While not all the technology currently exists to make the game everything the developers want it to be, at launch players will be able to gather in public spaces, mostly in parks, for shared multiplayer. Players can also open up their home builds for friends to walk through on their own devices with near centimetre accuracy (Microsoft says around three centimetres, to be exact).
An early version of the app had us fishing in lakes, cutting down trees and mining blocks. When in a public area you can see what other players are doing and play together, but when you take your collected resources home you use them to build your own world on your personal build plate.
One of the original ideas for the game was that players would have to travel to real-world areas with certain elements to collect certain types of blocks, like having to find a real tree to get wood, or go to a snowy place to get ice. That idea was shot down relatively early, though, when the developers realised it was unreasonable to ask a ten-year-old who lives in the desert to travel to Alaska for snow.
Saxs Persson, creative director of Minecraft, is a little disappointed about that, but says players will still develop special relationships with the objects they had to travel out into the world to collect.
“You can see where you picked up some of the animals, since every animal is something you have somehow either picked up, bred, traded or something like that,” he says. “Our thought is that you will know where you got it from and the reminder is like: ‘Oh yeah, I picked that up when I was somewhere,’ and it becomes special because of that.”
Part of the conundrum of whether to geolimit items is because the developers are adamant that all trading and play will have to happen in person, with no communications or trading online, which would be one way to get around forcing children to travel.
One major concern for parents, who are bracing themselves for their children to become involved with the game, is how expensive and frequent the in-app purchases will be. As a free-to-play game, it’s inevitable that there will be in-app purchases, but that’s a balance the developers are still trying to find.
Torfi Olafsson, game director of Minecraft, doesn’t quite know what it will involve, but he does know what it won’t.
“There’s a currency that you earn, and you can basically use that currency to buy content, to buy build plates, to improve your play experience. But the general rule is no lootboxes, no pay walls, no pay to win. This is about play first,” he says.
“Because we are Microsoft, and we are Minecraft, we are not desperate. We are in a situation where we can put the player front and centre and their experience.”
While no release date has been announced, the Minecraft Earth beta is coming soon, with the announcement of signups expected in the next few weeks.
The author flew to Washington as a guest of Microsoft.
Alice is a freelance journalist, producer and presenter.