Minecraft’s future is a gazillion metaverses

Colin Campbell, Wednesday, October 18th, 2023 12:25 pm

A ten year-old child who played Minecraft the year it first came out – 2011 – will be celebrating their 25th birthday next year, when Mojang’s miraculous creation turns 15. The game has sold more than 300 million copies, a number of people that would make it the fourth largest country in the world, by population.

It’s not done yet. Bought by Microsoft almost a decade ago, for $2.5 billion, the block-based world-builder is still hugely popular both with long-standing players, and with new generations of kids. It’s surely not hyperbole to suggest that documentarians of the future will tag the most recent years of global culture with images of Minecraft. Various media outlets have acclaimed the game as the most important of the 21st century so far.

On Sunday, Microsoft wrapped up its annual Minecraft Live jamboree, which featured various announcements and signposts for the future. Although the announcements were fairly low key, Microsoft’s Minecraft strategy is increasingly collaborative, with partial announcements followed by more fulsome rollouts. In other words, the company tries to under-promise and over-deliver.

Trials and Breezes

As usual, the most high profile announcements are bound up with updates for the next year, including a new area in the game called the “Trial Chamber” which is basically a procedurally generated series of traps, mobs, loot, and more, which players can take on alone, or as a party member.

New mobs were also unveiled, including a wind -powered baddy called “Breeze”. Additionally, players who love to craft, most especially when using the mechanical Redstone features, will enjoy the new Crafter feature, which simplifies and automates crafting.

Minecraft has been making massive inroads into education during the Microsoft era, and next year sees the arrival of the Planet Earth 3 DLC, in association with the BBC. It follows a collaboration last year in which Minecraft players were invited to step into recreations of natural habitats, in order to experience the struggles of endangered species.

According to Microsoft, the levels were “infused with scientific research and unexpected gameplay” that “quickly became some of the most downloaded educational DLCs in Minecraft history”.

Next month sees the launch of the Star Wars: Path of the Jedi DLC, which will be available via the Minecraft Marketplace, which hosts updates and approved content. This DLC is set during the Clone Wars – players are tasked with training with Yoda and other Jedi masters, before setting out on interplanetary adventures.

New experiences

Minecraft Marketplace was launched in 2017, in order to deliver a platform for professional and amateur creators. Last year, Microsoft said that more than 1.7 billion pieces of content had been downloaded, generating in excess of $500 million for creators, of which there were almost 300.

This year also saw the release of adventure spin-off Minecraft Legends, and although the game has yet to blaze much of a trail, Microsoft is backing it with new updates that suggest the game still has legs.

Speaking on its core sales numbers milestone, Minecraft head Helen Chiang said in a statement: “As we approach the 15th anniversary, Minecraft remains one of the best-selling games of all time, with over 300 million copies sold, a milestone no one could have dreamed of when we were all placing our first blocks. Our incredible community has built Minecraft into what it is today and what it will become in the future. We can’t wait to share new Minecraft content and experiences in the years ahead.”

Microsoft is definitely big on working with its community to grow the Minecraft user-baser, and experience. Speaking on the Minecraft Live stream, game director Agnes Larsson referenced the recent trend of making partial announcements about future in-game updates, and then reacting to consumer feedback, as more features are rolled out.

“We actually really liked that because it enabled us to be creative and we could collaborate with the community,” she said. “We also saw a lot of excitement in the community throughout the full development process, which we thought was beautiful.”

She added: “We have some amazing developers working on tools for us to make our development process more efficient and more joyful … We want to have a good balance between adding new things and also going back and improving existing things.”

Metaverse moves

Larsson is a gifted communicator, who has spoken about how games can improve people’s lives. Last year, she gave a speech on how games like Minecraft can intersect with the concept of the metaverse in order to make the world a better place.

“If, instead of talking about the metaverse, we talked about thousands or millions of multiverses, created by people from all around the world, it would be much more inclusive [with] less risk of toxic uses,” she said. “To me, that’s quite lovely.”

She demonstrated fan-made Minecraft worlds where players gathered to play in persistent, endless virtual worlds that connect people. “”Each of these worlds were made by individuals in Minecraft,” she said. “By players placing their own virtual building blocks to create anything they can imagine. To me these are creative and delightful examples of metaverses.”

For Larsson, metaverse (always a blurry concept) is about joyful collaboration and creativity. “Watching our community use the game in so many different ways made me realize how powerful metaverses can be,” she said, arguing that the true metaverse is a creative, shared, and fun endeavor, rather than a virtual mall built by massive corporations.

“We give the players tools and endless worlds and an infinite amount of building blocks to have fun and tinker with … and with these players can craft their own unique metaverses which therefore belong to the players. They do not belong to us making the game.”

You can see the full TED talk here.

Colin Campbell

Colin Campbell has been reporting on the gaming industry for more than three decades, including for Polygon, IGN, The Guardian, Next Generation, and The Economist.

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