Microsoft has announced that it has purchased the educational Minecraft mod MinecraftEdu from Teacher Gaming LLC.
Minecraft is a sandbox building game in which players scout for Lego-like resource blocks and use them to build fortresses against monsters — or virtually anything else they can think of. It has become immensely popular with gamers of all ages because of its flexibility and complexity. Players can construct anything from simple dugouts to mansions complete with programmed machines.
Minecraft is often put to educational use as a tool to teach computer science skills, but the mod MinecraftEdu, which was developed in 2011 by second-grade teacher Joel Levin, includes a library of activities meant to teach everything from STEM to history to art.
Microsoft plans on using the game mod as a base upon which to build "Minecraft Education Edition," which will be available in free trials by this summer, writes Sarah Perez of Tech Crunch.
The changes to the game will be minor, reports Jacob Kastrenakes of the Verge, and will include improved maps for classroom collaboration, allowing teachers to lock in resources, and adding an in-game camera and scrapbook to make taking screenshots easier.
Additionally, Microsoft will be launching a website where teachers can post their Minecraft worlds and accompanying lessons. Some existing examples include a map modeled after feudal Japan to teach Japanese poetry, an exploration of Brutalist architecture, and huge molecules to explore. Microsoft hopes that the vibrant community will continue to create engaging content and does not plan on putting out any worlds or lessons of their own.
MinecraftEdu, under its previous ownership, charged a licensing fee of $41 and then $25 per month for each classroom server, but under Microsoft, the Education Edition will be priced at an annual $5 per user. Subscriptions can continue until Microsoft's version is released, and existing customers can receive a year for free.
Over 7,000 classrooms in over 40 countries already use Minecraft in their curriculum, and Microsoft hopes to expand this user base even further.
The basic game of Minecraft can be considered educational because it teaches spatial reasoning skills and encourages planning and social skills, but mods and programs can take it even further.
Elementary schools have used Minecraft to teach about city planning and engineering, middle schools have learned computer science in the game, and college students have explored the history of New Zealand by using the game to recreate its history.
Owen S. Good of Polygon quoted Vu Bui, the chief operating officer of Minecraft's creator Mojang:
One of the reasons Minecraft fits so well in the classroom is because it's a common, creative playground. We've seen that Minecraft transcends the differences in teaching and learning styles and education systems around the world. It's an open space where people can come together and build a lesson around nearly anything.
Microsoft acquired Minecraft in 2014 for $2.5 billion, according to Sarah E. Needleman of the Wall Street Journal, when it already had a large following.