Skip to main content

A glimpse at the future of Minecraft with Microsoft Studios

Microsoft purchased Minecraft a couple of years back for a cool 2.5 billion dollars. Naturally, Microsoft has big plans for the franchise, and we were able to get a glimpse of those during E3 2016.

Minecraft showed off Realms for the Pocket Edition and Windows 10 tablet and PC version of the game at E3. Minecraft Realms allows players to rent a dedicated, persistent server, which friends and family can connect to and share without requiring a host to be online. Previously, Realms only supported the legacy PC and Mac versions of Minecraft, but eventually, the console versions of Minecraft will also be able to connect to a shared Realm.

In our demonstration session, we also saw how players will be able to further customize their experience across PC, tablets and phones. We also learned a bit about the future of Minecraft on Windows 10 Mobile.

What's the deal with Minecraft on Windows phones?

One of the first questions I asked the Minecraft team was about the Windows Phone versions of the game. As Windows Central readers are no doubt aware, Windows on phones is in a strange place right now, where even Microsoft aren't prioritizing development for some of its apps on the platform. Minecraft is no different, as the iOS and Android versions of Minecraft now support achievements, while the Windows Phone 8.1 version does not.

I asked what the plan was for the Windows Phone version of the game. Would the Pocket Edition be replaced a Windows 10 UWP version? Would it support Continuum? I mentioned how cool it would be to utilize the new Bluetooth Xbox One S controller to play Minecraft via Continuum on my Lumia 950 XL, for example.

Minecraft Pocket Edition

Microsoft told me that those ideas and questions are exciting, but they have nothing to announce right now regarding their roadmap for Windows on phones. They said that the idea is prioritizing players where they're at, effectively hinting that Windows Phone's market share is to blame for the sluggish pace of development.

However, they did tell me though that the goal for Minecraft is 100% parity between all versions. Windows Phone, Windows 10, Xbox One, and beyond. They assured me that Windows Phone users would not be forgotten, but whether or not they hold true to their word remains to be seen. I certainly hope we do see some of the upcoming improvements to Minecraft, given how cool some of them are.

Exposing Minecraft's code to players

Minecraft is switching to a data-driven architecture which allows players to totally customize and mod the game. Microsoft demonstrated this briefly at their E3 conference, showing how players can easily create aliens and UFOs to add to an existing game's world.

Using simple editors, such as Notepad and Microsoft Paint, players will have access to the game's textures and JSON files, allowing them to customize the game easily as they see fit. Those files can then be uploaded to your personal Realm server, and any changes you've made will appear for all players who connect to your Realm.

To demonstrate this, Microsoft showed off an athletic creeper, complete with sports gear and heightened speed. Changing the numerical value for "speed" in the game's files and then reloading the game updated the creeper's behavior. Similarly, they demonstrated how you could change the color of the creeper's texture using something as basic as Microsoft Paint, swapping the color of his jersey from white to blue with the paint bucket tool.

Minecraft

The files to edit Minecraft on the Pocket Editions and Windows 10 PC version will be accessible via the each platform's file explorers, and Microsoft said that it's impossible to break the game by inputting the wrong JSON syntax. If Minecraft detects a code error, mob behaviors will just revert to their defaults.

Watching a bunny zombie eating carrots, and then proceeding to make baby zombies was particularly hilarious.

A speedier Creeper was relatively cool but nothing too impressive. Microsoft Studios then kicked it up a notch. They showed how you could add extra points to a zombie's model to add texturing for bunny ears. They also demonstrated how you can transplant the entire brain of a rabbit into a zombie, simply by copy and pasting the code out of the JSON files. Watching a bunny zombie eating carrots, and then proceeding to make baby zombies was particularly hilarious.

The studio also showed how you can customize the death behavior of mobs, and even how mobs react to different events. They spawned a herd of cows that picked up the death behavior of exploding on ignition. The result was a veritable bovine nuclear apocalypse, and it was glorious. They showed us custom robot skins made in Microsoft Paint, and described 100-foot tall creepers and other wacky creations.

Microsoft said they have no plans to have a marketplace for custom skins or behavior files, and that they'd put it in the hands of the community to decide how distribution would work.

Bringing Minecraft players together

Microsoft closed by emphasizing that the goal is to bring all Minecraft players together. Part of that is ensuring their new moddable Minecraft is fully forwards compatible with future versions, but also that all versions must reach parity over the coming months.

