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The state of Minecraft in 2021

Minecraft
(Image credit: Mojang)

It's a great time to be a Minecraft player. The blocky sandbox continues to be a powerhouse of activity with Mojang Studio's regular feature updates and patch releases and from the incredible worlds that sprout up from the Minecraft community.

Even though it's been 12 years since Minecraft's initial release, Mojang is keeping the block-building game in great shape with 2020 being a particularly great year. Last year we saw Minecraft's biggest update since it first launched in the form of The Nether, and less than a couple of months later Mojang announced another major update for Summer 2021. We also saw Mojang try something new with the Minecraft universe in the form of Minecraft Dungeons, a whole new game that combined Minecraft's visuals with a whole new genre and received positive reviews.

What's going on in other popular games?

With Minecraft continuing to break its concurrent player count each year and Mojang trying to bulk up Minecraft's reach with new games and projects, the sandbox shows no signs of slowing down. 

So, how is Minecraft right now?

Looking at the numbers, it's safe to say that Minecraft is doing pretty well for itself. Last year in May, Mojang announced that Minecraft had sold over 200 million copies, and then made a second announcement saying that the sandbox had surpassed 131 million monthly active users. It's by no means not a surprise, but it's certainly impressive.

Mojang announced that Minecraft sales exceeded over 200 million, and then made a second announcement saying that the sandbox had surpassed 131 million monthly active users.

These successes were announced right in the middle of 2020, which turned out to be a pretty great year for Minecraft players. The block-building sandbox kicked off 2020 with the game's biggest update to date: The Nether. The update gave Minecraft's foreboding underbelly a hellish overhaul, adding four new biomes, lots of new creepy mobs, and more resource blocks, including a new ore even stronger than diamond. The update was received well, as players rose to the challenge of surviving the Nether and creative builders got to work constructing haunted mansions and ghoulish castles with the spooky new blocks.

Later in the year, Minecraft got its biggest glow-up ever with Nvidia's ray tracing patch Minecraft RTX. Minecraft has always had a fair share of shaders and texture packs to give its world a certain sheen, but Minecraft RTX took the game's visuals to a whole other glossy level. Who could have foreseen that Minecraft's humble blocks would be leading the next generation of graphical overhauls?

With regular patches and Mojang hitting its stride with major updates, Minecraft is in pretty great shape as we continue into 2021.

Minecraft

(Image credit: Mojang)

What's been happening recently?

  • The Caves and Cliffs announcement. Due to release next year, the Caves and Cliffs update will completely revamp how players will traverse these two terrains. More info below. 
  • Minecraft now has ray-tracing. Minecraft received its biggest glow-up since its release. Minecraft RTX ray tracing gives the blocky sandbox a remarkable visual overhaul and it's available to all players using Windows 10.
  • Say goodbye to Minecraft Earth. Minecraft's AR spin-off has come to an end as Mojang explained that the game was, "designed around free movement and collaborative play – two things that have become near impossible in the current global situation." 
  • Minecraft in schools. Minecraft: Education Edition has been growing in popularity in classrooms as a way to give students new virtual spaces in which to learn. It's a tool that helps educators teach their students in a number of different subjects including history, maths, and science.  

Minecraft

(Image credit: Mojang)

When's the next big update?

Block by block

Minecraft

(Image credit: Minecraft Middle-earth)

Minecraft has been perfect for recreating some of game, TV, and film's greatest worlds. There's the team who spent 10 years building Minecraft Middle-earth, the Minecraft Harry Potter RPG Witchcraft and Wizardry, and who can forget the incredible blocky homage to Cyberpunk 2077's Night City. To see some more incredible Minecraft worlds, check out our best Minecraft builds guide. 

The next big update is the Caves and Cliffs update and although Mojang hasn't set a specific date, the update is expected to launch in Summer 2021. Minecraft's gloomy caverns and snowy peaks will be getting a bunch of new blocks, mobs, and items with both areas getting more intricate terrain generation—expect plenty of tunnels, caverns, cave lakes, and underground waterfalls when you next dig beneath the dirt. 

The new update will also feature lots more crafting. Digging in the caves will now reward you with crystals, including the sparkly amethyst, and you'll be able to craft a bunch of new equipment. A lot of the crafting is currently under wraps but one item that will have a welcome place in your inventory is a telescope, which is pretty cool.

It wouldn't be a Minecraft update without a whole host of new mobs. There's the Warden, a blind hostile mob that attacks based on movement. There are axolotls that reside in pools of water and can help you out in battle. Mountain goats that look incredibly cheeky and will boot you off their cliffs if angered. And finally, the player-voted Glow Squid who resides in the underground lakes and cave pools.

Minecraft's updates don't just chuck a bunch of new objects at you though, the Caves and Cliffs update will also introduce a new archaeological system where players can find buried ruins and special items when they dig. There's even a new way of mining where you use a brush item to carefully dig out artifacts and try not to damage them.

The Caves and Cliffs update looks to be a bulky one and reception to the update has been positive all round.

Minecraft

(Image credit: Reporters Without Borders)

Are players happy?

Many of Mojang's announcements and updates have been received with a level of optimism by the community. Mojang's reputation for releasing top-notch updates has been solidified with The Nether update, and many are looking forward to Caves and Cliffs when it releases this year.

Minecraft's success in 2020 isn't only due to the efforts of Mojang alone, the sandbox's building community is a powerhouse of creativity and some of the best Minecraft creations of 2020 were made by players. We saw the release of the immensely popular Cops and Robbers 5, a series that perfectly highlights Minecraft's ability to create games inside games. Other projects like Juan Sebastian Murcia's Slums and Manors used Minecraft to highlight the social and economic differences seen around the world. One of the most impressive uses of the sandbox was The Uncensored Library, a stunning build and an important initiative launched by Reporters Without Borders that gives journalists a virtual space to write articles that would be censored in their own country.

This small selection of builds only released in 2020. There are thousands of other creations that Minecraft players have constructed over the years and I have no doubt that we'll see plenty more in 2021.

Part of PC Gamer's UK team, Rachel loves a good ol' detective mystery, story-rich adventure games, and weirdly wonderful indies. Her proudest gaming moment is the one time she kept her virtual potted plants alive for a year.