Megahit Minecraft arrives on Facebook's Oculus Rift VR headset

The virtual-reality version of Microsoft's immensely popular video game is here. Microsoft says it will feel like a new game even for Minecraft experts.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read
Minecraft team member Tommaso Checchi plays the virtual-world videogame while wearing Facebook's Oculus VR headset.
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Minecraft team member Tommaso Checchi plays the virtual-world videogame while wearing Facebook's Oculus VR headset.

Minecraft team member Tommaso Checchi plays the virtual-world video game while wearing Facebook's Oculus VR headset.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

It's a match made in nerd heaven.

Minecraft, Microsoft's tremendously popular video game, now works on Facebook's Oculus Rift headset, a highly regarded entrant into the new world of virtual reality.

"We'd like to welcome you to the game all over again, because it's a fantastic new experience in VR, even if you're a Minecraft veteran," Mike McGrath, a Minecraft developer who helped build the software, said Monday in a blog post. The version requires people to use the Windows 10 beta-test version of Minecraft, which is free to those who already bought Minecraft for personal computers. Otherwise it costs $10.

In the game, players explore a blocky 3D world, digging for resources, building shelters and crafting weapons to fend off monsters called mobs -- though many kids prefer a creative mode with infinite resources and no threats.

Wandering around an environment is just the kind of immersive activity that Oculus and a host of other companies are trying to push with virtual reality. In addition, the chance to play Minecraft in a new way may spur someone to pay -- or to beg someone else to pay -- hundreds of dollars for a Rift headset and a PC powerful enough to run the VR system.

With the Oculus Rift version, you can use the keyboard and mouse to control your movement within the Minecraft realm itself, but Microsoft also has added support for its Xbox One game controller. If you're feeling too immersed, you can also step back to a virtual living room mode that shows Minecraft on a virtual 2D screen in front of you, Minecraft team member Saxs Persson said in a promotional video.

The Oculus version takes time to get used to it. Newcomers often don't realize at first that they can look around by turning their heads.

"Decades of training have taught people that you sit still when playing games," Persson said, "but that's about to change."

About 53,000 copies of Minecraft sell each day, and the game crossed the 100 million sales mark in June. Minecraft has captured teachers' attention too, which is why Microsoft sells an education edition.

Microsoft has talked about the Oculus version of Minecraft for months, but on stage, it has devoted more attention to Minecraft for its own Hololens augmented reality (AR) glasses. That version uses the Hololens headset to embed elements of the virtual Minecraft world within the real world, which the player can see. Demos have featured a person seeing and manipulating a computer-generated Minecraft world sprouting from the surface of a real-world table. Without the AR headset, all you see is the plain table.

The Oculus version of Minecraft, like the Pocket Edition that runs on phones and tablets and the Windows 10 version already available, uses a newer C++ version of the game that lacks some of the advanced features in the original Java-based version. Microsoft plans to beef up the new version.