Since long before Microsoft bought out Mojang, Minecraft has always been a wild indie developer success story, with over 90 million players worldwide. One could argue that the game’s wild success stems from its broad-based appeal, appealing to gamers from all walks of life, from small children to the elderly. The question on many people’s minds at the time of Microsoft’s acquisition of the Minecraft brand was, “What value can Microsoft add to Minecraft”? Well, now we know.
Microsoft, it seems, wants to blur the distincction between video games and reality. Enter Minecraft Earth — Microsoft’s newly-announced augmented reality version of Minecraft. Now, augmented reality is not new to Microsoft. Indeed, Microsoft has been selling their HoloLens, an augmented reality solution for business use, since 2016.
Minecraft Earth, however, will not require a multi-thousand dollar headset; instead, it will be available for free on iOS and Android.
Augmented reality in gaming is a relatively new creation. Unlike Minecraft Earth’s predecessors, like Pokemon Go, Microsoft wants to take the concept further. In Pokemon Go, for instance, players have very little effect on the game world, as the focus of the game is on the player traveling to capture randomly generated creatures. The end effect is that, while players may see Pokemon on their phones as they travel around the world, their individual experiences don’t really have much effect on other players. In Minecraft Earth, Microsoft hopes to go further; to quote Alex Kipman, the creator of Microsoft’s HoloLens, “Minecraft Earth proposes to completely break the dogma that has lived with us in computing since the beginning: this idea of a single person that holds a single device to create a single experience. With Minecraft Earth, that’s no longer the case.”
The idea is that, just like when you play Minecraft with friends in a virtual world, Minecraft Earth’s creations will exist in the real world for anyone with the game to see. Just like in Pokemon Go, players will need to travel to physical locations to view other peoples’ creations. As well, there will be items to collect at different locations in the world, so the game does reward getting out of the house, but Microsoft also decided to make Minecraft Earth a lot more accessible for the younger segment of Minecraft players who may not be able to travel outside of their house on demand by widening the radius around the player.
If Microsoft can deliver on Minecraft Earth, it will certainly be ground-breaking. However, there are many obstacles that have yet to be overcome, such as monetization, and ensuring that the game works on a large scale. How well, for instance, will Minecraft Earth handle a crowd of people building in the same area? How can Microsoft handle griefing (something that happens quite often in Minecraft multiplayer)? The truth is, Microsoft has been tight-lipped about the exact features of Minecraft Earth, and realistically, they’re probably still trying to figure things out, but if they can pull it off, Minecraft Earth will surely be the “next big thing”.