Minecraft Earth: Believe the hype, this is the next big thing

Pretty soon everybody is going to be talking about Minecraft Earth, the next mobile game craze that's nothing short of mind-blowing.

It's hugely ambitious, free to play and uses augmented reality (AR) technology to blend Minecraft with the real world around you when you play it.

The basic Minecraft, from developers Mojang, has just turned 10 years old and boasts around 112 million active monthly users - but Earth is probably going to add several million to that number.

Saxs Persson, the game's creative director, says Minecraft Earth was created to "take the game outside and show the beauty of Minecraft to people who have never experienced it".

"For the people who say Minecraft isn't for them, this will give them a chance to see this bizarre world of 1m cubes and how it merges with the rest of the world, quite effortlessly," Persson tells Newshub.

"Minecraft Earth was founded to give people a way to meet around Minecraft in a less structured way. We always thought it would be really fun playing Minecraft not only online, but with people you meet and can look in the eye and play together ad-hoc multiplayer, like you would play in the playground as a kid."

I played Minecraft Earth recently and was blown away by the technology. It's a similar level of awe-inspiring wonder that I felt when I first experienced proper virtual reality.

Like any game that is a work-in-progress, it had a few errors and needed a lot of polish; but if Mojang delivers on the promise of what this thing has the potential to be, it'll be a genuine game-changer.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it, even as someone who isn't a Minecraft fan. But I'm going to enjoy it a heck of a lot more when I can play with my younger family members who are enormous Minecraft fans.

Seeing the creations they build in Earth at life-size scale we'll be able to explore together, that'll be a kind of magic.

"Some of the most viewed articles about Minecraft are about these huge mega-builds that people make, but those are just pictures," says Persson.

"If you could see the size, scale and impact of some of these amazing builds people have been making in Minecraft, but see them out in the real world - I think that will be pretty amazing.

"So a person in Tokyo who has made a perfectly crafted tribute to their favourite game or anime - you can watch a video of it and get an impression, but actually playing it and seeing it full-scale, we think that's very special."

Examples of life-size creations in Minecraft Earth.
Photo credit: Mojang

Minecraft Earth won't only be about building awesome stuff - the game also features Adventures, which are little slices of playable content placed all over the world.

One example would be turning the sidewalk outside your house into a diamond mine guarded by fighting skeletons, which can only be defeated by solving a puzzle with a buddy. 

"Adventures are for resource-gathering, discovering, adventuring, finding the materials you're missing so you can build the things you want to build," says Persson.

"They are also just clever puzzles. A very simple example would be four pressure plates to Indiana Jones-style open up the ground cover and get three or four friends together, the whole ground opens up and then things start shooting.

"Somebody then takes the role of defending everybody else while another person mines out, somebody else might have to attract all the fire over there."

Adventures can be hand-generated, but they'll always contain procedurally-generated elements so that they refresh and continually provide players with something different.

"You shouldn't encounter the exact same Adventure twice, unless you're going to the exact same location and doing the same Adventure every day for like a year straight."

People without family members or friends to play with will be able to play Adventures with strangers easily. If you're in a public place and see someone playing Minecraft Earth, joining each other's session is done by having one phone read a QR code off the other.

"It gives you an excuse to go out in the real world, play an Adventure and meet like-minded players that show up because they also want to go on an Adventure," says Persson.

"You'll make those connections with people you live near but never get a chance to interact with."

The game has been tested in five cities around the world. It builds its map of the real Earth using OpenStreetMap and is promising to reingest the entire planet once per month. 

"In the areas of the world where OpenStreetMap isn't strong today, it's up to the community to tell it where are the parks, where are the trails, where are the sidewalks, what streets are closed or open, what are the opening hours, etc," says Persson.

"We're finding that this makes people invest in their local community, they want their map to represent them. And we reward that, you get to see your neighbourhood through the eye of Minecraft."

Having to be invited into each other's games means it'll be difficult to go out and smash other people's creations. So that beautiful enormous structure you've spent months crafting can only be destroyed by someone you've given the chance to - not some random troll.

"Whatever you build is permanent, but it can also be permanently gone," says Persson.

"So if I invite you in and you set fire to my building, it's gone. Forever. It's rare in games these days to have real loss, but we think having that has had a lot to do with Minecraft's success."

Players will be able to create their own Adventures and share them with friends and strangers, too.

"You can become an instant Minecraft Earth celebrity if you make a map that everybody really loves. It's shared as easily as a link," says Persson.

"Eventually, we want those things to be permanently placed in the world. So you can take your favourite buildplate that you have made and everybody loves playing, put it in a public place for everybody to enjoy it and it'll stay there."

When the original Minecraft was first released, nobody realised just how impressive player creations in it would get.

Hopes for Minecraft Earth are, of course, very ambitious.

"We imagine there will be Shakespeare in the Park, fully recreated in Minecraft Earth. All the life-size sets will be made in the game, with pressure plates set up to activate all the stage effects and so on," says Persson.

"So you'll step up, the curtain will open, everyone comes out and performs and then the curtain slides shut. Why would I suggest something like that? Because I've seen it in vanilla Minecraft.

"But full-scale, with everybody doing coordinated actions, that would be amazing. Those types of crowd gatherings, using the game to do something truly spectacular - that's what we're hoping for."

"New Zealand is an incredible country for us, Minecraft: Education Edition has had great success there and we've actually spent a lot of time with the NZ Government," says Persson, before apologising that the game isn't available for Kiwis just yet.

"It's disappointing we can't launch everywhere at the same time, but don't worry, it is coming. And we're looking forward to the people in New Zealand using Minecraft Earth to beautify everything that they want to beautify."

An early access version of Minecraft Earth is being released in October, with more countries added every week until it's worldwide - including Aotearoa - by the end of the year.

Newshub attended a Minecraft Earth event in Tokyo as a guest of Microsoft.