The plan for Minecraft is to expose as much of the code as possible, to allow players to create the game they want — and with Realms, when they want. In the very near future, you'll no longer have to wait for your friends to be online before getting back to work on that castle you started building together, nor will you have to copy and paste all your modded skins and behaviors from one version to the next. Through Realms, everything will just work, exemplifying Microsoft's overarching dedication to computational mobility.

Obviously, the most powerful application for these new features is education. An easily editable Minecraft will not only teach kids the basics of texturing models in video games, but also the fundamentals of programming. As Minecraft progresses, it's clear that Microsoft's primarily ambitions weren't necessarily about cashing in on the never-ending licensing bucks (although that's a definitive side bonus), they want to use the game to train the next generation of software engineers. And with initiatives like Minecraft for Education, it's already begun.

The new editing capabilities described above are heading out to players on Windows 10, iOS and Android in the Fall. At this point, we can only hope that Microsoft keeps their promise to bring updates to Minecraft for Windows mobile devices.

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

42 Comments
  • Time to sell my Windows Phone and get an Android one... it seems MS is really aborting Windows 10 Mobile at all!
  • WAAHHHH WAHHHH DOOOM GLOOM. This is no different than things have been. Do what you feel like, but just do it, don't jump on the internet looking for vindication from others about what you wanna do.
  • I don't think you're really paying attention -- thanks to the Windows Store on Windows 10 and UWP, there has a been a significant increase in the number of titles coming out for Windows Phone and in the quality of the titles. If Minecraft on mobile today is your priority, then yes, you'll need to go elsewhere, but Microsoft bought Minecraft in part to emphasize the gaming benefits it can bring to mobile. 2016 is the year of finishing the Windows 10 integration. It looks like 2017 (with the launch of the Surface Phone) will be when their attention turns toward mobile as their big push.
  • Exactly. Even what you can gather from the article is that they're aiming at a version parity which implies that for Windows it would probably go the way of UWP. That's exactly the merit of UWP, developers don't have to care about mobile, just make it a UWP and it's covered easily.
  • "they're aiming at a version parity which implies that for Windows it would probably go the way of UWP.​" That doesn't help the millions of people stranded on WP8.1 because Microsoft didn't provide them a viable upgrade path to W10 Mobile. Furthermore, even if they had, the PE version of Minecraft they bought for WP8.1 for $7 is not the Windows 10 Edition, and neither are universal purchases, so they'd still be getting screwed over. Minecraft on WP8.1 is the first paid version of Minecraft in history to stop getting full update support. That is absolutely inexcusable given that Microsoft owns all of the following entities: Mojang, Minecraft, Xbox, and Windows Phone. Never mind that Minecraft on WP8.1 is a mere 1.5 years old, too. Completely rubbish move by Microsoft.
  • oh well? buy a new phone, you didnt buy a phone that said "windows 10 guaranteed" you bought a phone that likely wasnt even "WP 8.1 gaunateed" stop bitchign about phones being dropped from support, it happens, and iot happens far less on WP than android, anmd atleast MS was willing to say "these devices drop performanc eto much" unlike apple.    TL;DR: buy a new ******* phone or shut up.
  • bye bye
  • Do it, I did it last September and haven't looked back. I got an HTC One M9 because HTC originally supported WP (back when MS cared about it) so I said why not. Best decision ever. And HTC builds quality products! I've been impressed. Posted via the Windows Central App for Symbian
  • Microsoft giving reasons why not to invest your money on their phones,buying their latest flagship is such a risky move
  • Microsoft: We can't support Windows 10 mobile with our apps because the market share is low.  Part of why the market share is low is that you don't support Windows 10 mobile with your apps.  Microsoft will regret abadoning its mobile platform in the future I think. Every tech company wishes they had their own platform, and the ones that do are the ones thriving the most. Windows 10 desktop helps MS tremendously, but it's not where the future seems to be at. 
  • I keep pushing this but if it's already available for Windows 10, exactly how hard or exactly what prevents the same thing from working on the mobile devices? As far as I can tell, it's just a matter of testing and release, which for now i can understand and agree with the focus for the most popular performed at the moment until it makes sense to move forward with the "little guys" ;p
  • UI elements have to be scaled and so on, it's not as simple as a raw transplant, but hopefully we'll get the UWP eventually. Totally gonna make a Windows Central Minecraft server for us to play on.
  • Thanks Nadella.
  • When you don't put your own plartfom first. Why would someone even consider it?? 
