Minecraft is a lot of things to a lot of people. Many gamers may write it off as nothing more than a child's game. Others may overlook it as irrelevant in the incredibly vibrant video game world of 2020. Countless more still see Minecraft as an incredible game filled with endless possibilities. There's a grain of truth everywhere, as Minecraft continues to be one of our top picks for the Best Xbox Games for Kids, there were genuinely a ridiculous number of amazing games released this year (like what was featured in our Windows Central Game Awards), and—most importantly—Minecraft had its biggest year yet in 2020.
This year has been filled with change, hardships, and surprising pockets of unerring light scattered amidst all the chaos we've found. This has been no less true with video games, and changing work environments hasn't stopped Mojang Studios from going from strength to strength with Minecraft. While 2020 may have been the most successful year so far for Minecraft, arguably the world's most famous game is already looking to top itself in 2021.
An overview of success
Minecraft was initially released in 2009, and since then has captured players old and new alike with a constant onslaught of updates, new content, and evolution that continues to make Minecraft's classic and studied gameplay feel modern in 2020. In particular, this year was a big one, both behind-the-scenes and for Minecraft's millions of players. Let's take a look at highlights from Mojang Studios and Minecraft in 2020.
- Mojang is no more. Earlier this year, Mojang celebrated 11 years of Minecraft with a company-wide rebrand to Mojang Studios with a new logo. This also was a celebration of Mojang Studios' expansion, with new games and studios all over the world.
- Hundreds of millions. This year, Minecraft officially crossed over 200 million copies sold, and just a few months later crossed 131 million monthly active users, proving that Minecraft is still a gaming juggernaut both in sales and engagement.
- The biggest update yet. Every year usually comes with one sizeable Minecraft update. This year brought us the Nether Update, a truly massive release that completely overhauled the Nether, which hasn't seen meaningful change since its release. The Nether Update was well-received and created a ton of engagement online for Minecraft.
- A part of the family. Microsoft acquired Mojang Studios years ago, but 2020 is the year it truly felt like they were becoming one. Minecraft officially migrated its private Realm servers to Microsoft Azure, and Mojang Accounts are being merged into Microsoft Accounts.
- Education for the masses. The oft-forgotten Minecraft: Education Edition saw lots of growth this year, and most notably released in full for Chromebooks, massively opening up who has access to this educational version of Minecraft.
- How do they make Minecraft? Earlier this year, Minecraft started possibly their best YouTube series yet with How We make Minecraft - Episode 1, which is a humorous introspective into the behind-the-scenes of all things Minecraft. Sit back and enjoy the series, with a total of five episodes out so far: Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4, and Episode 5.
- Ray-traced glory. Ray tracing is the latest craze in video games, allowing accurate lighting, reflections, and shadows. If you have the right hardware, that is. Minecraft with RTX ray tracing started testing earlier this year, and the dramatic (and beautiful) effects of ray tracing were the most significant change in Minecraft's visuals since launch. Now, Minecraft with RTX ray tracing is officially available to everyone on Windows 10.
Minecraft through 2020 is a little different from previous years because there are now two full-blown Minecraft games out in the wild. Alongside all of the wonderful things the vanilla Minecraft we know and love accomplished, Mojang Studios successfully expanded the Minecraft universe into something that can now be considered a franchise. Enter the co-op focused, dungeon-crawling, gear-looting ARPG Minecraft Dungeons, which combines classic Minecraft visuals, mobs, and locations into an all-new genre.
- An actual contender. Minecraft Dungeons was looked at by some as a frankly ridiculous venture by Mojang Studios, but our Minecraft Dungeons review showed that Mojang Studios' second full-blown game had a shot at being one of the best ARPGs in the business.
- Nonstop content. Rather than rest on its laurels for the first year, Minecraft Dungeons has released expansion after expansion with new content, free updates, improvements, and so much more. It all started with Jungle Awakens, then Creeping Winter followed right after, and Mojang Studios closed out 2020 with the release of Howling Peaks.
- Play better together. Minecraft Dungeons fixed one of its biggest omissions at launch by finally adding cross-play support earlier this year. Want to play Dungeons with your friends? Here's how to enable cross-platform multiplayer in Minecraft Dungeons.
- Surprisingly great on phones. Minecraft Dungeons was supposed to be too much for phones, but the power of Xbox Cloud Gaming (Project xCloud) made it possible. Minecraft Dungeons became a hero game for Microsoft and Xbox Cloud Gaming; Minecraft Dungeons' genuinely excellent touch controls, gameplay perfectly suited for mobile devices, and ease-of-play quickly made Minecraft Dungeons our top option in the Best Games for Xbox Cloud Gaming.
