Minecraft Earth’s early access launch is now available in 25 countries. It’s been a quiet, understated launch, a long way from the initial frenzy that greeted a similar game, Pokémon Go, in 2016. But publisher Microsoft says it’s playing the long game.
The mobile augmented reality game’s initial rollout began in Iceland and New Zealand back in the middle of October, with the United States joining last week. Western Europe was added on Tuesday. Other countries, including Japan, Mexico, the Philippines, and South Korea, have also joined.
“We’re a patient company,” said game director Torfi Olafsson. “They [Pokémon Go] did very well. We would like to do very well. But no one is demanding global saturation on day one. I believe that a community that grows slowly is stronger and more resilient.”
In Minecraft Earth, players collect building materials, called tappables, from their neighborhoods. They can also play in communal instances called “adventures.” which are generally located in gathering spots, like parks. Players then create their own augmented-reality 3D structures, like in Minecraft, but they can be supersized and inhabited by the player.
When asked about a general lack of public or media buzz surrounding the game, Olafsson added: “This game is best for a very wide audience. We haven’t done any aggressive marketing on it. We let people know it exists and let it grow from spreading by word of mouth. We’re not losing sleep over it.”
For now, the game lacks the full functionality that’s planned for later updates, including content sharing, which Olafsson views as key.
“One of the pillars of Minecraft is the ability to play socially,” he said. “Moving forward, we’re going to be adding social features and the ability to play together.
“Right now we’re taking in all the feedback from players. We’re adding more adventures and deepening the adventure experience. We’re adding classic Minecraft features, fixing bugs and improving performance.”
Olafsson said that a larger publicity push will likely come when the game has proven its stability, and more functionality has been added. “At some point we will move into a phase where we feel that it’s ready for prime time, and we’ll make a big hoo-ha about it,” he said. “When that moment is isn’t exactly clear but you’ll know it when you see it.”
Scaling up has caused some technical issues, according to Olafsson, especially when the game jumped from smaller test countries to larger nations.
“We were able to build an architecture that allows us to scale really quickly,” he said. “But of course things break. We’ve got multiple systems communicating with each other. Big pipes [of data] that are connected by what turns out to be a pipe that’s too small. Everything’s fine but then the pipe bursts. You don’t notice those weak links until you’ve gone live.”
He said teething issues had been addressed, but the effort is ongoing.
Ultimately, the team is sticking to its softly-softly plan of updates. “We could have let the game cook for another six months or a year before we released it. We could have finished more of the features,” he said. “But that’s not how the original Minecraft was built. It was created with the community. And that’s how we’re building this game.”