The Xbox One version of Minecraft is teetering on the edge of release, with port developer 4J Studios now tracking down the last few bugs before sending the game to Microsoft for Xbox Live certification. While largely the same game as its predecessor on Xbox 360, the new edition of Minecraft is one of the console's most anticipated titles - a testament to player hunger for opportunities not just to explore virtual worlds, but shape them.
The game's success has now reached a point where even its creator, the 40-man Mojang AB, struggles to explain it. We spoke to the company's "chief word officer" Owen Hill and business development boss Daniel Kaplan about how the new version differs, plans for the first round of Minecraft Xbox One updates, the odds of customisable servers and much, much more.
How do world transfers work between Xbox 360 and Xbox One? You seem to have taken a lot of care to make sure that it's completely seamless.
O: It's a valid question. You're right that we don't want to get anything wrong. The save gets copied to a cloud, but a separate cloud to the one we're used to when we put our saves on Xbox.
D: It's just for Minecraft, basically. You go into the game, you choose, upload your save file to be transferred later by the Xbox One. Then when you upload, you go Xbox One, it pops up, and you say ,'OK, download this one'.
O: It's only in the cloud for the process of transferring data.
D: So it doesn't really use the Xbox profile link thing. Usually when you save a game you say, 'Sure, save my game file to the cloud'. The profiles are not made for the kind of huge save profiles that Minecraft's got. That's why you need to go into the game and select the specific world you want to transfer. It's a different process than usually.
O: The saves get absolutely massive. Compared to other games. Because the worlds are randomly generated, it gets... I mean you can imagine why it's so big. The upgrade process, when you've got the $5 upgrade: if you've got it on disc you can transfer that as long as you've played online, basically.
D: Yeah, well you need to have had your 360 connected to the web. You don't even need to have a Gold account, we just need to see that this user has been playing Minecraft. The only way for the system to understand that is if this Xbox has been connected.
So there's a mark on your profile to show that you've played Minecraft before.
O: So long as you put a disk into the 360 you can upgrade and I think that people will probably be taking advantage of that fact, but... the thing is, the Xbox One version - it's got a better draw distance, bigger worlds - 36 times bigger worlds, as you know - it's got cool stuff in it. But it's not massively different from the previous one. We probably could have made people pay [the full price] again - people probably would have. But it just seemed a bit harsh.
D: We needed to do it right, and it was a lot of work. It's not, like, OK, export to Xbox One. Ideally it would be, but it's not.
What's your take on backwards compatibility between Xbox One and Xbox 360? Our readers are obviously very keen on the idea but it's obviously a big job, technically.
D: It's a completely different machine, it's not that easy to just, click, move it over like that. It's very difficult.
O: Which is a pain, because I'd love to have that setup. I've got an Xbox One in the house.
D: I mean, having played Xbox 360 all those years, it would be really nice to just inherit all those games. My Xbox Live collection...
O: I look back at my history, and it's like since the launch of Xbox I've got all these games and they've all just gone. It does seem sad. I understand the technical issues but it does seem sad. Unless you bother to have [both consoles] sat there.
Was it always your intention to bring Minecraft to the new consoles?
D: It's mostly about platforms that make sense. We didn't anticipate the mobile version to be that big compared to the PC, and it's the same for consoles. People always compare it to the PC, which is supposed to be like the big original version where you get all the cool features first. But we have seen there is a massive audience on other platforms so there are still huge groups of people who don't play on PC at all.
With the release of PS4 and Xbox One I think we have fulfilled most of the needs for now. There aren't many platforms left to release on. We'll see, whatever makes sense and if the platform has the user base for it. We won't release on the platform is the base is very small because it's much too big of an effort.
O: We need some time to do certain types of platforms.
D: The whole point of Minecraft is that you get updates all the time. If you release somewhere you want to make sure that we will be updating rather than, 'Oh yeah, we only sold 1000 copies on that platform so lets kill it off'. That's not the way Minecraft has been developed.
There's no end in sight for updates, then? You're just going to carry on till you completely run out of ideas?
D: Not until the [PC version] stops doing stuff. It's been like a catch-up game.
O: Ideally you'd be updating all things all the time, but it's impractical as the PC version has been out for way longer. The 4J guys have been good adding onto consoles the exact templates, they're choosing things to include in a timely manner that will work well on the Xbox version. They're not following in our exact footsteps, they make choices of what to bring and when.
It's nice the way they're doing it. I really like the way how we don't charge for updates. It's something you could do but it's one of the things that makes Minecraft such a hugely popular game; when you add something new to the game, it changes the way to play and a whole new group of players want to play it.