While big, showy AAA video games on consoles are still sitting at the top of the mountain, emergent technologies attempting to redefine how we play continue to grow and develop. Of the two alternative takes on “reality” in gaming, it has often seemed like Virtual Reality has had a leg up on Augmented Reality. Despite things like the massive success of Pokemon GO, AR has seemed like VR’s little cousin or something, rather than a competitive technology. But a newly-announced title, which uses some of the most current AR technology, stands poised to make a huge impact in the industry. It also happens to be using one of the most popular intellectual video game properties of all time. If the launch goes well, Minecraft Earth could be one of the most impactful releases to date.
Minecraft Earth is a super ambitious mobile title, a result of the partnership between Minecraft developer Mojang and new-ish parent company Microsoft. Minecraft Earth will be using Microsoft’s HoloLens and Azure Spacial Anchors technology, which are cutting-edge in the world of Augmented Reality. The game itself will be comparable in some ways to Pokemon GO. Using OpenStreetMap, the world of Minecraft Earth will be created based on maps of the real world, creating that similar bridge between the game and the player’s physical location. Like “Pokestops,” Minecraft Earth will feature “tapables,” essentially location-based points at which players can collect resources.
The biggest difference between the two games will be collaboration with other players. While Pokemon GO is more about building a personal collection of creatures that spawn on the map, Minecraft Earth is all about, well, Minecraft. This is a game about collecting resources, yes, but then it’s about using those resources to create. Players will be able to build their own creations and share them with other players. But the real key here is that players will also be able to work together on the same project, mimicking (in theory), the appeal of core Minecraft. Of course, the renewed appeal here is the actual physical proximity between players.
It will also feature content called “Adventures.” These will be exploratory challenges and other gameplay elements, beyond just building, that players will be able to work together on. These will be persistent in the world, meaning that they’ll be static, and players can just show up and work together on whatever the Adventure happens to be. We don’t know exactly what’s on the menu here, but being able to reliably meet up with other players and have content ready to go could be a big deal for continued engagement and player retention. Doubly so if completing Adventures rewards important resources.
Finally, Mojang and Microsoft have confirmed that Minecraft Earth will not have “pay to win” elements. This is also a hugely intriguing part of the game that could make a huge difference in how people engage with it and continue to play. In Pokemon GO, player actions were often limited by their ability to pay for more resources, such as Pokeballs. This was especially true for players in more rural areas without landmarks. If Minecraft Earth isn’t selling gameplay resources, how the game deals with those issues is paramount.
Back when Pokemon GO launched, it seemed like a phenomenon. Websites tracked its ever-growing revenue numbers, hordes of Pokemon nerds left their homes to catch creatures together, and local businesses used the game to drive foot traffic. But it eventually tapered off from the mainstream conversation, and while it is still big, it settled into itself. Now, Minecraft Earth stands to challenge that. With recently becoming the best-selling game of all time, Minecraft is one of the biggest IP on the planet today. With newer technology, the backing of Microsoft, and more cooperative and wallet-friendly play, Minecraft Earth could solidify AR as a legitimate gaming platform.