Company / division: Minecraft
Microsoft Unifies its Minecraft Apps (Jun 12, 2017)
Alongside its Xbox One X announcement, one other big announcement Microsoft made at E3 is a unification of its Minecraft apps, such that several major versions will now be interoperable and available for social play between different platforms. Interestingly, the original PC version of the game is the one that will be left out from all this interoperability, but the mobile, Xbox, and VR, and even Nintendo Switch will all get it as a free upgrade to the current version. And in-game purchases (DLC) will also be available on each version. In many ways, it’s a quirk of the way the Minecraft apps have developed that they haven’t had this compatibility in the past – surely, many kids (and adults) have wanted to play these games on all their devices all along, and have had to make do with different incompatible versions instead. So this is at least a logical step, though the exclusion of the original PC version still feels a little odd.
Microsoft today held an education-focused event in New York City, at which it announced a stripped-down version of Windows, new end-user and teacher/administrator apps, and new hardware for the education market. This is by far the biggest and most comprehensive education push we’ve seen from any of the three big OS vendors, and is clearly intended to reassert Microsoft’s pre-eminent position in the education domain. What was evident from the first part of the event was how committed Microsoft is to making this work, and it began with an impassioned and personal talk from CEO Satya Nadella about his own family background and how education made a difference. Just as Microsoft’s AI mantra has been about democratizing the technology, so he now talks about democratizing educational opportunity. That’s a worthy goal, and Microsoft’s new announcements are a great way to try to bring that about, but Microsoft was also admirably realistic about the role technology plays in education: it assists and empowers but can’t replace committed teachers and parents or educational institutions. I have separate posts about Windows 10 S (here) and Surface Laptop (here). But I like the way Microsoft is introducing education into many of its existing products, including Office, Minecraft, Intune, and so on. Treating education as a first party audience alongside consumers and enterprises makes perfect sense, and is the route others have already taken. What Microsoft announced today feels like it will move its story forward in education considerably. Both Google and Apple have developed more comprehensive stories in education over the past couple of years too, but Microsoft’s arguably goes further, though developer events from the other two in the next six weeks could redress that balance a little.
On the face of it, this could look like the in-app purchase model that so many other games have used so successfully over the last few years, which would look like capitulation on the part of Microsoft to the prevailing model. However, even though the article implies towards the end that that’s what’s happening here, this is actually something different. Whereas the classic IAP model often holds progress in the game hostage to the purchase of various items through the medium of in-app currency, Minecraft has always eschewed that model, instead charging a high up-front fee to purchase the game in the first place, with a small number of in-app purchases for specific items. It is now opening up that latter model to a small number of third parties, and while the use of in-game currency as the medium may carry echoes of the classic IAP model, this is something very different. Given the addictive qualities of the IAP model, that’s a very good thing, given that the game’s audience is largely children. The last thing Microsoft wants is for Minecraft to get a reputation for being a sort of Candy Crush for kids, whereas it’s currently known as a game that has at least some educational qualities.