Just before the most recent Minecraft 1.19 (opens in a new tab) update released, I asked Mojang what is the future of Minecraft. Game director Agnes Larsson and developer Nir “Ulraf” Vaknin were unwilling to be specific about the features of the next major update; no wonder, they’ll probably save it for the next Minecraft Live showcase. Instead, we talk about how they’re still learning from other crafting competitors and how they want to “keep the magic of Minecraft” for another 10 years and more.
When the Minecraft alpha launched in 2010, it put survival and crafting on the map. A thousand other crafting games later, many also made from voxels, Minecraft remains the gold standard for sandbox creativity. I imagine it would be quite easy for Mojang to become complacent after using the crown for so long, become insular, and get ideas only from their own developers and players.
Larsson and Vaknin insisted that they would not call Minecraft better than the rest. (I would, though. You don’t risk sounding boastful coming from me.) But they do say that knowing what sets Minecraft apart means they can stick with it.
Larsson called it intrinsic motivation. “We should inspire and allow players to be creative in their own way,” he said, “but never dictate, never force anything.”
Vaknin agreed that asking players to motivate themselves is where Minecraft excels: “A lot of games are veering away from that because a lot of players really want to be more driven, and that’s fine.”
I have tried all combinations of survival crafting games over the years. More recently, Viking creation in Valheim lured me in for a couple of months, session-based survival in Icarus for a couple of weeks, and vampire creation in V Rising for a couple of days. Even Valheim, who consumed me for over 100 hours and helped lobby our game of the year (opens in a new tab) in 2021, it hasn’t brought me back the way Minecraft has.
Vaknin said he has also kept up with the competition. Like me, he was interested in the way food and hunger work in Valheim. It allowed me to treat food as part of my gear, while allowing me to skip food systems, or treat all food as essentially the same, in many other crafting games, including Minecraft. “I spend time thinking about it and wondering if we can learn from it,” he says.
“V Rising has a very interesting objective and boss tracking system,” Vaknin also said, referencing how you need to track a boss on the map to find it. “He reminded me of how you find the End fortress in Minecraft with the eyes of Ender.”
While Minecraft learns without necessarily following trends, Vaknin hopes that it never persecutes its players either.
“Minecraft really isn’t sticky,” he put it later in our chat, likening it to an old friend who will be there for you even if you decide to leave and come back months later.
Vaknin described a common experience in the Minecraft community: playing hard for a period of time years ago, and now coming back every year when the mood strikes. That’s how I’ve treated it for years, and I’m glad it’s a pattern that Mojang feels confident growing.
“So many other games you play and feel like they try to pull you in too much and then when it runs its course you don’t want to go back. I love that Minecraft doesn’t do that. It’s very important to me to keep that.”
“One thing that was recently added to our guiding principles is: you play Minecraft because you want to, not because you feel obligated to,” Larsson added.
As I start to look ahead to the inevitable announcement of Minecraft version 1.20, it’s nice to know that the people in charge are confident enough to keep up with the latest crafting and survival trends without necessarily chasing after them.