Microsoft is taking Minecraft to the streets with the new augmented reality (AR) game Minecraft Earth. Launching this summer for iOS and Android, the mobile game will move the block-like graphics of the popular sandbox video game into the real world.
The all-ages app will feature the various gameplay options traditionally found in Minecraft, including collecting materials, building structures and interacting with animals and villagers. There is also the option to interact with dangerous environments and enemies (think lava and zombies), and use tools found in the game to protect yourself. Players can also share what they’ve built with other app-users around them.
The game is free-to-play and Microsoft currently has no plans to monetize it, says the company’s business director Stephen McHugh. Additionally, the game won’t feature loot boxes or ads because those would go against the user experience Minecraft players are used to, he says. While the closed-beta version of the game will launch in and outside of the US this summer, McHugh declined to say which specific territories it will be available in.
Development on the game has been an 18-month process for the company and was driven by new technology like Microsoft Azure’s Spatial Anchors software, which can create augmented reality holograms and share them across devices. The game uses this tech to lets players walk around and interact with the world in real time, while sharing what they see with others who have the app. This feature is something the company could only achieve recently, McHugh says.
Rather than creating a direct sequel to the game that might leave users feeling cheated, McHugh says Microsoft focused on creating a new experience through AR-based gameplay that could expand the Minecraft franchise without taking away from the brand.
“We’ve talked about this game for a lot longer than 18 months but it’s only been the last year and a half when we’ve had the technological capabilities to do the things we wanted to do,” says McHugh. “There’s been a lot of interest from our players who want new Minecraft experiences and these things came together at this time so we could create the experience we wanted.”
As its 10th anniversary approaches, the significance of the game within the kids space has become almost undeniable. It is the second-bestselling video game of all time, according to IGN. Recent research from UK-based intelligence company The Insights People found that Minecraft was the most popular video game for boys and girls ages four to 12 in the US, and that Minecraft YouTuber DanTDM is one of the more favoured YouTubers among girls in that age range.
Since Microsoft acquired the game’s developer Mojang in 2014, it has expanded the Minecraft brand onto a number of platforms. In January, the company’s open-source platform MakeCode joined up with Cartoon Network and tech design school Adafruit to create a set of projects and tutorials to inspire young people to code. Cartoon Network and Microsoft also expanded that partnership with a Minecraft-themed episode of Adventure Time in 2018, which was accompanied by a limited-edition range of consumer products.
Beyond Cartoon Network, Minecraft has seen a lot of screen time with its own eSports series Super League Gaming Minecraft City Champs on Nickelodeon. The show, which launched last year, sees teams of Minecraft players representing their cities in a multi-week national tournament. Netflix also got into the game and teamed up with the brand to develop the interactive narrative series Minecraft: Story Mode, which bowed on the SVOD in the fall of 2018. The brand will also make its cinematic debut with a feature length film scheduled to premiere in March 2022.