Microsoft Minecraft update brings more players together

Minecraft's vast online realms will be easier to join, Microsoft says at the E3 show, and game consoles will play nice with Windows and phones.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
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Stephen Shankland
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Playing CubeCraft's Skyworld multiplayer online server for will be easier with a summer update to Minecraft.

Joining CubeCraft's Skyworld multiplayer online server for will be easier with a summer Minecraft update.


Editor's note Sept. 20: Minecraft's "Better Together" update is now available. The original story about the announcement, from June 11, is below. 

If you want to make Minecraft a bigger part of your social life, good news: Microsoft is making it easier for players to join multiplayer worlds.

You already can play with thousands of other Minecraft gamers on customized multiplayer areas called servers, but it's kind of a pain. Microsoft's aspirin will come this summer, though, when  Minecraft will get a built-in server browser that makes servers easier to discover and use, said Minecraft marketing leader Emily Orrson. Microsoft announced the move Sunday in conjunction with the massive E3 videogame conference.

"The amount of different ways to play is going to exponentially expand," Orrson said. Think of it as adding a little more escapism to your escapism.

The server browser is good news if you're looking for a fresh way to play the game. And with more than 100 million copies of Minecraft sold, it's a good bet plenty of people will try the servers. Already today millions of people play on servers -- more than with some high-end triple-A gaming titles.

Four servers will be available to start: Lifeboat, InPvP, Mineplex and CubeCraft. But more will come later. As with Microsoft's addition recently of Microsoft's marketplace to buy assets like character skins and downloadable minigames, though, Microsoft plans to expand beyond the limited number of launch-time partners, Orrson said.

In the blocky virtual world of Minecraft, you survive by digging and harvesting raw materials, "crafting" those ingredients into tools, weapons, and more refined materials, then using all that to survive the nightly onslaught of bad guys called mobs. You can also play in a no-threat creative mode that lets you build everything from fanciful floating castles to working electronic devices powered by Minecraft's "redstone" circuitry.

Xbox, Switch join Minecraft 'Bedrock'

The changes come with the "Better Together" update to Minecraft, so named because Microsoft is bringing some relatively isolated versions of the game into the fold. The company builds its "Bedrock" version of Minecraft for Windows 10 PCs, Apple TV, Oculus Rift and Gear VR headsets, and mobile devices powered by Apple's iOS and Google's Android.

With the summer update, Minecraft for Xbox One and Nintendo Switch gaming consoles also will become bedrock versions. That means anyone playing with those versions will have access to the same marketplace and server options as the other versions, and that any purchases made on one system will be available to you on the other -- as long as you log in with an Xbox account.

That convergence also means playing multiplayer games on a variety of hardware is easier -- something called cross-play. For example, siblings could play side-by-side in the same vi Xbox could play in the same world as . Any of the Bedrock versions can work together, said Jesse Merriam, Minecraft's executive producer.

The art of Minecraft: Building beauty, block by block

See all photos

The Xbox 360 and Wii U editions still remain separate for now. So, too, are the original versions for Mac and Windows, built with the Java programming language. All the Bedrock versions now are simply being called "Minecraft," while the Java-based versions will be called Minecraft Java Edition.

Microsoft's desire for convergence has its limits, though. Its Mojang studio continues to develop Minecraft Java Edition even as it brings its more advanced features to the Bedrock versions.

"We have no intention to push people one way or other," said Minecraft communications manager Aubrey Norris.

In the fall of 2017, Microsoft will begin selling an a downloadable Minecraft extra, the Super Duper Graphics Pack, with cloud shadows, hazy atmospheres and reflecting water.

In the fall of 2017, Microsoft will begin selling an a downloadable Minecraft extra, the Super Duper Graphics Pack, with cloud shadows, hazy atmospheres and reflecting water.

Screenshot by Stephen Shanlkland/CNET

Graphics overhaul

Microsoft also detailed changes coming to Minecraft graphics this fall in another update. It's strange to think of Minecraft's crude, blocky figures as something in need of high-end graphics, but the fall change will endow the game with high-resolution 4K graphics support so it'll look better playing on big-screen TVs, Microsoft said.

That change will be available to all Bedrock versions of the game for free. But a premium option, the Super Duper Graphics Pack, will bring more with lighting effects like shadows and fog, new motion for some game elements like leaves, and new textures for characters.

It's not for everyone, though, since it'll require more powerful hardware. "This pack will be available on Xbox One and Windows 10, performing best on high-end PCs and the Xbox One X," Microsoft said in a blog post.

First published June 11, 3:30 p.m. PT.
Update, June 12 at 11:45 a.m.: Adds details about graphics changes coming to Minecraft in the fall.
Update, Sept. 20 at 11:56 a.m.: To indicate the service is now available.