The many versions of Minecraft are going away. Don’t worry — it’s still on your favorite platform, but now the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and mobile versions are all the same thing.
Microsoft is unifying its megapopular block-building franchise Minecraft to enable cross-platform multiplayer, saved data, and purchased content. Where previously Minecraft: Xbox One Edition and Minecraft: Pocket Edition for iPhone were separate experiences, you can now take your world, your save, and your data back and forth between the versions whenever you want. The console games are now also getting infinite-sized worlds. For Microsoft, this is a major shift toward treating Minecraft as a service that players can access however they want.
To emphasize this change, Minecraft is losing its “Switch Edition” and “Windows 10 Edition” names; Microsoft will simply call this cross-platform version of the game Minecraft. The original PC release of Minecraft will shift to Minecraft: Java Edition. This is all happening as part of the Better Together update that will roll out this summer.
“We’re calling this edition of Minecraft just Minecraft,” marketing lead Emily Orrson explained during a presentation with reporters. “Because this version of Minecraft is not platform specific. It travels across all of these different form factors … And the Java version of the game we will rebrand the Java Edition, which should be super seamless for the player community because they already call it the Java Edition.”
You will still have to buy Minecraft for each individual platform, and the game isn’t going free-to-play as I predicted on our podcast a few weeks ago. And while the game is the same on an Android device as it is on a console, you’ll still have to pay $7 for the mobile app and $30 for the Switch release.
For now, the unified Bedrock version of Minecraft will include the following platforms:
- Xbox One
- Nintendo Switch
- Windows 10
- Gear VR
- Oculus Rift
- Fire TV
- Kindle Fire
- Windows Phone
Sony’s consoles and the Xbox 360 are not a part of the unified experience. I’ve asked Microsoft for more info about why Sony isn’t involved.
The convergence of Minecraft is something that Microsoft and developer Mojang have worked toward for years. The companies have built up the Bedrock Engine that runs the game on consoles, mobile, and Windows 10 in a way that makes it scalable and easy to port to new platforms. It is also easy to roll out updates to a number of versions all at once, which has created parity for most of the Minecraft community.
Having all of these versions of Minecraft coming together enables Microsoft to do some cool things that make sense and solve a lot of player headaches. For example, a lot of Minecraft fans play on more than one platform, but they haven’t had the chance to take their progress from one place to the other until now. With this model, players can start a game on the phone and pick it up on the Xbox One when they get home. Not only that, but players can purchase extra content like the Power Rangers skin pack and it will carry over across to any other Bedrock version — although a select few packs, like the ones featuring Halo or Mario characters, won’t transfer over due to licensing restrictions.
With Minecraft working as a service now, Microsoft and the platform holders can focus on making money from microtransactions. The cross-platform purchases for official skin packs is a gimme, but Microsoft is also using this to expand the Minecraft Marketplace for community creators. The Community Marketplace is already available on mobile and Windows 10, but Switch and Xbox One players will get access to it when they switch to the Bedrock platform. That’s important because console players often already have their credit card info saved to their systems and are willing to spend cash on new items.
“This Better Together update is part of a larger vision for us. A vision around a connected, creative player community,” said Orrson. “We have amazing things going on that players are doing and creating out in the world. And we’re going to follow their lead in transitioning Minecraft from a game to a creative platform.”
Microsoft sees people using Minecraft to start a business or to create minigames, and the publisher wants to do what it can to support such activities. The marketplace is built to funnel a lot of that kind of content into the game — especially for platforms that, unlike the PC, are impossible to mod.
“The benefit to our players with the community marketplace is that they suddenly have access to a ton of community-created content,” executive producer Jesse Merriam told reporters. “Where you might’ve had to navigate the internet before to go to a creator’s website to download their pack, figure out how to get it imported — now, they’re available right in the market.”
And for creators this obviously makes it easier for them to get their content out to potential players who could also pay them for it.
Essentially, Microsoft has figured out how to make paid mods work in Minecraft by leaving alone the Java Version that is easy to mod. Of course, players can customize Minecraft on smartphones and other platforms by editing certain files. Microsoft and Mojang opened up that possibility last year as part of its add-ons update.
Finally, Microsoft is also introducing support for third-party servers that exist outside of its own Realms service for enabling a multiplayer persistent world. But where Realms can support up to 11 players simultaneously, some of the external servers run by individuals can support hundreds of people at once. And now Minecraft is officially partnering with popular Minecraft servers like Lifeboat, InPVP, Mineplex, and CubeCraft to open up those possibilities to even more people.
Microsoft is making moves to shift Minecraft into a platform because it is a smart business move to have a service where you can continue to sell content or take a slice of the sales of community-created content. But the company is also offering up big, impressive changes to the game to keep players happy. And while it want people to use the marketplace and buying skin packs, it’s not closing down the Java version where you can do that. Microsoft has even spent the last year enabling a way for anyone to make mod-like content for mobile and the Windows 10 version. Now, the company is even opening up an alternative to Realms right in the game.
But the reason why Microsoft is making these smart decisions is also obvious: it fits with the company’s aforementioned vision.
“The goal was always to bring Minecraft players together. That’s where we’re moving,” said Merriam. “You’ve seen as we’ve evolved the Bedrock Engine that mobile players are playing with Windows 10 and VR players. Now those versions often have different platforms and you’re buying them through different stores. But it is certainly worthy project to move through those hurdles to get everyone playing together and to make Minecraft a destination.”