It's becoming increasingly common for new entries in the expanding video game industry to adopt a "games-as-a-service" (GaaS) strategy. Rather than release as fully finished products, GaaS titles instead rely on continual post-launch updates and injections of brand-new content to entice players to return to and invest time into them repeatedly. There are countless GaaS games already on the market; some are wild success stories, while others fade from relevancy despite their intent to persist.
Out of all of these games, one of the greatest examples is a product many don't immediately consider when naming games-as-a-service. Minecraft, the legendary creative survival sandbox from Mojang Studios and Xbox Game Studios, undoubtedly embraces the GaaS mentality, with over a decade of consistent updates under its belt and many more to come in the future. However, Minecraft updates arrive at a slower cadence than many other GaaS titles, and shirk the expectation of more frequent, bite-sized updates popularized by other massive games-as-a-service like Sea of Thieves and Fortnite.
This approach to perpetual support had led to complaints from a vocal subset of Minecraft's community, but overall captures a part of why Minecraft is one of the best Xbox games, and how it continues to hold that title and grow even more successful with every passing year. Minecraft's updates may be slower to arrive, but that doesn't need to change — these updates are methodical, carefully consider every change to Minecraft as a whole, and deliver meaningful improvements without disrupting the core of what makes Minecraft special.
A community divided
The Minecraft community is unimaginably vast, with over 141 million players joining Minecraft monthly at the end of 2021. To ascertain the views of the wider Minecraft player base on the game's update cadence, I collected data from a slice of the community by combining a Twitter poll with my own observations of Minecraft players speaking online. What I discovered is that the Minecraft community is divided over how they feel about Minecraft's updates.
Many players strongly feel that Minecraft isn't updated enough and could benefit from more frequent releases and more ambitious changes. An almost equal number of players I've observed mirror my perspective that Minecraft is updated an appropriate amount. Finally, a small subset of players expressed that Minecraft is updated too much, with constant tweaks occasionally making it difficult to jump in and play without confusion.
The most vocal group was, understandably, those who believe Minecraft isn't updated enough and that Mojang Studios simply moves too slowly. All of these perspectives are valid in their own way, but this view most commonly feels blown out of proportion.
Waiting on Xbox Series X|S
The single largest complaint I see repeatedly surface in regard to Minecraft is a topic I've previously discussed in-depth — Minecraft on Xbox Series X|S still lacks current-gen optimizations or features, including the long-rumored and awaited ray-tracing update. I've personally expressed how disappointing Minecraft on Xbox Series X and S consoles can be, especially given Mojang Studios continued lack of communication. Still, this singular fault overshadows all nuance in the conversation.
Any Minecraft update that doesn't include the Xbox Series X|S features many Minecraft players fully expected to have been implemented months ago is immediately not good enough. Regardless of whatever new content additions, quality-of-life improvements, underlying system changes, and more may be included in a Minecraft update, the continued omission of Xbox Series X|S Optimization is seemingly impossible for many Minecraft players to look past.
Unrelated discussions in the Minecraft community are constantly interrupted by the same questions and complaints, while moments and announcements worthy of celebration are assailed by pinpricks of negativity scattered throughout. You can find negativity anywhere you go on the internet, but this particular point emerges everywhere Minecraft is mentioned, and hails from a wide variety of sources and voices.
It needs to be said that these complaints are valid. Minecraft is a massive game, and Mojang Studios is a first-party studio under Microsoft. It should be enhanced and updated to run better on Microsoft's Xbox Series X|S consoles. The fact of the matter is, we simply don't know when or even if this update is arriving; it's a mystery. That doesn't mean that all other Minecraft updates we receive in the meantime are suddenly lessened because of this.
Mojang Studios is populated by undeniably talented and passionate individuals, each of whom contributes to Minecraft's lasting greatness. I sincerely hope we see a future update that brings ray tracing or other enhancements to current-gen consoles like Xbox Series X and S, but I don't want that hope to take away from the incredible content we're getting right now.
In the years since I became involved in the Minecraft community, every content update and patch has been met with claims that it doesn't add or change enough. Minecraft updates take a long time to develop and test, and it's easy to nitpick the final product and claim it wasn't worth the wait. This is especially easy to do when Mojang Studios is so transparent about upcoming updates, often showcasing all the features and additions — while letting players test those features themselves through betas and snapshots — months in advance.
Most of the time these complaints are the minority and aren't worth dwelling on, especially when millions of happy players drown out those naysayers after each update by simply jumping in and playing. However, the announcement of the Caves and Cliffs Update, and its subsequent split and partial delay, saw a dramatic increase in players complaining about the scope of finished updates.
