Right before the most recent Minecraft update launched, I asked Mojang what the future of Minecraft looks like. Game director Agnes Larsson and developer Nir "Ulraf" Vaknin weren't willing to be feature-specific about the next major update—no surprise, they're likely saving that for the next Minecraft Live showcase. Instead, we talked about how they're still learning from other crafting competitors and how they want to "keep the magic of Minecraft" for another 10 years and more.
When Minecraft's alpha launched in 2010, it put survival and crafting on the map. A thousand other crafting games later—many also made from voxels—Minecraft remains the gold standard for sandbox creativity. It would be easy enough for Mojang to get complacent after wearing the crown for so long, I imagine, becoming insular and sourcing ideas only from its own developers and players.
Larsson and Vaknin both insisted they wouldn't call Minecraft better than all the rest. (I would, though. It doesn't risk sounding boastful coming from me). But they do say that knowing what sets Minecraft apart means they can maintain it.
Larsson called it intrinsic motivation. "We should inspire and enable the players to be creative in their own way," she said, "but never dictate, never force anything."
Vaknin agreed that asking players to be self-motivated is where Minecraft excels: "A lot of games are veering away from that because a lot of players really want to be more directed, and that's fine."
I've tried all blends of survival crafting games over the years. Most recently it's been viking crafting in Valheim that enticed me for a couple months, session-based survival in Icarus for a couple weeks, and vampire crafting in V Rising for a couple days. Even Valheim, which I was consumed by for over 100 hours and helped lobby for as our game of the year in 2021, hasn't kept me coming back the way Minecraft has.
Vaknin said he's been keeping up with the competition too. Like me, he was interested in the way that food and hunger work in Valheim. It got me to genuinely treat food as part of my gear, whereas I felt allowed to skip food systems—or treat all foods as essentially equal—in so many other crafting games, including Minecraft. "I spend time thinking about it and thinking if we can learn from that," he says.
"V Rising has a very interesting goal and boss tracking system," Vaknin also said, referencing the way that you need to track a boss across the map to find them. "It reminded me of how you find the End stronghold in Minecraft with the eyes of ender."
While Minecraft learns without necessarily chasing trends, Vaknin hopes it won't ever chase its players either.
"Minecraft is really not clingy," is how he put it later in our chat, likening it to an old friend who will be there for you even if you choose to leave and come back months later.
Minecraft update: What's new?
Minecraft skins: New looks
Minecraft mods: Beyond vanilla
Minecraft shaders: Spotlight
Minecraft seeds: Fresh new worlds
Minecraft texture packs: Pixelated
Minecraft servers: Online worlds
Minecraft commands: All cheats
Vaknin described a common experience in the Minecraft community: playing heavily for a period of time years ago and now returning on a yearly basis as the mood strikes. That's how I've treated it for years myself, and I'm glad it's a pattern that Mojang feels confident cultivating.
"So many other games you play and feel like they try to pull you a bit too much and then when it's run its course you don't want to come back. I love that Minecraft doesn't do that. It's so important to me to keep that."
"One thing recently added to our guiding principles is: you play Minecraft because you want to, not because you feel forced to," Larsson added.
As I start looking ahead to the inevitable announcement of Minecraft version 1.20, it's good to hear that the people in charge are confident enough to keep up with all the latest crafting and survival trends without necessarily chasing them.