But don’t overlook Minecraft Dungeons, due out for most major platforms in autumn 2020 and designed by a relatively compact team (for a major studio at least) of 20.
The action-adventure fantasy game will combine familiar sword and sorcery gameplay with a touch of humour – for instance, the keys you need to open doors may bounce away from you from time to time. It’s a fast-paced, randomised and cooperation-based game that infuses the blocky-looking franchise with cartoon zaniness.
Microsoft is estimated to have spent $US2.5 billion in 2014 for control of Minecraft’s Stockholm studio Mojang. At the time, Minecraft was among the top-five selling games of the year. More recent reports from the Electronic Software, the trade body that hosts E3, place Minecraft at No. 11, but over its 10-year lifespan the work has sold more than 176 million copies, leading some to speculate it may be the bestselling game of all time.
And Microsoft is taking more aggressive steps this year to expand the Minecraft brand.
“One of the models I look at is Lego, when I think about Minecraft,” says Microsoft’s Xbox chief Phil Spencer.
There’s no denying there’s a tinge of a Lego influence in Minecraft Earth, as the AR game will allow players to show their budding architect skills and then superimpose their creations on the real world via their screens.
But the location-based title is also designed to encourage exploration. Sure, there will be opportunities to go on Minecraft adventures and virtually battle skeletons and other creatures out in physical spaces, but if users gravitate to the game it should be through encouraging creativity by allowing players to integrate their own designs with real-world infrastructure.
Now about three years removed from the release of Pokemon Go, Minecraft Earth will also be an opportunity to gauge the long-term viability of AR as a form of play. So far, few experiences have captured the public’s imagination as much as Pokemon Go.
In addition to Minecraft Earth, this year should also see the release of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, the latest from Pokemon Go publisher Niantic.
If there’s any commonality among the three, it’s that they use screens to get players moving.
“It harkens back to the way that physical play used to be,” says Minecraft Earth‘s art director Brad Shuber, noting that the game’s AR mode cannot be turned off. It’s designed from the ground-up to see our current environment in a new light.
The game was born out of the company’s early experiments with its so-called HoloLens technology, a glasses-like headset that could superimpose holographic-like images in a limited field of view. Smartphone-driven augmented reality became a way to turn what was once just a test into something that could be fit for the masses.
Booting up the game will bring up a Minecraft map of one’s surroundings, one that when the game launches should be full of tappable items that one can use to build and fill structures with digital creatures. When playing with others and taking out some skeletons with digital arrows, all the found resources will be shared to encourage collaboration and discourage selfish behaviour.
Likewise, if one spends days or weeks perfecting a Minecraft structure to, say, live next to Disney Hall, which itself has experimented with augmented reality, Minecraft Earth will have modes that allow for others to see it – and play with it or even ruin it. What they’ll often be working with is essentially just a duplicate of the original. Your creation, in other words, will still stand.
“Eventually there will be places where you can put your build so that people can come find it and view it,” says Shuber. “And if they do muck with it, it doesn’t affect the thing you left behind because it’s just a copy. So people can enjoy it – they can destroy it, they can have fun, they can figure out how you did it, but the thing that you made stays intact.”
If all goes according to plan, then Minecraft Earth will give this digital universe a bit more permanence in ours.