Oh Minecraft Earth, we hardly knew ye. Microsoft's promising Minecraft x Pokemon Go augmented reality mash-up seemed like an obvious win for the company. Combining one of the largest video game franchises of all time with elements of one of the most successful mobile phone games of all time should have been an easy victory, but in familiar Microsoft fashion, a greedy monetization scheme not only betrays the game's core fans, it completely misses the point of what Minecraft is. It makes me wonder if the people who made this game are actually familiar with Minecraft's audience and gameplay.
This is the unfiltered truth about Minecraft Earth, Microsoft's biggest missed opportunity in years.
The worst kind of "free to play" garbage
Back at E3 2019, Mojang told us directly, in what now feels like a bare-faced lie, that Minecraft Earth would take an "ethical" approach to monetization. They said the game "would follow Minecraft's base game" for monetization, which means cosmetic DLC and add-ons, right? Mojang must have known this is how their spin would have been interpreted, so either they were simply lying outright, or something changed between launch and June 2019.
Minecraft Earth slaps you in the face and asks for your wallet every time you want to build.
Minecraft Earth's monetization is utter garbage fire trash, the likes of which would make the most predatory pay-to-win mobile games blush. Minecraft Earth isn't a competitive game by any means, but it forces players to put a value on something most of us have in short supply these days: time.
It wouldn't be so bad if the gameplay revolved around singular activities. Still, even when you put the greed aside, the time-gating just undermines Minecraft Earth's, and Minecraft's core gameplay. The stupidity behind this monetization system is truly staggering and makes me wonder how it ever emerged out of a board room and into the game.
In Minecraft Earth, you can only craft one stack of a particular item at any one time, and the crafting process is time gated, pouring lava all over Minecraft's core creative premise. If I want to build something as basic as a farmhouse for my chickens, I have to build a stack of wood, wait 30 minutes, build a stack of fences, wait 30 minutes, build some stairs, wait 30 minutes — you get the idea. The whole selling point of Minecraft is that you have the freedom to build. Minecraft Earth, however, slaps you in the face every time you want to build, and then asks you to pay up cash to circumvent its utter bullshit.
Is it really that bad?
I can already hear some people out there saying "just pay up, peasant, it can't be that expensive, the game is free after all." Crafting a stack of stairs right now costs either 20 minutes of your hard-earned free time or fifteen rubies. Forty rubies cost £1.99 to buy, and you do get up to thirty per day, for free while hitting tappables.
The fact you can't just build when you want to makes the game disengaging.
It might seem cheap, but factor in the other materials, factor in wanting to build more interesting things, and factor in playing more and more over time. Not to mention rarer items like the Diamond Pickaxe, take hours to craft. Those costs add up, and Minecraft Earth, like many of its other predatory contemporaries, is relying on youngster's inability to perceive expenses over time in order to sell user's time back to them. I shouldn't have to do a mathematical equation to figure out whether or not I can realistically play and enjoy the game without buying in. It's the lowest form of manipulation, and it makes me sick.
Minecraft's base game conversely has a one-off payment of $20, or less, if you grab it in a sale. With that $20, you can build infinitely, without any restrictions, which is the entire point of Minecraft.
The fact you can't just build when you want to makes the game disengaging. The fact the game hasn't achieved any sort of virality despite being broadly available in Microsoft's core markets speaks volumes to me. People can't be bothered to wait for the crafting systems to tell players when they're allowed to play. It's dumb. It's bad design. And it's greedy. The game doesn't deserve your money.
Minecraft Earth, at its core, should've been an obvious victory for Mojang and Microsoft. It has all the right elements of an industry-leading mobile game. I wrote in my preview that it might make me stop hating mobile gaming. Heh, how naive of me.
I'm not suggesting Minecraft Earth should have zero monetization, just that it should put the greed to one side and give us the "ethical" monetization they suggested the game would have from the outset. Because what we have here is just frustrating trash that literally says to me, as someone who can weigh up costs over time, "stop playing the game for 30 minutes and come back later." It's frustrating, angering, as someone who loves Minecraft, loves Mojang, and honestly, loved what I played of Minecraft Earth before they patched in this impressive stupidity.
There are multiple obvious ways Microsoft could fix this if it put the greed down for one minute. Let us buy the game with a one-off payment to remove the restrictions. Maybe add regular crafting for users who have Xbox Game Pass or Minecraft Realms.
Microsoft needs to decide whether it wants Minecraft Earth to just be another one of those whale-chasing games for rich people with more money than sense, manipulating youngster's patience levels for money, or a game that is more than just a cash grab. Just because other mobile games do it, doesn't mean you have to do it, Microsoft.
All this is without discussing Minecraft Earth's other problems, like the lack of things to do in the overworld, the terrible algorithm for the AR adventures that repeatedly asks me to enter off-limits areas, while ignoring highly-populated areas (yes I've reported them, no they haven't been fixed). It's a blessing that Microsoft is calling Minecraft Earth "Early Access," since it gives Mojang some time to fix the game.
A Microsoft spokesperson offered us this comment based on my concerns, so it's pretty clear Mojang is open to feedback. But if enough "rich" users are paying in, I have to wonder whether or not this feedback will fall on deaf ears.
Our priority with "Minecraft Earth" early access is to listen to player feedback and implement it as we expand. We encourage the community to share their ideas with us so we can continue to build the game together, just like the original Minecraft. These ideas and feedback can be shared at Minecraft.net here.
I get that a live service game needs on-going income, there just has to be a better way that doesn't undermine the spirit of Minecraft.