Minecraft: Education Edition: The Windows 10 Edition Platform

At Minecon 2015 the new version of Minecraft that would only work on Windows 10 was unveiled.  It was greeted with scepticism and even derision by many in the community and the overriding response I heard in my discussions was “I’ll stick to the full fat PC version rather than the skimmed Pocket Edition thanks”.  There are many reasons for this, some of which I agree with and some that are easily solved, justified and understandable.  I’m going to leave the ability to “mod” the experience for a different blog and explore practicalities in this.

In my previous blog I shared a brief summary of my evolution through the world of Minecraft.  I started with the extremely limited Pocket Edition in the days before caves were added and the world was limited to a tiny chunk of land.  I expanded my experience and skills along a path of discovery in bite sized chunks.  Teachers completely new to Minecraft will be starting from the very beginning in their journey of discovery.  They will need to learn a whole new skills set.  Stripping away the complications of full PC Minecraft and leaving only what is needed for learning to take place is a bold move by Microsoft but I like the logic of it when it comes to expanding Minecraft in Education. If someone wanted to learn how to use Lego you wouldn’t put them into a warehouse full of the stuff, you’d give them enough variety of bricks and some instructions to help.  This is how I see the current position of the Windows 10 version of Minecraft.  It is the carefully selected box of bricks that is needed to get learning going. (Click here for a much better explanation from Stampy).  I am certain that, over time, Microsoft will respond to calls from the emerging community of Minecraft educators and add features that are most asked for.

There are of course costs involved.  I will leave the subscription model alone for now until more details emerge however there are other costs.  By only running Minecraft: Education Edition on Windows 10, Microsoft will be effectively shutting out the schools that use Apple products or have stuck to Windows 7 or 8 until Windows 10 gets rid of some of its teething problems.  So in order to use Minecraft: Education Edition schools will have to factor in the cost of purchasing Windows 10 devices.  Now admittedly the cost and variety of devices on offer is improving rapidly.  If you are a school lucky enough to be able to afford a suite of Surface devices this is a match made in heaven for you.  For the rest of us however we face the dilemma of buying new devices, upgrading a number of older devices and hoping Windows 10 “behaves itself” or being shut out of Minecraft in Education.  Add to this the subscription costs and I’m afraid very few will be able to afford it.

At present, anyone with a device capable of running Minecraft can use it.  It doesn’t matter how old the machine is, whether it is Windows, Apple or Linux (yes there are some out there) or whether you have a mixture of them all.  If it can handle the graphics, you are in.  By locking out the vast majority of existing school machines, Microsoft have taken a step I can simply never agree with.  They are in the process of creating, what I believe, will be the best possible package of Minecraft in Education.  By limiting it to Windows 10 and charging a subscription fee for it however they have locked out the many and invited in the few.  The “haves” in affluent areas with flush budgets may choose to buy in.  In areas where social and economic deprivation are high however it will be impossible to justify the cost when schools are funding breakfast clubs in order to feed children before school starts.  The “have nots” will be excluded from participation.  Of course, Microsoft is a business not a social enterprise and perfectly entitled to make whatever decisions they like.

However they aren’t dealing with an Office 365 product here.  This is Minecraft!  It is an organic community of collaborators, sharers and carers that have nurtured it through hundreds of millions of hours collectively into something they love and are proud of.  There is a community of over 7,000 early adopting educators out there that have broken the ground into Education.  They have tested, collaborated and developed ideas and pedagogy over many years and invested thousands of hours in the process.  From my discussions with other existing Minecraft educators, the things that taint this whole evolution the most are the cost of upgrading to Windows 10 devices on top of the subscription and the way their previous work is effectively null and void.  They can’t use their existing resources on the new platform and most can’t even use their existing devices.  Having paved the way for this move and broken the ground, even built the foundations on which it is constructed, most are now excluded from going forward.  I sincerely hope Microsoft can address this and bring the cost involved down significantly.

Hang on a minute.  That’s a very pessimistic outlook isn’t it?  So let’s draw breath and work some things through logically…

Let us assume that Microsoft want to make some money out Minecraft (and $2.5 billion is a lot of money to make back!).  Forcing people to use an operating system and buy new hardware just to run an educational software package isn’t going to cut it.  So let’s assume someone at Redmond has already scribbled that on their ideas board and work this through logically.

Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition is essentially Minecraft: Pocket Edition.  It runs majestically on even poorly specced machines (like my cranky old Galaxy Tab 2 that I started my Minecraft journey on) with frame rates and view distances that PC gamers dream of and spend a fortune on monster gaming rigs to attain in full PC Minecraft.  More importantly, it already runs on iOS and Android!  With Google announcing the end of Chrome OS and its integration into Android, it is safe to assume that the Android Pocket Edition will even run on Chromebooks in the not too distant future.  I fully expect to see it running on an Xbox One by the summer to enable students to continue their learning at home.  So in terms of infiltrating as many classrooms as possible it makes absolute logical sense to move Pocket Edition up to desktop level rather than exclude mobile devices by sticking with the full fat PC Minecraft.  Using a platform that already works on mobile devices that are well established in hundreds of thousands of classrooms worldwide is the absolute best way to make Minecraft a truly global educational product.  Why on earth would Microsoft make the strategic decision to shut these devices out of a product they can already run?  It doesn’t make sense and if it doesn’t make sense it is safe to assume it isn’t so.  I don’t think Microsoft would want to exclude millions of devices in the hope schools will buy Surface or upgrade to Windows 10.  That is too big a risk and would ultimately fail.  Education is about choice after all.  Now locking the Beta down to Windows 10 only… great way to get early adopters to upgrade and test the software as well as sell a few devices along the way.  My prediction is that the next 12 months will see dedicated educational Minecraft running on more machines and in more classrooms than ever before.  They already know the software works on existing tablets and desktops.  So my prediction is that Minecraft: Education Edition will very soon be running across operating systems and on any device you want to put it onto.  That really would be a quantum leap forward for Minecraft in education.

So on the one hand I applaud and support the move to a new platform and more focused package aimed squarely at learning.  However on the other hand I fear that the choice of Windows 10 will be the prohibiting factor that shuts out the many.  I sincerely hope Microsoft has something in the pipelines that they are keeping very quiet about.  The logic and business sense tells me they have.  Time will tell.

So what about the classroom management, creating content and those pesky mods…?

Footnote:  The images at the top of this blog are from a small ported section of a Dickens map produced in collaboration with Pure-Imaginations.  Download the full PC map from their website to explore with your students or even produce the play in game!

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