  • Indeed. Congratulations Microsoft on having your platform be the first one in Minecraft's entire history to be abandoned. It is completely unacceptable for a Microsoft-owned company to bring a Microsoft-owned feature to a Microsoft-owned game on every non-Microsoft-owned platform out there but not the one Microsoft-owned platform. Nadella doesn't seem to understand that people remember continually getting screwed over and that burned bridges are tough to rebuild. This asinine decision is all the more asinine given the fact that version 0.15 still came to Windows Phone with everything *except* Xbox achievements--something already baked in to the OS! How much more money would it seriously have cost Microsoft, one of the wealthiest companies in the history of the world, to add in Xbox achievements to Minecraft on Windows Phone? Absolutely nothing. It'd be like you or I giving away a penny. I can no longer respect a company that continually treats its biggest fans like garbage.          
  • How is Minecraft still a thing? Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • It's like the second most popular game ever. Just because you don't like it, doesn't mean millions of other people don't. It actually does teach creativity, basic logic, and social skills if played online. It may not be your cup of team but it's certainly not bad.
  • I did like it... Like 4 years ago. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • What's first, tetris?
  • One more block...
  • How is legos still a thing after decades?
  • It seems Microsoft can do something good with almost everything..... Except windows phone
  • The players are there because you don't give them reason to be. What an offensive thing to say when people are still supporting WP after years of neglect.
  • Microsoft is prioritizing other platforms then their own? Time to move to android.
  • Modifying object properties through JSON files is a good idea, but is this the death of modding?  By its nature, JSON will ignore anything it doesn't expect.  So you can only change the things that Minecraft exposes.  This is different than the traditional modding, which allows us to add completely new features/behaviors/abilities.  The nice thing about the JSON model is that it won't break the game when new versions are delivered.  But one of the things that made Minecraft one of the best selling games in history is the ability to enhance the game in ways the developer didn't expect.  If we are limited to JSON edits only, I suspect the game will lose popularity.
  • Console sales > PC sales Mobile sales > PC sales. Console & Mobile sales = no moding to date
  • Of course, if the UWP actually worked as its supposed to we'd just be playing the Windows 10 Edition on our phones and that would be end of the issue. Cute how that screenshot says 'your device does not support Realms' as if it's OUR fault for supporting their platform, when they're the ones not bringing the platform up to speed. Ugh.
  • Aye :( was annoying to see.
  • looks cool. Sounds great. Im sure i will play the game in a few years still. Endless play value on this game!
  • Seriously  though if Microsoft doesn't care about their own mobile OS why should I?! I HATE ios and Android, but I'm getting VERY tired of being treated like the red headed step child in the mobile space. I followed Nokia to the Microsoft ecosystem and stayed because Nokia wasn't making phones yet. Now they are working on phones and I might be back to following them wherever they go if Microsoft doesn't start treating us like we matter.
  • Go to Android. I had enough and switched. I really like HTC so I stuck with them and I adjusted very fast. And it was nice to actually have every app I needed, and especially the Microsoft ones that were for some reason better on Android. Lol Posted via the Windows Central App for Symbian
  • Is it true that even Windows Central app is better on Android?
  • That's a rhetorical question... Posted via the Windows Central App for Android (V10 or 5x)
  • Well I love their Android version but I haven't been on the Windows version in a while. Never seen the Windows 10 version tbh. The Android one runs perfectly smooth tho. Has never crashed on me and loads fast. Posted via the Windows Central App for Symbian
  • A successful MS game AND an acquisition? Expect the studio to be closed and purchase written off as a whoops.
  • Except Minecraft is making millions per year, lol
  • That makes no sense. Regardless of what MS does with Windows Mobile, Minecraft is a runaway success.
  • Some people missed the joke here. Lol, people are too serious Posted via the Windows Central App for Symbian
  • MS should bundle Minecraft EDU + Office with their <$250 laptops to the education market vs. Chromebooks.
  • That's what they're doing I believe. 
  • Give me copy and paste mod on the Xbox and I'll be happy. It's very hard building a city on Xbox right now. Posted via the Windows Central App for Symbian
  • I just wanted Minecraft servers for Xbox One.  I was gutted we're going to be one of the last on the list to see Minecraft Realms, especially considering we've had the Azure servers sitting there since day one screaming for dedicated servers and never got it.  We've had Minecraft since the Xbox 360 days and never, ever once seen a dedicated server for console.  Makes me sad.