The Xbox One and the PS4 are heartily battling it out to be the best console available and with the release of the Last of Us and even more recently; Destiny, it seems like as a generation of gamers, everyone is always looking for the next big thing when it comes to revolutionary graphics. With a huge amount of focus on the latest and greatest games with high-definition graphics, stunning scenery, gritty, realistic worlds and maximum FPS( frames per second) it can be surprising to see the news of Microsoft’s latest conquest in the form of the Indie sandbox game Minecraft.
With so many big names being thrown around nowadays such as Amazon’s acquisition of TwitchTV and Facebook buying the Oculus Rift, it is surprising that Microsoft has gotten on the band wagon by paying a stunning $2.5 billion for developer Mojang along with ownership of Minecraft and Minecraft’s intellectual property. Minecraft was first publicly released in May 2009 and so many gamers may feel that the Minecraft train may have run its course. We don’t know what Microsoft’s plans are for the game and its developers however and they may bring a new set of ideas and changes to the table.
Created by Swedish video game programmer and designer Markus ‘Notch’ Persson, Minecraft started off as a developmental game in Alpha, offered for free on the PC and widely distributed as it gained popularity. Several years and a huge number of updates, upgrades and patches later and Minecraft is now available on PC/Macfor £17.95, Xbox (360 and One), Playstation (3, 4 and an unconfirmed PS Vita release) and has also sparked lego spinoffs, game guides, how to booklets, figurines, plushies and more.
If you haven’t ever seen or played Minecraft you might be thinking “What is the problem here? It became popular and spawned merchandising, isn’t that like any other game series?” and in theory that statement would be correct. However what makes Minecraft an odd exception is that the game doesn’t actually look that great. It has often been described as ‘Lego for the PC’. The graphics are blocky and pixellated, the character design leaves a lot to be imagined and the movements are clunky and limited.
In its simplicity, Minecraft has somehow managed to tick all the right boxes that make a good game, without ever taking the graphics of the game into consideration. It provides pure open world exploration with a random map spawned every time you start a new game; a seemingly infinite world that only generates more as you delve deeper into it. It requires a certain amount of skill in that in order to progress you will need to memorise certain crafting recipes in order to make better weapons, combine basic elements together and defend yourself better against the skeletons and zombies that haunt the night. It has combat elements which can sneak up on you at the strangest of times, however it does also provide a difficulty option if you just prefer to play around. Minecraft even has a multiplayer option where you can join a server, go adventuring with some friends or simply crack your knuckles and build Isengard with your bare hands.
The joy behind Minecraft is the flexibility and freedom the game allows you. Whether you decide you want to search to the ends of the earth, you’d like to build an iconic cottage in the woods and raise farm animals or you plan on someday creating an entire kingdom complete with peasants and peasant homes for them to live in, Minecraft allows you to do it all and then some. You can take the game at your own pace and because there is no ‘storyline’ as such the game doesn’t force you to make decisions or to progress from one area to the next within a certain time limit. There is a level up system and a narrative if you happen to look for it but those things are not essential to truly enjoy the game.
Minecraft also offers innovation by openly accepting fan made ‘mods’ and texture packs to be added to the PC version of the game. Mods with electricity, fantastic creatures and alchemy have been created, adding more item combinations and materials to the world so that you can further broaden your horizons. Texture packs make the blocky world look at least a little better, or create a moody atmosphere so that you can even create your own game and storyline to it. The Minecraft forums have countless fan made stories and adventures to choose from that only need the game and specific mods to run. You can use Minecraft to create a survival horror map, a puzzle solving map or just a fantasy adventure map. The possibilities are endless.
Fans of Minecraft have expressed concerns that Microsoft’s recent acquisition of the game and the game’s intellectual property may mean that the company plans to make changes to the game’s already winning formula. Worries that DLC and micro-transactions will soon become implemented in the game are already circulating the internet and that Microsoft may even release an Xbox specific ‘Minecraft 2’. When it comes to innovation, many gamers have expressed the opinion that Minecraft should continue as it has done. Whether or not this will actually happen is unclear.
At first glance it may be an odd decision on Microsoft’s part, but with a user base of over 16,000,000 people currently owning Minecraft and as the game is constantly being added to and updated, it is not hard to imagine several ways in which Microsoft can monetise the updates provided by Minecraft, however gamers do fear that this will have an overall negative effect on Minecraft sales and popularity in the future.
Only time will tell with regards to Microsoft’s plans for Mojang and Minecraft, however we can only hope that the decision they choose to make will continue to bewitch, if not at least continue to benefit the millions of fans that Mojang has gained from a simple sandbox game such as Minecraft.
Mike James is a technophile and business owner in Sussex, UK. In his spare time he enjoys keeping up to date with latest tech news and writing his views on them for Technology Means Business, TMB, an IT support provider with offices in Hampshire, Essex and Kent.