded by tired combat mechanics, and not wanting to put up with mob spawn RNG
- No large things in the way, allowing the player to build their base outward as they please
- The satisfaction of starting out with almost nothing and creating a huge amount of stuff from it
As I mentioned before, there isn't really any other game that does a start-from-nothing experience like Minecraft does when using a flagship skyblock modpack. This means there's a great opportunity for Minetest to step into the scene and innovate. But the skyblock format also greatly lowers the barrier of entry for a Minetest modder interested in creating a compelling modded experience. To be honest, I wouldn't say that the skyblock format plays to Minetest's strengths either, because even though the engine and modding API are good, even the "best" Minetest mods aren't really that good (and even if the engine has good performance, that doesn't mean the lua mods have good performance). So, there's still a lot of work to be done. But the most important things that Minecraft excels at over Minetest, such as PvE combat, exploration, and thematic coherence, no longer apply in a modded skyblock setting. (I do think these sort of features should be improved upon in the long run, but I'm talking about low hanging fruit here)
If these skyblock formats seem compelling to you, I recommend checking out some let's-plays of the skyblock modpacks I mentioned on YouTube for inspiration. If you need a YouTuber recommendation, check out direwolf20. Overall there's a lot of untapped potential, and while it's still not easy as modded Minecraft players' expectations for modded skyblocks continue to rise, a high quality "start from nothing" subgame with unique progression will provide a way for Minetest to stand out in a way that would be much more difficult to pull off otherwise.
tl;dr: Modded skyblocks are extremely popular in Minecraft, yet there is no video game that capitalizes on it effectively despite the demand. Their simplicity makes them relatively low-hanging fruit for Minetest subgame developers, and a potential boon for Minetest's publicity, with lots of room for creative exploration.