Minecraft is an absolute sensation of a game, having sold more than 54 million copies across platforms and spawning all sorts of officially licensed doodads — like branded LEGO sets, foam swords, and a seemingly endless array of t-shirts. Leading the pack in sales isn't the original PC version, nor any of the home console ports, which have collectively moved past the computer edition in total copies sold.
Instead, it's Minecraft: Pocket Edition for iOS and Android — the bite-sized, touch-centric take on the building block sensation, which had sold more than 21 million copies as of April. It makes sense on the surface: Pocket Edition is the lowest-priced version, and there are hundreds of millions of active devices that can run the game. But this is the same game that was critically shrugged off upon release less than three years ago, derided for being a hollow shell of the PC experience.
However, the Pocket Edition of today is significantly larger and more in-depth, and the recent Version 0.9 update added long-desired features like infinite worlds and explorable caves. Swedish indie studio Mojang continues to expand the game to make it bigger and better, and continue spreading the gospel of Minecraft to more and more players — and the developers aren't finished yet.
A quaint start
Minecraft: Pocket Edition first debuted in 2011 on Sony's Android-powered Xperia Play — a "PlayStation Certified" device with physical controls that looked much like the company's PSPgo handheld. But within a few months, the game made the leap to more traditional Android handsets, followed by an iOS edition, and Minecraft had officially joined the world of touch screen gaming.
Initial reviews were surprisingly middling, with Metacritic reporting a 53 out of 100 average score from critics — much lower than other versions of the game. With only the Creative mode, plus small worlds, a lack of enemies, no day/night cycle, and no way to actually mine or even craft quite yet, initial reviews pegged the game as too compromised to be worthwhile. "Minecraft: Pocket Edition doesn't feel like Minecraft," asserted the original 2011 review from iOS game enthusiast site, Touch Arcade.
As developer Johan Bernhardsson — one of two Mojang employees working full-time on Pocket Edition these days — points out, the initial release of the phone and tablet version was labeled an alpha release. Even today's version is still considered an alpha, about three years later, although he concedes that such a tag probably means less to smartphone users than savvy PC players: "The first version was very limited, and people didn't care about an alpha label inside a mobile game as much as they would on PC," Bernhadrsson said in an interview with TechHive.
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