Minecraft is one of the top three best-selling games of all-time. Long before it became the heavily merchandised and multiplatform juggernaut intellectual property it is today, it began as a small, free, downloadable application for PCs inspired by another game Infiniminer with the very simple idea of letting a player dig and build with blocks. It's hard to believe now, but before Minecraft, this sort of creative sandbox freedom was unheard of in mainstream, triple-A video games.
Toss in characters, the ability to play with other players, wildlife, and reasons to explore massive procedurally generated worlds, and Minecraft took the internet by storm, eventually leading to its expansion to mobile devices and game consoles before Microsoft acquired Minecraft and its developer Mojang in 2014 for US$2.5 billion.
Minecraft appeals to users of any age group or demographic, and crafty players made fortunes creating series of in-game videos on YouTube, helping spread the game to more users via viral marketing. It had become the digital representation of what LEGO toys are for the real world... so where was LEGO during all of this?
LEGO had been making games for over a decade before the first version of Minecraft ever released, yet none of their games let players interact with in-game worlds or LEGO bricks like they can with real LEGO toy sets. Where LEGO is about being creative, and dismantling constructs, piece by piece, to build something entirely unique and different, none of the LEGO video games embraced the simple concept. Even the first massively multiplayer online (MMO) game in the franchise, Lego Universe, failed to deliver on that front and it was shut down within a year-and-a-half after release (it released a year after Minecraft first debuted).
Minecraft continued to enjoy success for years as Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment placed their focus on licensed LEGO adventure games (Harry Potter, Batman, Indiana Jones, etc.) built with the LEGO theme and using LEGO minifigure versions of iconic characters, developed by Traveller's Tales. Even the recently announced new Lego adventure game from the developer, Lego Dimensions, embraces a mix of these licensed properties instead of serving as block-builder.
But in a surprise announcement yesterday, after leaks indicated another LEGO game was on the way, TT Games (parent company of Traveller's Tales) and Warner Bros. together announced that there is another LEGO game releasing this year alongside Dimensions, one that finally delivers on what LEGO is all about: LEGO Worlds. And it's already available to play!
LEGO Worlds is essentially the brand's long-awaited and inevitable version of Minecraft. There are dozens and dozens of clones of Minecraft, all trying to offer a new spin on the phenomenon, but LEGO's may be the most adept and fitting. It is LEGO after all. Tom Stone, Managing Director, TT Games:
"LEGO Worlds embodies the physical, LEGO brick-building fun that consumers have enjoyed for decades, on a digital platform that delivers an entirely new type of experience with the beloved bricks. From the brick-by-brick editor, to discovering an expansive range of items, characters and creatures to populate your worlds – the creative possibilities are endless."
What LEGO Worlds' developers have that Mojang didn't (pre-Microsoft) is resources, a massive development studio and licenses. They can take everything people loved about Microsoft, polish it and add what Minecraft was missing. It's already evident in the trailer above for the early access beta which is currently available via the Steam service for PC players. Just like Minecraft, LEGO Worlds randomly generates a playing area for players, but it gives players more control with better tools to customize that world and add to it.
At the moment, the playable version of LEGO Worlds is single player only but future updates will add multiplayer support, additional content, and sharing features. Even the way LEGO Worlds is launching in an early "creative mode" state is copying the Minecraft model, and that's not a bad thing. It does make you wonder though, what Microsoft has planned for the future of Minecraft now that there's a worthy competitor entering the playing field. Could they be planning larger updates for Minecraft, or perhaps even an overhauled and improved sequel built with better technology?
LEGO Worlds is available on Steam Early Access for PC.