When Pokémon Go was released in 2016, it was such a revelation that ushered in a new era of augmented reality gaming, with hoards of people mixing real life with their phones in a way never seen before. Despite the millions in earnings made by developer Niantic, and the giant worldwide user base all obsessed with hunting down and collecting as many Pokémon as they could find, the app quickly became a flash in the pan and was simply an enjoyable short fad. However, Microsoft wants to capitalize on the AR technology in order to start something fresh with an upcoming app called Minecraft Earth.
The innovation of Minecraft Earth
Minecraft has been a hugely popular world-building game for over 10 years, with a user base jumping to 91 million active players, thanks largely to the option to play on either consoles, phones, tablets, PCs, or Macs. The game is all about creation and showing off projects to others, which is why Microsoft thinks Minecraft Earth is the perfect platform for talented and inventive gamers. “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,” says Alex Kipman to Verge.com, Microsoft’s creator of the HoloLens and Kinect. “With Minecraft Earth, that’s no longer the case. The content is in the real world.”
In much the same way as Pokémon Go, users of Minecraft Earth will be able to view the game’s typical blocky, pixelated designs in the real world via the use of smartphones (both Android and iOS). Set to arrive at some point this summer, the app will first be in beta form and is free to play. It’s expected to be far more multiplayer than Pokémon Go ever was, as multiple users can interact with the same permanent creation at the same time. Players can also take part in activities made popular by Minecraft, such as collecting resources, dodging and fighting monsters, and collecting experience points. Right now, the game is only for players 18 years and over, but whether this will change after the beta remains to be seen.
Minecraft has succeeded largely because of the way users are allowed to create whatever they see fit and play the game however they want to. There is no path to follow, few rules to abide by, and the idea of trying out something new and sharing it with others is definitely encouraged. Playing in someone else’s world design, in a way, has been made possible via the use of dedicated servers, whereby users can join together to fight, build, or just go on some merry adventure. Servers have opened up so many more options for Minecraft players, who simply need their own package to get their vision online and for others to see.
While gaming at home with cutting edge gear will always have its place, the idea to take Minecraft and merge it with the real world via smartphones is likely to be a popular one. “We have covered the entire planet in Minecraft. Every lake is a place you can fish, every park is a place you can chop down trees. We’ve actually taken maps of the entire world and converted them to Minecraft,” says the game director of Minecraft Earth, Torfi Olafsson. “We think it’s important to kind of reward and recognize your progression. We have levels that unlock content, and as you go up in levels, you’ll get access to more and more content.”
Funnily enough, Minecraft has also paid homage to the past while still looking toward the future. To celebrate the 10-year anniversary, the very first iteration of the game (complete with original bugs) has been released for free as a browser version. Although it might be hard to play for current Minecraft fans, as the game has evolved so much, it’s still interesting to take a look back and see where it all started years ago.