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Minecraft Earth's terrible monetization schemes undermine the whole point of 'Minecraft'

Minecraft Earth
Minecraft Earth (Image credit: Windows Central)

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

Minecraft Earth

Source: Windows Central Minecraft Earth, a game which holds your free time to ransom. (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

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?

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

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.

Totally salvageable

Source: Windows Central Minecraft Earth asks me to build something, except it won't let me due to time-gating. (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

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.

Jez Corden
Jez Corden

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!

11 Comments
  • Shocker, mobile game does what all mobile games do and ppl wonder why gamers hate mobile games... I'm still playing it 👀
  • I agree, though it feels like a bit of an overreaction to publish a whole article about it. There's also the other half of the issue that even if you don't mind constantly hopping in and out of the game every 30 minutes to craft things... there's not really a whole lot of incentive to even do so right now. Your creations are limited to a small grid size and right now only you can see it. So why bother with the grind when you can just hop in Minecraft proper and make it instantly, and probably instantly share it on your realm or multiplayer server?
  • The fact that others can't see your creations is full on bonkers lol. Like did Microsoft actually watch any of the big high budget commercials they produced for this game? Maybe it's because I wasn't following to closely overall, but my entire expectation of this game was that you would walk around wave your phone around as a window into this new world people were laying over top of ours. It reminded me of the MR art project weirdness from one of William Gibson's later series and seemed like it could be great. Who would have guessed that just as we begin to really breach into the weird cyberpunk world hypercapitalist greed and stupidity would absolutely **** up all of the fun lol.
  • You're right Jez, this is awful and ruins the game for me. I was looking forward to play it but I don't want this crap. Mobile games are crap and this proves it. They translated a solid game into crap. Geniuses.
  • This really did have some potential. They could have easily made another billion off of this property had they... Oh God they're still gonna make more money off of this flaming dumpster dive than my entire family has for like 1000 generations lol. World is a ****
  • But... It was fine with Gears Pop!? Of course, it's a money-making scheme... Everyone knew this before it launched. Pay Walls are always in these types of games.
  • An article complaining about monetization in a Mobile game. There is a reason I don't play mobile phone games. They are free to download and cost an arm and a leg to play. Microsoft allow Mojang to do as they please. Releasing games in all platforms. Maybe Microsoft should rain them in a bit? Gears Pop is probably the first mobike gane I've ever played that doesn't feel like you have to buy anything.
  • When this article was posted, I was waiting to see who would defend this.
    Sure enough here you are Richard.
    1) First, you try to downplay almost trying to justify it just because it's a mobile game.
    2) Next, you tried to blame Mojang for this as if it's the devs and not publishers who wants to add this kind of microtransactions. LOL
    Here is a newsflash for you, microtransactions in Minecraft only started once MS bought them. https://www.tweaktown.com/news/57063/minecraft-soon-microtransactions/in...
    Before that, Mojang only used to joke about having them in their game.
    https://www.engadget.com/2011/04/01/april-fools-minecraft-update-also-ad...
    3) And finally you end your post trying to hype and sell another MS mobile game. First, damage control by downplaying what happened, next others but not the beloved company you worship, and finally try to sell a product of the company you worship.
    Perfect post by a nice company "fan". Well done.
  • I do think the tone of this piece is a hit harsh, but I think it's got some solid points, particularly with regard to game play. I'm not sure I agree with the concern about time-gating, but it's a fair point. I've been playing when I walk my dog, picking up tappables and playing an adventure or two when we go to a park. This is my first Minecraft experience, so I can't compare it to other versions. I think the main issue I've wondered about is who this is targeted to? I don't see many kids wandering around their neighborhoods picking up tappables. Seems like most American parents these days are afraid to let their kids get out of their child-safety seats.
  • Nintendo's mobile games like Mario Kart Tour or Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp also have really bad monetization and practices. I don't know what's with these console makers. Maybe because they are in the mobile space they think it's ok to do this bs...
    I'm not really surprise about MS though. They are one of the best when it comes to microtransactions and pushing to convert games into services. I see quite a few people trying to downplay this, just because it's a mobile game.
    This article is actually great. It's important to give good feedback. This should also be a statement. A statement to show that they are different from other mobile games.
    And even more with what they said about the "ethical" approach.
    ofc this is also about trying to improve the game and make it successful. Blindly doing damage control and criticising this article is actually making things worse for everyone...
  • I don't see what's so bad about it... I mean, you can craft three stacks of items at the same time(in a newer version, anyway). Rubies are also easy to get, just tap on tappables and save your rubies up.