Earlier in April 2021, I published an article that discussed why Mojang Studios often feels like an underfunded indie studio, despite the success of Minecraft. The article resonated with many, but it also surfaced a topic holding the attention of vocal Minecraft players for several months now. In this follow-up article, we're diving deeper into Minecraft and how it fits on Microsoft's next-gen Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S consoles. More specifically, how Minecraft on Xbox Series X|S has proven incredibly disappointing, both as it exists now and its potential.
We already have extensive resources that reveal when Minecraft with ray tracing is coming to Xbox Series X|S (spoiler: we don't know), so don't expect any brilliant revelations or new information reveals here. Instead, I want to take a closer look at why Minecraft on Xbox Series X|S is an unfortunate disappointment, and how it connects to the larger weaknesses at Mojang Studios (despite the very talented people who work there).
The Super Duper promise
The journey to deliver a meaningful upgrade to Minecraft without the use of community-made shaders in Minecraft: Java Edition actually began with the Minecraft Super Duper Graphics Pack, announced as an extensive upgrade to Minecraft: Bedrock Edition for the Xbox One X and PC. With the Super Duper Graphics Pack, Mojang Studios would use the more powerful GPU and increased RAM of the Xbox One X to deliver superior textures and lighting with HDR support at up to 4K resolutions.
The Minecraft community was understandably ecstatic about the prospect of an upgraded Minecraft, which hadn't seen any significant changes to its visuals since its initial release (other than a plethora of minor texture changes and updates). However, after the initial reveal at E3 2017, the Minecraft community was met with silence from Mojang Studios for two years. It culminated in Mojang Studios announcing that the Super Duper Graphics Pack had been canceled in 2019 due to poor performance.
The frustration from Minecraft players was palpable following the release, but the decision was understandable. Regardless, this marked the first time that Xbox players were met with disappointment concerning an upgraded Minecraft experience on more powerful hardware, and it certainly wasn't going to be the last.
The reality we're left with
While Mojang Studios' decision to put an end to the Super Duper Graphics Pack for Minecraft was unfortunate, it wasn't a dealbreaker. Minecraft: Bedrock Edition still runs great on Xbox One X and other consoles, and supports modern features like cross-play, a universal Marketplace, textures that change the look and feel of the game, and much more. Minecraft: Bedrock Edition doesn't support mods, but it still offers a fantastic and modern Minecraft experience for players on Xbox, PlayStation, PC, Switch, and mobile devices.
Players on PC also have access to Minecraft: Java Edition, which includes support for shaders and other tools to customize and upgrade the game's visuals (albeit with some pretty major performance caveats and trade-offs).
The continued silence from Mojang Studios was expected until the next generation of consoles, like Microsoft's Xbox Series X|S. But the developer's silence persevered with renewed boldness and determination, and frustration from Minecraft players has grown steadily in the months since the Xbox Series X|S launch.
Mojang Studios' lack of action isn't ideal when you consider it's a Microsoft first-party developer and the team behind the largest and most successful game in the world. The strange lapse in communication reaches new heights in disappointment when you realize that Minecraft actually appears to run worse on the Xbox Series X|S than the Xbox One consoles (a rarity for Microsoft's generally excellent backward compatibility program).
In the six months since the Xbox Series X|S arrived, I've noticed more dropped frames and lag than I ever experienced on Xbox One X, despite the fact that my Xbox Series X is considerably more powerful. I haven't observed improvements to load times from the SSD in Xbox Series X|S consoles, which benefits the vast majority of backward compatible titles. The game doesn't take advantage of backward-compatible features like Auto HDR for increased contrast or FPS Boost for improved performance, either. Minecraft on Xbox Series X|S doesn't even support Xbox Quick Resume, which allows Xbox Series X and S to suspend multiple games on its SSD (even original Xbox and Xbox 360 games!) and switch back and forth between them quickly.
The end result? Minecraft gains zero benefits from being played on the best Xbox console you can buy today, and occasionally plays worse than it did on older hardware. All of this, and there has been complete silence from Mojang Studios about what we can expect for the future of Minecraft on next-gen consoles. To make matters worse, players have been tantalized with a sneak peek at what is possible on Xbox Series X|S with Minecraft with RTX on Windows 10.
Ray tracing is so close
Mojang Studios has actually released a significant official enhancement for Minecraft: Bedrock Edition with support for real-time ray tracing. Minecraft with RTX ray tracing completely changes the game by totally overhauling Minecraft's established visuals. The caveat? Minecraft with RTX is exclusive to Windows 10 PCs combined with NVIDIA's high-end RTX GPUs, which are some of the best PC GPUs around. For gamers playing Minecraft in the right place with the right hardware, real-time ray tracing can be enabled to bring realistic lighting, shadows, reflections, textures, and more to Minecraft with absolutely gorgeous results.