The Caves and Cliffs Update promised to be among the most ambitious and grand Minecraft updates yet, with dozens of new features and massive all-encompassing changes to world generation. The update was slated to arrive midway through 2021, but a variety of factors prevented the update from releasing in its original form. With the COVID-19 pandemic altering how companies work, especially in video game development, and the scope of the Caves and Cliffs Update proving to be even more ambitious than Mojang Studios originally projected, it was inevitable that the update would be delayed.
Instead of delaying the entire update and leaving players bereft of new Minecraft content for close to a year, Mojang decided to split the release into two parts. Part One would include most of the new mobs, blocks, and mechanics of the wider Caves and Cliffs Update, while Part Two would release later in the year with the more difficult changes to implement, like increased world heights and depths, renewed and more varied world generation, and more.
Overall, this approach was a positive one. Players got access to content early than they may otherwise have, while Mojang Studios had ample time to adapt to a changing work environment and ensure the standard of quality expected from Minecraft updates. It's never fun for players to see games and updates be delayed, but in this situation, I observed earlier complaints about Minecraft's update ambitions and release cadence become exasperated by the split and delay.
Caves and Cliffs Update Part Two was, below the surface, a far more ambitious and involved update than its small sibling, and required significant amounts of work to bring to life. However, being removed from its other half by several months and lacking many of the player-facing features meant some players summed it up as "new caves" and used it as a platform to disparage Minecraft updates in general, despite the update completely overhauling world generation both below and above ground.
With The Wild Update self-professed as a more modest release focused more on improvements and a few headlining additions, this mindset has continued to grow in volume in the Minecraft community. This is an unfortunate byproduct of these decriers not looking past the second half of the Caves and Cliffs Update and perceiving both halves as one whole.
Minecraft's updates may move slower than other games-as-a-service, but each release feels intentional and thoughtful in its design and scope. Mojang Studios constantly evaluates how any changes affect Minecraft's delicate balance of gameplay and world, and absorb feedback from dedicated players throughout development to ensure that the final product is polished and fun. The Caves and Cliffs Update indubitably arrived slower than it was originally intended to, but the final product is still a significant departure from the Minecraft of before.
Not like other games
At the end of the day, Minecraft is a game-as-a-service in the basest possible terms, trading the aggressive monetizing policies and smaller, more frequent updates commonly associated with other GaaS titles for an everlasting gameplay loop sustained purely by its impossibly large community. The endless updates streaming to Minecraft aren't the reason players keep returning, and the rate at which these updates arrive isn't nearly as important for such an influential game.
I too often observe players gaining "tunnel vision" when analyzing Minecraft's update strategy. Granted, the information I've gathered over months and years is from a relatively tiny sample of players in comparison to the greater Minecraft community, but that vocal minority has become increasingly prevalent in recent months. The vast majority of Minecraft's players, on the other hand, likely never give much thought to updates and new releases.
I've seen players who have sunk dozens of hours into Minecraft over years discover something new to them that was introduced five updates ago, and it doesn't take away from that experience in any way. I've been that player, before; it doesn't matter when you're having fun.
Minecraft is distinctly unique because it doesn't rely on constant updates to keep its players interested; Minecraft players return to the game time and time again because it's reliable, relaxing fun that can't be replicated by any other game. If the absurd amount of content available in the vanilla game isn't enough, Minecraft offers an entire universe of community-created mods, maps, adventures, and so much more for players to explore.
When Minecraft is updated, Mojang Studios pours time and effort into every iteration to ensure players' feedback is heard; the update adheres to Minecraft's core philosophies; and that the game overall remains purely fun for the varied players of all types and ages, wherever they are in the world. This process takes time, and it can feel even longer due to the process inviting players on the journey rather than shocking them with a sudden release. The lack of desired changes, like a current-gen upgrade, can add to this feeling and be frustrating at times.
Minecraft isn't like other games, however, and doesn't need to match those titles with its updates to remain relevant. There are always ways Mojang Studios can improve and build upon Minecraft, but the game right now is more than capable of standing the test of time. Minecraft's updates don't detract from what makes Minecraft the greatest game ever made, and instead, add to the ways we can have fun playing.
A gaming masterpiece
Available everywhere you play
Minecraft is an inarguable and complete success. It has sold copies in the hundreds of millions, has a huge following of dedicated players, and lets you unlock your every creative desire. It's also available on every platform imaginable, including Xbox, Windows 10, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, Android, and iOS. Play with anyone and play anywhere.
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Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.
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