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Mojang on Minecraft: Pocket Edition's evolution into a mobile juggernaut

Andrew Hayward | Aug. 14, 2014
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.

Simply getting Minecraft up and running on mobile devices wasn't as simple as quickly porting to new platforms — Pocket Edition had to be rewritten from scratch in the C++ programming language, as iOS doesn't support Java. From that point on, the team approached expansion much like it did with PC: Start small, and add new elements gradually over time. The difference was that Minecraft was already a cultural sensation by the time Pocket Edition came around, which invited scrutiny.

Expanding universe 

While the initial impression may have been mixed, Minecraft: Pocket Edition grew significantly with each major version update. In February 2012, Mojang added Survival Mode with its mobs (enemies) and tools, along with the day/night cycle. A couple of months later came crafting via the new Minecraft Advanced Touch Technology Interface System (MATTIS), which was designed specifically to make item crafting feasible on smaller smartphone and tablet displays. 

Subsequent updates brought a litany of additional changes large and small. New blocks, enemy types, animations, items, and features made the world feel fuller. The addition of Minecraft Realms support allowed users to purchase premium access to shareable private servers, the graphics improved as devices became more powerful, and the controls and interface became more manageable. 

Released in July 2014, version 0.9.0 is arguably the largest to date — and the list of features is extensive. The ability to generate infinite-sized worlds means there's always something to explore off in the distance, and the update adds a wider array of terrain types from the PC version. Caves are also added to the world, which not only adds richness to the environments, but also offers fresh opportunities for finding resources and adventure.

And bucking a previous decision to have the entirety of Pocket Edition be playable on all supported devices, infinite worlds and caves are only intended for more recent tablets and phones that have the processing power to keep up with the computing demands.

"Minecraft has always had many ways to play it, however the exploration aspect was severely limited. Pocket Edition was mostly appealing to the subset of those who like to build for the sake of it," says Mojang developer Tommaso Checchi. "I play Minecraft in a more 'adventurous' way, with more exploring, functional building, and gathering resources from natural caves without strip mining... needless to say, it was nice to work on this update as it made Pocket Edition more fun to myself as a player."

Premium rush 

While the tact of gradual enhancement may not have resonated with all players at first, that hasn't stopped Pocket Edition from becoming a massive mobile hit. It continuously hovers near the top of the paid charts on all platforms, and while many top iOS and Android games feature extensive in-app purchases and other frustrating tactics, Minecraft remains an undiluted premium experience that's well supported and isn't constantly fluctuating in price. Pay $7 and you'll get the full game, made better and better every few months or so.


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