When Minecraft with RTX was revealed, and subsequently updated and tweaked up to its public release, players assumed it was destined for the latest consoles. After all, Mojang Studios hinted that it wants to bring Minecraft with ray tracing to other platforms. Minecraft with RTX also utilizes the power of the same Render Dragon engine and DirectX APIs, with support real-time ray tracing with AMD's RDNA 2 GPUs present on Xbox Series X|S.
In fact, one of the earliest demonstrations of hardware-accelerated ray tracing on Xbox Series X|S actually used Minecraft, although Microsoft was quick to say this was a technical demonstration and not a product announcement.
Minecraft with RTX was officially released for Windows 10 PCs at the end of 2020, and fans have waited for the same technologies to head to Xbox Series X|S. Subtle clues have hinted that Mojang Studios is working on it, like backend traces and updates to newer versions of DirectX, but players have been met with a wall of silence.
The time differences between Windows 10 and Xbox Series X|S gaining ray tracing support for Minecraft could be summed up to the difference between NVIDIA and AMD GPUs (NVIDIA has been at the forefront of ray tracing in gaming for ages now, while AMD is comparatively new), but the fact remains that we can't even be 100% confident that Mojang Studios is working on bringing Minecraft with ray tracing to Xbox Series X|S.
It seems obvious when looking at all the information we possess that this has to be what Mojang Studios is cooking up for a next-gen Minecraft, right? But there's zero indication from Mojang Studios that a next-gen upgrade for Minecraft is coming at all, let alone with real-time ray tracing support.
Talent and technical challenge
One thing that I once again want to make very clear: I have a ton of respect for Mojang Studios and the work that they do. Mojang is filled with extremely talented individuals who work tirelessly and passionately to deliver on the ambitions and promises of the Minecraft franchise. Even when casting a criticizing eye on Mojang Studios or Minecraft, it's not okay to levy that same frustration against individual team members, who likely love Minecraft just as much as you do.
Beyond talent, there are also the technical challenges of making any of this a reality. Minecraft with RTX on Windows 10 isn't even fully finished despite its public release (it still relies on creator-made worlds) and bringing that same technology to Xbox Series X|S means a ton of work and effort that everyday people will likely never see. There's also the broad scope of Minecraft to take into consideration and all the other work that goes into making that game as great as it is.
Whether or not a next-gen upgrade for Minecraft is happening, we can rest assured knowing some of the most talented people in the video games industry would be working on it. As with many things, though, frustration and disappointment tend to grow over time (especially with a lack of updates or communication).
Where do we go from here?
When you observe the broader picture and take everything presented into consideration, the future for Minecraft on Xbox Series X|S becomes increasingly muddled. Between the absence of communication from Mojang Studios, the depressing state of Minecraft in backward-compatible mode, and a lack of any updates to resolve these issues on Xbox Series X|S, things aren't looking great.
Minecraft with RTX on Windows 10 is the only ray of hope that players really have to bask in, but even that is cast over with a myriad of doubts and confusion. No matter how you look at the situation, it all comes back to Mojang Studios and how their tendency to make strange decisions and keep cards close to their chest leads to Mojang Studios feeling like it doesn't have the people or resources necessary to deliver on promises (even though it absolutely does).
Minecraft on Xbox Series X|S is an unfortunate disappointment. Even more frustrating is how easy it would be for Mojang Studios to alleviate the vast majority of concerns from the Minecraft community. Issues with Minecraft running in backward compatible mode notwithstanding, simple communication from Mojang Studios would go a long way towards restoring faith in the studio behind the largest game in the world and its support of Microsoft's hardware.
Mojang Studios gives off an air of a healthy communicative relationship with their community with their ongoing Ask Mojang YouTube series, How We Make Minecraft, and active social media accounts. There are massive holes in these methods, however, as meaningful information is rarely revealed other than through big announcements.
Whether or not Minecraft joins the list of Xbox Series X|S Optimized titles (I'd like to think it will), an update from the developer would dispel many of the doubts plaguing Minecraft players. We don't need a lot of information (especially before Mojang Studios is ready), but confirmation that something is being done to bring Minecraft into the next generation is necessary to help restore faith in a developer riddled with the consequences of its strange decisions.
Even with the faults of Mojang Studios and the lack of a next-gen upgrade, Minecraft remains as one of the best Xbox games and one of the best games on any platform in general.
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.