'Minecraft' Sees Major Changes as Microsoft Adds a Marketplace


"Minecraft" never really ends. It just continues to evolve.

More than five years after its release, the open-ended, build-it-yourself game has continued to grow in unexpected ways. With the "Minecraft" 1.1 Discovery update, the game adds a slew of new features. It's a culmination of tweaks and improvement that the team at Microsoft has worked on over the past few months.

Some of the more noticeable upgrades come in the form of new concrete and glazed terracotta blocks. Those looking to build new items will be happy to learn that beds and shulker boxes are now craftable. Adventurers and those invested in the lore of "Minecraft" will now have two fresh places to explore. Those who buy maps from the village cartographer can venture into the ocean or forest terrain, where mysteries await.

Those changes are more of a refinement of what the "Minecraft" team has been working on. The bigger news comes in the form of an official in-game store. Yes, Microsoft is creating the Minecraft Marketplace to showcase top user-generated content. This doesn't mean that the game is getting walled off or that players won't be able to create their own worlds anymore. The game will remain the same. The only difference is that the upcoming marketplace will "give creators a stage so that they can be discovered," said John Thornton, "Minecraft" Realms executive producer.

One of the issues with a "Minecraft" is that it's a game popular with children, but there's so much content out there that rifling through all that can be overwhelming. There are so many different customized maps and mods out there. On top of that, installing them isn't the most seamless process.

Thornton said the marketplace solves that problem because it will be curated by the Microsoft team, and it will integrate easily with the game. Builders or development teams work with "Minecraft" officials to build content to be sold on the store. The builders design and price the adventures or texture packs. Microsoft's team makes sure the content meets a certain threshold, Thornton said, providing feedback and support for the creators.

Initially, Microsoft is working with nine builders, but they will be taking applications through its Minecraft Partner Program for those wanting to capitalize on their "Minecraft" expertise. They can apply online, but they will need a business license. Thornton said it's required for the financial end because creators have the potential to make profit from their work.

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Interestingly enough, the Minecraft Marketplace will have its own currency -- coins. Players will have to spend real money to buy a certain number of coins. Those coins, which are attached to a player's Xbox Live profile, can be redeemed for adventures and other items. In addition, the Marketplace will also have some free items such as a redstone mansion. According to Microsoft, "Minecraft Coins are available in three coin tiers: $1.99 for 300 coins, $4.99 for 840 coins and $9.99 for 1,720 coins."

Of all the Minecraft Marketplace content that I saw Blockcraft's "Scorching Sands" seemed the most promising. It's a post-apocalyptic adventure that the team of 62 designers, animators, artists and developers are working on. The visuals of the game reminds me a little of "Mad Max" but in block form. Of course, the game won't have anything quite as edgy as those films, but in terms of scope and creativity, it's the one adventure that stood out.

Imagiverse also had an impressive-looking adventure map. The team focused on pirates. It includes a map geared toward the high seas and skins that lets players dress their avatars like pirates. It seemed to be the furthest along and had everything from impressive ships to sunken treasure.

"Minecraft" fans can expect to see the marketplace and other changes this spring when the Discovery update rolls out. ___

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