Dedicated Minecraft fans may have noticed my omission so far with Minecraft Earth. Mojang Studios' mobile AR spin-off of Minecraft from 2019 is still around, but missteps at launch and an aggressively moving mobile environment mean Minecraft Earth isn't in a much better place than it was at the end of last year. That being said, Mojang Studios has continued to update and support Minecraft Earth through 2020 with new content, Seasons, and more, which is commendable in itself.
2020 saw Minecraft and Mojang Studios go from strength-to-strength throughout the year, an impressive accomplishment that captured the attention of new gamers, drew back players that had previously stopped playing, and made people genuinely excited about Minecraft again. But it wasn't without struggle.
Strength from strife
You'd have to be hiding deep inside a Minecraft cave not to realize what kind of year 2020 has been. The entire year has been overshadowed by a global pandemic, which has taken hundreds of thousands of lives and kept us all more-or-less locked inside. This has also meant enormous consequences and changes for, well, literally everything, with many companies making moves to allow employees to work entirely from home.
Mojang Studios was not exempt from this, and their team has been working mostly from home for much of the year. Despite these profound changes, the team has continued to work hard on Minecraft, releasing update after update to fix bugs, add features, and ensure that Minecraft works for the millions of newfound gamers spending more time at home.
This also meant the unfortunate postponement of the much-anticipated Minecraft Festival. Even then, Mojang Studios smoothly pivoted to the online-only Minecraft Live event that was engaging, professional, and provided Minecraft players with tons of new information about everything Minecraft.
Because of this, however, more people than ever are playing games, spending on games, and enjoying game time with friends and families. From the runaway success of games like Among Us to the continued shortages of next-gen consoles like the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S (if you're still looking for your own, here's where to buy the Xbox Series X|S), and everything in between, people are going online to play; Minecraft has had to grow to encompass the millions of new gamers out there. I can attest to their success since my significant other and I built a literal pet cemetery in Minecraft earlier this year.
Minecraft's overbearing success through strife in 2020 hasn't just been about Mojang Studios' efforts, either. People are finding creative ways to use Minecraft for more than just casual fun, and some of my favorite moments from the past year have been seeing all the things Minecraft players are accomplishing.
- No more censorship. The Uncensored Library provided a safe place for people living in countries where censorship and oppression run rampant to access censored articles, journals, and more.
- Use your voice. Build the Vote combined Minecraft, Sid Lee, and Rock the Vote to educate and encourage children to participate in their local elections. Build the Vote even held a mock vote on a few of the critical issues affecting people today.
- Learn at home. Microsoft made Minecraft: Education Edition more accessible to students at home, and released a ton of free Education Edition content in the Minecraft Marketplace for parents to use with their children.
- Virtual graduation. College students denied an in-person graduation ceremony recreated their entire campus in Minecraft to hold a virtual graduation.
- Improving their homes. Young girls in Sweden use Minecraft to test and design community improvements that can actually be turned into real projects for their neighborhoods.
- A safe place for all. Autcraft is a Minecraft server that provides a safe place for Minecraft players on the spectrum and is run by a father.
2020 is drawing to a close, and Minecraft has been there every step of the way to provide an outlet for people seeking it. But Minecraft has also been an active tool used by communities, organizations, and more to improve the world around them. Just like Minecraft translates to schools and facilities as an educational tool, it's clearer now than ever before that Minecraft is more than just a video game.
Looking ahead to 2021
The holidays have started for everyone, and before we know it, this year will be in the rearview mirror, and we'll be on to what comes in 2021. Mojang Studios has already been thinking about that, with the announcement of the Caves and Cliffs Update for Minecraft, rivaled in size only by the Nether Update released earlier this year. Minecraft Dungeons is planning a total of three new expansions for 2021, included in a new Season Pass, for $20 at Microsoft (opens in new tab), alongside the Howling Peaks DLC.
New updates, higher goals, and more extraordinary accomplishments all await Minecraft in 2021. Despite being positively ancient in the video games world, Minecraft keeps getting stronger, not weaker, and people who have never played video games before are still drawn to Minecraft. It's clear, looking at our list of Best Minecraft Merch, Gifts, and Collectibles that Minecraft is a lot more than a video game at this point, and the power of its name isn't degrading as we head into a new year.
I, for one, am very excited to see how Minecraft surprises and delights in the new year and how it seeks to once again best itself compared to one of the most successful years Minecraft has ever had.
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 One, Windows 10, Playstation 4, and Nintendo Switch. Play with anyone, and play anywhere.
Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer primarily focused on covering the latest news, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life, and have been with Windows Central and its sister sites since 2019. While originally brought on to write about all things Minecraft, Zachary has since expanded to write about practically everything that Windows Central covers. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.